28th PHD Interview

"Die Kernfusion hat das Potenzial, die Art und Weise, wie wir Energie erzeugen, zu verändern, was wiederum ganz neue Möglichkeiten in den Bereichen Technologie, Umwelt, Kultur und Politik eröffnet." - Dipl.-Ing. Lidija Radovanovic (Technische Universität Wien)

Lidija und Hector the Sector (ein 1:100-Modell der ITER-Magnetpule)
Lidija und Hector the Sector (ein 1:100-Modell einer ITER-Magnetspule)

What is the topic of your Ph.D. thesis?

The topic of my PhD thesis is researching the physical parameters which determine the width of the outermost region of the plasma in a tokamak. This region is called the pedestal.

What is the focus of research?

The pedestal is this layer at the edge of the plasma, only a few millimetres wide, where huge pressure, density and temperature gradients are located and very fascinating physics happens. I am trying to figure out what physical mechanisms determine how wide this fun layer is going to be. We approach this using experimental methods and evaluating a lot of data from the discharges on ASDEX Upgrade, but also run simulations in order to better understand the physics behind it.

What is the benefit for fusion research?

The benefit is understanding how to tailor the pedestal so that more energy stays confined in the plasma, so that more fusion can happen, and at the same time, how to avoid instabilities. This is very important because we need to think about the particle and energy losses that happen because of the instabilities that could damage the plasma facing components. Additionally, it can help us improve the efficiency of a future reactor.

What are the biggest challenges?

The pedestal is a very thin layer and not so easy to diagnose. Measuring in the region where so many parameters change rapidly in this super dynamic system is always a challenge. Many parameters in the plasma also depend on each other in a very complex way, and it is often difficult to determine the causality of the process.

What plans do you have for your future? What will you be doing in five years? Would you like to continue research or are you going to work in the industry?

This is a very difficult question! I currently have this unique opportunity to live in Vienna, but work on ASDEX Upgrade in Garching, Germany, and I would love to continue the research in this way as long as it is possible. However, all good things come to an end, and since I don't plan to move from Vienna anytime soon, I will probably look for a job outside of fusion research after my PhD. I generally don’t really see myself in the industry, but I would be very interested in working in the field of education, sustainability or energy politics.

What was your motivation to write a fusion relevant Ph.D. thesis? What fascinates you about nuclear fusion?

I found out about fusion research the first day of my Bachelor studies and since then I was very motivated to study this topic further. It has a potential to change the way we produce energy, which then opens a whole new chain of opportunities in technology and environment and culture and politics. It is this humanity relevant thing. Engineering little stars on the Earth. It is so romantic that it would be cheesy if it wasn’t true.

The motivation of course came also from having really great supervisors and colleagues both here in Vienna and in Garching and a wonderful working environment.