Date Posted: 8/01/2022

The Simons Foundation has selected David Bindel, associate professor of computer science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, as the new director of the Simons Collaboration on Hidden Symmetries and Fusion Energy.

The seven-year collaboration, which involves a dozen partner institutions, is working toward developing viable fusion reactors - devices that, in theory, could provide abundant, affordable, waste-free energy. 

Fusion reactors generate electricity using the heat created when the nuclei of two atoms combine to form a heavier nucleus. However, to create the soup of charged particles - called plasma - required for fusion to occur, the fuel must be heated to millions of degrees Celsius. No known material can withstand that temperature. 

Instead, the team is designing a system to contain the plasma within the reactor using a magnetic field as an invisible cage.

“By artfully shaping a strong magnetic field, we can create a magnetic ‘bottle’ that confines the plasma,” Bindel said. 

Currently, the most popular “bottle” design, called a tokamak, has stability issues. “The collaboration is working on an alternative design, the stellarator, which is much more geometrically complicated, but is also much more stable,” Bindel said. 

Amitava Bhattacharjee of Princeton University led the project through its first four years, but stepped back to avoid a conflict of interest after joining a company with the same focus. The Simons Foundation selected Bindel as his replacement, based on his expertise in applied and computational mathematics.

Bindel will guide the scientific work of the collaboration, and head up the collaboration’s group meetings, team retreats, and summer schools. 

“Four years ago, this collaboration brought together a truly cross-disciplinary set of researchers from physics, mathematics, and computational science to rise to tackle deep challenges in stellarator design,” Bindel said. “It has been exciting to learn from this group, and the work has been a central part of my research the past four years. I am honored to be selected, and excited for the opportunity to work with such talented colleagues to advance the development of this critical energy technology.” 

By Patricia Waldron, a science writer for the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science.