Colorado State University is Partner in $11 Million Grant for Mathematical Modeling of Fusion

Providing the mathematical tools to enable whole-device modeling for the U.S. fusion program is the goal of a $500,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant recently awarded to Colorado State University’s Don Estep, a professor in the mathematics and statistics departments. The grant is a component of a major $11 million project called Framework Application for Core-Edge Transport Simulations, or FACETS, awarded to the Boulder-based Tech X through the Department of Energy 2006 Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing Awards 2, or SCIDAC2, program.

FACETS will provide a multi-physics parallel-framework application that will enable the modeling infrastructure needed to develop a device called ITER which can be used to confine magnetic-fusion plasma. ITER is a joint international research and development project that aims to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of a full-scale fusion power reactor.

"Fusion encompasses multiple physical processes operating over a vast range of scales, which makes modeling extremely difficult," said Estep, co-investigator on the grant. "Our group provides expertise in mathematical methods that makes it possible to simulate these models on a computer and analyze the errors in the simulations."

The DOE has identified fusion energy as having potential in helping to meet the future energy needs of the United States. The international collaboration developing ITER believes it can. Before ITER can be constructed at a cost of $10 billion, researchers need to fully understand the potential behavior of the device, such as the way heat and particles are lost. Such understanding can be gained only through mathematical models and computer simulations because of the prohibitive cost of conducting physical experiments. FACETS will allow researchers to model and test various configurations contemplated for ITER.

Winning this award, which is one of the largest, is a major coup for the technical community along the Front Range as the SCIDAC2 program was intensely competitive. Colorado State’s involvement is a sign of a world leading reputation in the solution of multiscale, multiphysics problems. Estep’s group was sought out as a partner in FACETS specifically because of its expertise in operator decomposition, which is the most widely used approach. This brings the total to three major DOE grants for research in the mathematics of operator decomposition that has been awarded to Estep’s group in recent years.

"Our research is beginning to have an impact across a broad spectrum of computational science and engineering, for which the solution of multiphysics problems is one of the most pressing goals," said Estep.

The strong turnout for the Multi-All Group Workshop recently organized by Estep and his collaborator Simon Tavener, chair of the mathematics department at CSU, demonstrates this. Fourteen engineers and scientist from the DOE Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as faculty from the University of Texas, the University of California and Umea University in Sweden, participated. The goal of the workshop was to exchange progress reports and make plans for the research collaborations over the next year.

"Our work has led to a remarkably close collaboration with Sandia on multiple fronts," Estep said.