When the US Department of Energy called, UT researcher Ane Lasa answered.
The Office of Science, a branch of the Department of Energy (DOE), is the nation’s largest source of funding for basic research in the physical sciences. The office’s director receives advice and recommendations from six advisory committees, which are composed of field experts from around the nation.
This October, Lasa formally accepted an appointment to the DOE Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee (FESAC), which helps advise the Office of Science director on issues surrounding the development and oversight of nuclear fusion, which has the potential to be the ultimate clean energy solution.
“I was asked to come onto FESAC due to my technical knowledge in a smaller subfield of fusion that is now acknowledged as essential for realizing fusion as an energy source,” said Lasa.
That subfield is the study of “plasma-facing materials,” such as the tungsten plasma facing components in the first wall of a fusion reactor, which need to remain stable while in contact with the superheated plasma (ionized gas) roiling within.
Lasa studies these materials in conjunction with Professor Brian Wirth, the UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Computational Nuclear Engineering.
Wirth served on FESAC for seven years before stepping down this fall. He contributed to the committee’s 2018 report on technologies that could significantly hasten the development of electrical power stations fueled by fusion.
In late 2018, the Office of Science charged FESAC with creating a ten-year plan for research and development into fusion energy and fundamental plasma science. Wirth and Lasa were deeply absorbed in that project, Wirth on FESAC and Lasa on the subcommittee charged with drafting the plan. The proposal was approved unanimously and was publicly delivered to the Office of Science in December of 2020.
“Being involved in that process took most of my time for two years (2019-2020),” Lasa said. “After a hectic 2018 full of research milestones, the time was right to slow down the pace of my research projects and contribute to the field in a different way.”
As she formally joins FESAC in 2023, Lasa is looking forward to representing UT and other universities to the DOE. She is also excited to increase the diversity and inclusivity of fusion science.
“It’s great to see wider representation from traditionally underrepresented genders, races, and age groups,” said Lasa. “We are also seeing more historically underfunded subfields get attention. The one that hits home for me is the development of technology that is applicable to many fusion concepts and is needed to move us beyond just creating high-performance plasmas so we can use them to safely produce electricity.”