Fusion for the future
Published: 15 February 2021
Last week, teachers from the Ogden Teacher Network took part in a virtual visit to Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, the UK’s national nuclear fusion laboratory. They were joined by the education outreach officer for the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), Nik Muldal, who is based at Culham, and by Ogden regional representatives. Together they explored the science and looked at ways to bring it into the classroom.
Fusion energy is the process that powers stars, and scientists are investigating how that energy can be harnessed here on Earth to create carbon-free, safe and abundant electricity for a cleaner planet and a sustainable future. Scientists and engineers at the UKAEA and around the world are researching how to build fusion machines (or miniature stars!) that combine small light atoms together, releasing almost limitless energy without impacting climate change.
Scientists and engineers are making fusion a viable technology for the power stations of tomorrow. Educating the next generation about the potential and the possibilities is crucial; this visit explored and explained the technology and how it can be linked to the curriculum.
Plasma in the MAST spherical tokamak device (credit: UK Atomic Energy)
During the virtual visit, Nik presented information about fusion and ways that can explain it simply for students. Teachers were given advice on activities and demonstrations that could be included for teaching at primary through to A-level, considering the context of climate change, energy production, and other relevant curriculum topics.
The virtual visit ensured that teachers could go back to their classrooms enthused and knowledgeable about fusion, understanding its relevance to science and society and with practical ideas and resources to embed this learning within their teaching.
“The talk about Nuclear fusion was fascinating and really brought my knowledge up to date. The range of resources and ideas shared throughout are all directly applicable to both virtual lessons and lessons when back in school teaching face to face”
“This was a very informative set of workshops that brought together cutting edge research in a classroom friendly and accessible format,” says Scott Walker, Outreach Officer at Keele and one of the Ogden regional representatives on hand for the visit. “It gave the Culham Centre an opportunity to showcase their fantastic, world-leading facilities and to share the importance of fusion to future green energy needs and ambitions.
“With support from a number of my Ogden colleagues, teachers were guided to explore areas of the national curriculum where nuclear fusion, and associated physics concepts, could be employed,” continues Scott.“Even in primary, the fusion physics taking place at Culham can be linked to the curriculum. The JET tokamak provides a pioneering example of magnets in action; plasma – the fourth state of matter – can be linked to electricity and states of matter; and fusion can be linked to Earth & space.
“We were able to share a variety of resources and activities which would support the working scientifically elements of these topics using some of the Trust’s freely available resources such as the Phizzi practical: magnetometer,” concludes Scott.
The Teacher Network is open to all teachers who have been involved in any of the Trust’s programmes. The network aims to provide ongoing professional development experiences for teachers of physics at all levels and teachers in the network are emailed termly with opportunities they can sign up for.
If you believe you are eligible to join the network and are not receiving the mailings, please contact email@example.com outlining your previous experience with the Trust.