Dear fans and followers of These Vibes Are Too Cosmic:
It is wonderful to see continued engagement with our content on this site! I am looking over our posts several years later, having seen so much about our politics, health, and science change since this blog was last updated in mid 2019. The show in its former interview-heavy form had to peter out as Stevie and I turned towards finishing experiments, writing papers, and graduating. Fortunately, we both completed our PhDs over subsequent years and have since moved on to various life ventures.
For one, I need to update you on me: though you may have known me differently, I’m Frances, a physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab (PPPL) and still as avid a science communicator as I have the bandwidth to be. The more I come out to the world as trans, the more important it is to connect the dots in every venue — so now my new name is connected to this website and a body of work I have loved producing. Nothing is changing about my intention to produce more science on the radio.
That being said, TVR2C has not gone away, though its form has changed substantially! Over the summers of 2021 and 2022, I led a weekly (later bi-weekly) WPRB program under this name, These Vibes Are Too Cosmic, which left out interviews with scientists but distributed many science news stories over the span of the show. Rewarding as this format has become, I would hope that future work brings back talking with real scientists (not just my voice!) and that I have time to come back summer after summer to WPRB 103.3 FM.
Stevie has made plenty of totally unique strides herself, pushing the world forward in her own way. She has changed fields from physics to AI ethics and tech policy. Currently, she is a Senior Ethics Research Scientist at Deepmind. Somehow or another, we’ll both be involved in any future directions These Vibes takes.
Thank you all for your continued listening, feedback, and support!
Frances, Staff Research Physicist at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and DJ at WPRB
3 thoughts on “An Update After Several Years”
Thanks for the update. And congrats. How big a deal is the breakthrough at Livermore in your opinion? Is the reactor at Livermore a tokomak or stellarator? I can’t seem to find the answer in any of the news articles? How many years do you think it will be before fusion energy is commercially available? Thanks! Tom Bischoff Succasunna NJ
Hi Tom, thank you for your post and question! The Livermore breakthrough is a big success in that fusion has long been looking to surpass “breakeven,” where more energy is produced than went in to heat the plasma. Once contained, fusion is a virtuous cycle: more fusion heats the plasma, which makes fusion more likely, which heats the plasma more… So passing the point where fusion is leading to substantial plasma heating is pretty big. Of course, there are a lot of challenges between our present capabilities and deploying power plants, such as harnessing the energy and doing all of these experiments cheaply and repeatably.
The National Ignition Facility at Livermore isn’t a tokamak or stellarator, both of which use magnetic fields to confine plasmas. Instead, this is an “inertially confined” system, where lasers push fuel inward so that it implodes into a hot, fusing core. This situation is much less like holding the sun in a bottle and more like generating tiny H-bombs that are controllable and create power cyclically, like an engine. There are big challenges to both approaches, but many would say that a steady-state solution that sits still and gives off energy (like a stellarator) will be easier in the long run.
Fusion is still likely 10+ years away from the grid. But, it’s an exciting time — lots of companies are working to develop and test different fusion concepts. Given the speed at which companies can move ahead and the enormous scale of private investment that is going into these companies (see for example Commonwealth Fusion out of MIT), it’s likely that the entrepreneurial side can take what the public laboratories have done and develop it much faster.
Thanks again for your question and for keeping in contact with us! Here’s to keeping science on WPRB 🙂
That is an excellent explanation, thank you. After I emailed you, I also learned of a company called Helion energy. Are you familiar with their concept for using induction to turn fusion energy directly into electricity? Are they for real? Or are they con men? Have you ever thought about a radio show where you discuss scientific issues and maybe play a cool song every now and then? Thanks! Tom