MU hosts international conference on nuclear fusion

MU is the first ever Midwest host of the conference.

MU is hosting the 18th International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Fusion throughout this week. The event has rotated through Europe and Asia over the past three years, and this marks the first time it has been held in the Midwest.

The conference began last Sunday and will run until Friday.

Mark Prelas, a professor of nuclear engineering, said that MU’s new Sidney Kimmel Institute for Nuclear Renaissance was a major factor in choosing the school as host.

“The Institute put us on the map as one of the leading places in the world doing this kind of work,” Prelas said. “They were looking for somebody to host it, and ... we had the capability through the Sidney Kimmel Institute to host the conference, and the willpower to organize it.”

Annette Sobel, assistant to the provost for strategic opportunities and program organizer for the conference, said she proposed that MU host the event last year. Sobel and Robert Duncan, vice chancellor of research and co-chairman of the conference, presented their case to the International Advisory Committee at the 2012 conference in South Korea.

Sobel said the conference’s main goal is to address current research activities in low-energy nuclear reactions, previously referred to as cold fusion, and emphasize the scientific method across ongoing nuclear research. Researchers are still trying to understand the field, Sobel said.

“There are a lot of unknowns in this field," Sobel said. "What we’re trying to do is really get back to the data and understand what the implications and gaps are in the field, and how the field can move forward in a unified way.”

Duncan said the topic has become very interesting, especially recently.

“It’s a fascinating area because it’s been so controversial in physics in the past, but now we’re certain that the effect is real,” Duncan said. “This is reinvigorating, an area of research that could very well lead us to understanding things about nature and the physical sciences that we just don’t yet.”

Duncan also said a number of MU research groups, which includes seven different principal investigator teams led by senior professors, are presenting research with students and postdoctorals at the conference.

“This becomes a venue for researchers from all over the world to present their recent results, and among those presentations have been presentations by our (Sidney Kimmel Institute for Nuclear Renaissance) faculty and staff,” he said.

Prelas said he believes scientific conferences are educational and beneficial especially to MU students, who have the privilege of mingling professionally with scientists.

“The beauty of it is you’re hearing the information hot off the presses, rather than waiting for it to go through journal reviews,” Prelas said. “Those end up typically being a year old or older when you receive journals. But with the scientific conferences you’re oftentimes getting results that have occurred in the last few days.”

Sobel said the conference has held a number of entrepreneurship panels for students, and additionally funded several scholarships.

“One of the big things was we had a big panel on career opportunities (Tuesday night),” Sobel said. “And we had a number of people who had worked in the field for quite a while talking about their experiences, and what the opportunities and challenges are going to be."

There's a lot that students can take away from the conference, Sobel said.

“The bottom line was encouraging students to get a broad-based experience in physics, engineering, material science areas that open up a number of opportunities for them,” Sobel said. “It’s been a real emphasis on trying to get young people involved in understanding the opportunities that are out there.”

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