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This physicist uses mayonnaise to study nuclear fusion

Hold the mayonnaise

One promising aspect of US nuclear fusion research may depend on a common culinary spice.

Physicists sometimes use inertial confinement studies to restore the conditions required for fusion reactions. In this case, this means the use of gas frozen in pea-sized metal pellets, which are placed in a centrifugal chamber and bombarded with high power lasers that compress the gas and heat it to a few million Kelvin. That's an amazing 400 million degrees Fahrenheit.

This all happens in nanoseconds and, according to Phys.org tends to have an undesirable side effect – the pellets often explode before the fusion conditions are reached. To push the concept further, scientists need to understand physics better.

This is where Mayo starts.

Wholly Aioli

Arindam Banerjee, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics at Lehigh University, investigates the dynamics of materials in extreme environments. He and his team built several devices to measure inertial forces.

A subject of investigation is the phenomenon of instability between materials with two different densities under extreme conditions, such as pellets and gas, known as Rayleigh-Taylor instability. Banerjee compares it to the air in a balloon.

"As the balloon is compressed, the air inside it presses against the material that encloses it and tries to move out," Banerjee said in a press release. "At some point the balloon bursts under pressure. The same thing happens in a fusion capsule. The mixing of the gas and the molten metal causes an explosion.

In order to understand how molten metal and gases interact, Banerjee and his associates imitated the metal. They found that the material properties and dynamics of the metal at high temperatures are very similar to those of drum roll low temperature mayonnaise.

In the trials, Hellmans Real poured mayonnaise into a perspex container and subjected it to some of the same conditions as the molten metal. Using a high-speed camera and an image processing algorithm, the team calculated the instability-related parameters.

The results of the study were published today in the journal Physical Review E ̵

1; a rare example of mayonnaise in the scientific literature.

Food for Thought

Understanding the fundamental hydrodynamics and physics of fusion reactions may indeed require lateral thinking. By applying a creative mindset and possibly one or two substitutions, physicists can better model the forces acting in different reactions.

Better understanding of these forces, says Banerjee – who has experimented with mayonnaise since at least 2015 could help solve challenges in geophysics, astrophysics, industrial processes such as explosive welding and high energy density physics problems, which are related to the Inertial Confinement Fusion.

READ MORE: See Mayo: Experiments Demonstrate "Instability Threshold" of Elastic-Plastic Material Phys.org ]

More information about fusion research: Scientists have a new idea for a fusion reactor internship

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