In the quest to generate safe, sustainable energy through nuclear fusion, a Villanova Engineering professor is helping to lead the charge
By Meg Maxwell
For decades, scientists have labored to harness the power of nuclear fusion to generate a limitless source of clean energy. Over the past year, new breakthroughs have been made in the field that could help make this long-sought-after goal a reality—and a Villanova professor is contributing important research to further that progress.
“Fusion energy is the type of energy that powers the sun, so it requires very high temperatures and very extreme conditions,” explains David Cereceda, PhD, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering. “If we hope to make fusion energy practical on Earth, we need to figure out what materials will withstand those conditions.”
That’s exactly what Dr. Cereceda is working on—with the support of an Early Career Award he received from the US Department of Energy (DOE) in June 2022. Dr. Cereceda is one of only 83 researchers nationwide who received the prestigious award.
“It’s a dream,” says Dr. Cereceda, the first Villanova faculty member to receive this distinction from the DOE. “It’s the kind of award that everyone wants to get—mostly because it confirms that the scientific community believes in what you’re doing, but also because it allows you five years to think big and really focus on doing the science.”
“Fusion energy is the type of energy that powers the sun, so it requires very high temperatures and very extreme conditions. If we hope to make fusion energy practical on Earth, we need to figure out what materials will withstand those conditions.”
David Cereceda, PhD
The project that Dr. Cereceda will pursue under the DOE award proposes to develop and design materials that can help to make fusion energy reliable, sustainable and safe. This work is the essential next step after a monumental breakthrough in nuclear fusion was made last year.
In December, scientists in California were able to achieve ignition in a controlled nuclear fusion reaction for the first time. That is, the amount of energy that resulted from the nuclear fusion reaction was greater than the amount of energy the scientists put into it. Now, Dr. Cereceda could move the ball forward on the practical side: Once fusion energy can be reliably ignited, we will need systems that can manage it safely and efficiently.
Dr. Cereceda has assembled a team of postdoctoral researchers and PhD students at Villanova, and progress on the project is underway. The team has had a scholarly paper accepted for the Journal of Nuclear Materials and presented some of their research at multiple academic conferences, including the 10th International Conference on Multiscale Materials Modeling.