Transform and explore across disciplines
Become creative engineers, innovators, and leaders
Spark innovation and inspire others
Innovation that Inspires. The Vanderbilt Fusion Project is Vanderbilt University's premier student-led research initiative and engineering project team. Together, we're on a mission to make history at Vanderbilt by building a functional nuclear fusion reactor. Besides serving as a cross-disciplinary research test platform for innovative research, our reactor will be a powerful tool to inspire others. We'll be able to showcase the power of the stars in a safe, stable system about the size of a soccer ball. From jets of brilliant purple plasma to the glow of deuterium-deuterium nuclei fusing, our reactor is designed to inspire.
At the Vanderbilt Fusion Project, we’re building a community of innovators and problem solvers working together to accomplish something incredible. When we succeed, we’ll have fused atoms together at hundreds of millions of degrees celsius, created a cutting-edge research platform, and formed a team of next-generation leaders. The Vanderbilt Fusion Project represents the culture of intersectionality and real-world research that makes Vanderbilt stand out today, all while embodying the spirit of innovation that’s driving our university forward into the future. The Vanderbilt Fusion Project embraces the motto “dare to grow,” as we push ourselves to explore, innovate, and create.
Clean Hydrogen Fuel. No Radioactive Byproducts.
Safety by design. Our reactor assembly is designed to fully shield all ionizing radiation produced by our system. Our reactor is classified as a particle accelerator, not a nuclear reactor due to its small size and critical operating properties. Our reactor is fueled by deuterium gas, a naturally occurring, non-radioactive isotope of hydrogen. We produce helium and tritium through nuclear transmutation when fusion events occur. However, we produce both products in negligible quantities, and no tritium ever leaves the reactor vessel (since any tritium produces reacts with the deuterium fuel ions to form helium, actually boosting our reactor efficiency).
Our primary radiation safety focus is mitigating the exposure effects of bremsstrahlung radiation (produced by decelerating electrons colliding with the outer shell of the vessel), synchrotron radiation (produced by ions traveling in curved paths), and nuclear reaction radiation. The first two types of radiation are categorized as ionizing radiation and primarily fall within the x-ray spectrum. These are easily mitigated by shielding, and the Vanderbilt Fusion Project practices a responsible ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) standard. The third category of emissions primarily falls under neutron exposure. Fortunately, our reactor does not produce enough neutron radiation to cause risk to personnel or the environment. However, we still carefully monitor and mitigate neutron exposure.
Our System Teams
The Vanderbilt Fusion Project is powered by our system teams. Each team is fully interdisciplinary and dedicated to a specific project vertical. Each team closely collaborates, so each system can seamlessly integrate.
Executive Design is our highest-level system team. They are dedicated to full-suite project management, and work to coordinate the other system teams. They are also responsible for managing the budget, in coordination with our business operations team.
Safety is ensuring our reactor is 100% compliant with University and government regulations and general safety best practices. From working with VU Radiation Safety to designing custom shielding solutions, Safety has a crucial role in ensuring the success of our project. This is an exceptional team for non-engineering STEM majors.
Vacuum & Gas
Vacuum & Gas Systems is the foundational team of our project. They’re working to create a vacuum chamber with 10,000 times less pressure than atmospheric, and then carefully introduce our deuterium gas fuel.
Electrical Systems is powering our reactor. They’re creating a power supply system that runs on over 40,000 volts of electricity, to create a potential difference strong enough to create plasma and fuse atoms.
Control Systems is creating the software and tools needed to control and monitor the system. They’ll integrate our sensor arrays and machine controls to turn our reactor into a dynamic test platform for research and deep science.
Platform Design works with faculty labs at Vanderbilt to make sure our reactor design will be ideally customized for interdisciplinary research. This team is focused on strategic design and cross-campus collaboration.
Communications & Finance
Communications & Finance is our business operations team. They work with University leadership, corporate sponsors, and NGOs to provide Vandy Fusion with the resources we need to succeed. Additionally, they manage our marketing, outreach, and community engagement activities.
Cutting-edge research and engineering should be possible for everyone. It's this simple belief that kickstarted the Vanderbilt Fusion Project. Our founders wanted to create a project that wouldn't only enable next-generation research for new labs and groups, but would also prove that anyone can create something incredible when they work with a team.
Once completed, our reactor platform will open up new research paradigms with applications ranging from nanotechnology to renewable energy. Nuclear Fusion provides the extreme environment and unique particle source conditions necessary to expand the frontiers of science, and our miniature, low-cost reactor will let any research group explore these new horizons.
Additionally, the Vanderbilt Fusion Project's role as an interdisciplinary project team has been woven into its DNA since day one. For our team, the journey is just as important as the atom-smashing destination, and we strive to create an environment where our team members can grow, innovate, and explore. The Vanderbilt Fusion Project is a unique, hands-on learning environment, and provides unmatched real-world experiences to our team members. From plasma physics to business communications, our team members gain the skills and experiences they need to excel as engineers, innovators, and leaders.
Dec. '21 - May '22
After deciding to launch the Vanderbilt Fusion Project, our leadership team moved quickly to build a team passionate about the project, and then secure the University relationships necessary to launch our project. In February 2022, the Vanderbilt Fusion Project became an official Vanderbilt Student Organization and Engineering Project Team.
Jun. '22 - Aug. '22
Over the summer, our team refined our strategic vision and executed background research. We developed a Nuclear Fusion Boot Camp and training materials for new members, in preparation for growing the organization at the start of the fall semester.
Sep. '22 - Oct. '22
The Vanderbilt Fusion Project officially launched in September '22. We doubled the size of our team through a competitive, multi-phase recruiting process, and successfully onboarded incredible new members. We quickly moved into the research & design phase of the project and began designing the reactor and establishing the technical requirements.
Oct. 21st '22
On October 21st, the Vanderbilt Fusion Project won the Vanderbilt Sesquicentennial Grant, with an award of $20,000 from the Office of the Chancellor. As a Sesquicentennial Grant-winning team, our project embodies the future of Vanderbilt University, and we were recognized by the University for our innovative, cross-disciplinary mission.
Nov. '22 - Mar. '23
During this time, the Vanderbilt Fusion Project organized productive meetings with executives from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, General Fusion, and the Fusion Industry Association. The project team also hosted Dr. Steven Krahn, Professor of the Practice of Nuclear Environmental Engineering at Vanderbilt, Dr. Andrew Sowder, Senior Technical Executive at the EPRI, Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, and Dr. David Owens, Executive Director of the Wond'ry, at their weekly meetings. Executive team members were invited to a private event with former President Bill Clinton and the team was featured in an article written by the Tennessean.