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What’s in a name?

Fusion is hot: tens of millions of degrees hot.  ­Maybe it’s a bit ironic that fusion technology is also pretty “cool”.  The challenge of creating the extreme conditions for fusion – the fundamental science, the power and energy required, the sophisticated controls, the advanced diagnostic systems – all push the boundaries of human capability.  That’s inspiring, and it inspires people to come up with some wonderfully cool and creative names for their fusion machines.

General Fusion has designed, constructed, and tested a number of plasma systems over the years, and it’s amazing how a good name catches on and becomes useful for communicating both internally and externally.  Recently we’ve finished work with a series of smaller scale systems which were named Magnetized Ring Test.  Pretty dull, but the acronym, MRT caught on quickly… many thanks to the A-Team.  Variants were eventually developed: MRST (higher power version), and Super MRT, or SMRT (a system with a lot of flexibility whose name had a playful link for Simpsons fans).

Recently we began developing a new plasma system with some significant changes to the plasma test chamber, particularly a quasi-spherical geometry that more closely matches what we expect in the core of our power plant.  We needed a new name… especially after early simulations of the new shape started having “Bobblehead” associated with them.

As mentioned, fusion has a history of cool-sounding and clever acronyms for different machines.  People are particularly fond of including the letter “X”… just look at the recent media attention to Wendelstein 7-X (W7-X) in Germany, or the National Spherical Torus eXperiment (NSTX) at Princeton.  Look back at systems relevant to Magnetized Target Fusion and you’ll find the Compact Toroid eXperiment (CTX) at Los Alamos, and the Sustained Spheromak Physics eXperiment (SSPX) at Lawrence Livermore.

Don’t like the “X”?  How about the world record holder for fusion energy produced, the Joint European Torus (JET) in the UK, or China’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST)?  There’s Korea’s KSTAR, Tore Supra in France, and the proposed IGNITOR in Italy.  Laser Fusion systems have been called OMEGA, Nova, Shiva, etc.  Go a back in time and you find programs like LINUS at the US Naval Research Lab (named after the Peanuts character), and before that ZETA at Harwell in the UK, and the wistful Perhapsatron at Los Alamos.

SPECTOR

SPECTOR

PROSPECTOR

PROSPECTOR

So when it came to naming our new design, the pressure was on to come up with something fun, memorable and cool-sounding that actually described what was unique about the system. The result?  We’re now constructing our first SPhErical Compact TORoid system, or SPECTOR.  Maybe we should thank Ian Fleming for some inspiration (though we tweaked the spelling).  SPECTOR caught on quickly, both internally and with our external research partners as well.

That’s not all. There was an intermediate system, one where we first tested out some of the changes we were planning to incorporate in SPECTOR.  A prototype-SPECTOR, if you will.  It didn’t take long before one of our lead physicists coined it PROSPECTOR, and the name stuck.

It may seem inconsequential, considering all the (much) more intellectually challenging work involved in making fusion happen, but sometimes it can be easy to underestimate the intangible value of little things like a cool name.