Irvin Lindemuth, Ph.D.

Irv LindemuthDr. Irvin Lindemuth is by many measures considered to be the “father” of the Magnetized Target branch of fusion energy research and proposed solutions to commercial power.

Recognizing that the facility cost was a large component of the R&D cost which was the principal impediment to the progress of fusion development at the time, around the mid-1990’s, Drs. Irv Lindemuth, Richard Siemon and Kurt Schoenberg of Los Alamos National Laboratory began to examine the cost of developing various fusion concepts in a fundamental way. The fusion parameter space is spanned by two basic plasma parameters, namely the plasma density and the magnetic field embedded in the plasma, which govern the physics of attaining fusion burn. The tokomak attempts to burn a plasma at a density of 1020 ions per m3 in a magnetic field of several teslas (T), while laser ICF attempts to burn a plasma at a density of 1032 ions per m3. In conventional ICF, no external magnetic field is applied to the target, but laser-plasma interaction can self-generate magnetic fields up to about 100 T. Essentially, these two mainline approaches sit at two extreme isolated spots in the fusion parameter space.

The results of the Lindemuth, et al, analysis were presented in various papers, workshops and conferences, since the mid-1990’s and recently collected and published in their paper of 2009 [3]. The principal results of their analysis are: 

  1. The cost of plasma confinement is proportional to the thermal energy or the fuel mass in the confined plasma, whereas the cost of plasma heating is proportional to the required heating power density. The cost of a breakeven fusion facility is the combined cost of confining the burning plasma at breakeven and the cost of heating the plasma up to ignition.
  2. For magnetically confined plasma, the amount of plasma energy required to produce fusion ignition is approximately inversely proportional to the square root of the plasma density.
  3. For fusion approaches that use compression to heat the plasma, the power density of the compression required is proportional to the fuel density and the velocity of implosion.
  4. The net results of the analysis for the cost of a breakeven fusion facility as a function of the fuel ion density and temperature is shown in Figure 3, which correctly explains the costs of ITER and NIF. ITER corresponds to a point in Figure 3 for a density of 1014 ions per cc and temperature of 104 eV (108 degrees K.) NIF corresponds to a point of 1025 ions per cc and the same temperature.
  5. There appears to be a sweet spot where the burning plasma density is in the range 1019 to 1022 ions per cc. In this sweet spot, the stunning result of their analysis is that fusion approach exists for which breakeven fusion facility might very well cost as low as $51M!  (A typical nuclear fission power plant costs in excess of $5.5 billion 2008 USD.)

Dr. Lindemuth retired in November 2003 after more than 32 years with the University of California, first at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and then at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. At Los Alamos at the time of his retirement, Dr. Lindemuth was a special assistant for Russian collaboration in the Office of the Associate Director for Weapons Physics, the team leader for Magnetohydrodynamics and Pulsed Power in the Plasma Physics Group, and a project leader for Pulsed Power Science, Technology, and International Collaboration in the High Energy Density Hydrodynamics Program. His primary responsibility was to provide technical leadership for a scientific collaboration between Los Alamos and Los Alamos’s Russian counterpart, the All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Experimental Physics (VNIIEF) at Sarov (Arzamas-16). Prior to joining Los Alamos in 1978, he was a technical staff member in A-Division at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he was involved in fusion research.

Dr. Lindemuth received his BS degree in electrical engineering in 1965 from Lehigh University, where he was a Hertz Scholar, and his MS and PhD degrees in applied science engineering in 1967 and 1971, respectively, from the University of California, Davis/Livermore, where he was a Hertz Fellow. His thesis research was conducted under the advisorship of Dr. John Killeen, founder of the National Magnetic Fusion Energy Computer Center. One of his graduate school advisors was Edward Teller.

He has been an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico Los Alamos branch, where he has taught engineering and mathematics courses. He spent the 1991-92 academic year as a visiting professor in the Nuclear Engineering Department of Texas A&M University, where he taught undergraduate and graduate courses, helped lay the groundwork for the Department’s expansion into the controlled fusion area, and assisted the Department in forming collaborations with Russian laboratories and educational institutions.

Although he has never participated in the US inertial confinement fusion or magnetic confinement fusion programs, his areas of expertise include thermonuclear fusion and advanced numerical methods for the computer simulation of fusion plasmas and related pulsed power technology. He has published numerous papers in refereed journals and proceedings of major international conferences. He has been involved in a wide range of fusion and high energy density physics programs spanning essentially all of the ten orders of magnitude in density and time space from magnetic fusion energy plasmas to inertial confinement fusion plasmas. An internationally recognized pioneer in the application of implicit, non-split computational methods to magnetohydrodynamics, he has achieved widespread recognition for his large-scale numerical simulations of a variety of fusion and other high-density plasma systems. In addition to his accomplishments in modeling high temperature plasmas, he has formulated a variety of novel pulsed power computer codes that have led to important advances in laboratory programs. His codes have stimulated the development of several types of fast opening switches.

He is a U.S. pioneer in Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF) and performed the first comprehensive survey of the parameter space in which MTF was likely to work. Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, he recognized that the Soviets had developed advanced technology in the areas of ultrahigh magnetic fields and ultrahigh energy electrical pulse generation that significantly exceeded U.S. capabilities and that were motivated by the Soviet MTF program known as MAGO. In January 1992, he became the first American scientist to present a formal scientific seminar at one of the formerly secret, and still closed, Russian nuclear weapons design laboratories. Dr. Lindemuth played an essential role in establishing the collaboration with VNIIEF, a collaboration that has helped integrate Russian weapons scientists into the global scientific community and that has resulted in more than 300 conference papers and archival publications. The LANL/VNIIEF collaboration, and Dr. Lindemuth’s role in it, were featured in the Discovery Channel documentary, Stockpile, which first aired in 2001. In 1992, Dr. Lindemuth was the recipient of a Los Alamos Distinguished Performance Award for his work in the formative stages of the LANL/VNIIEF collaboration.

In 2004, he was named a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Dr. Lindemuth currently resides in Tucson, Arizona and is a part-time research faculty member of the Physics Department at the University of Nevada, Reno.

1971 – The Alternating-Direction Implicit Numerical Solution of Time-Dependent, Two-Dimensional, Two-Fluid Magnetohydrodynamic Equations


The Ignition Design Space of Magnetized Target Fusion Irvin Lindemuth Ph.D., Dec. 28, 2015

Why Magnetized Target Fusion Offers A Low-Cost Development Path for Fusion Energy, Richard E. Siemon, P h.D., Irvin R. Lindemuth, Ph.D., Kurt F. Schoenberg, Ph.D.

The Case for Magnetized Target Fusion (MTF), Irvin Lindemuth, Ph.D.

The fundamental parameter space of controlled thermonuclear fusion by Irvin R. Lindemuth & Richard Siemon

Irv Lindemuth Ph.D. Review of Plasma Jet Driven Magneto-Inertial Fusion & Letter to Congress on Fusion Funding includes private correspondence between Dr. Lindemuth and Tom Tamarkin as well as a more comprehensive biography on Dr. Lindemuth.