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August 2, 2023

NEEP Badgers on the Hill: Fusion Day 2023

Written By: Samantha Vold


Redesigning the United States’ energy grid will require involvement of engineers, scientists, politicians, and community members alike. Fusion Day is an annual event for fusion scientists and advocates to meet with their state representatives in Washington, D.C. to advocate for fusion funding before the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is presented before Congress.

Professor Paul Wilson, Assistant Professor Stephanie Diem, and graduate student Kelly Garcia spent a day in D.C. meeting with Wisconsin state representatives to share the current fusion research and opportunities for fusion within Wisconsin. Garcia kicked off the meetings with staffers of representatives by introducing herself and fusion on a broad level. Professors Diem and Wilson would continue the conversation, narrowing in on why Wisconsin in particular is a good candidate for fusion funding.

For Garcia, participating in Fusion Day was a unique, enriching professional development experience. She says in graduate school, the science courses she took were more demanding – covering complicated topics that require more attention. But having the opportunity to participate in Fusion Day forced her out of what she does every day. “I do research every single day, but it’s nice to be able to see the political impact that you can potentially have,” Garcia says.

Left to right: Kevin Walters (UW WARF), Kieran Furlong (Realta Fusion), Brett Baumann (Rep. Gallagher), Steffi Diem, Kelly Garcia, Paul Wilson

Garcia says what drew her to fusion energy research, and what connects many in the fusion community together is the belief that fusion is one of the up-and-coming energy sources that will help us combat the climate crisis. “It’s not the solution,” she says, “but it will work in tandem with other renewable energy sources. It’s one step along the path toward a cleaner future.”

Her conversations with the staffers echo what Garcia would want the public to know: Fusion energy is an inherently safe process, with no long-lived radioactive waste. Because we can use deuterium pulled from seawater, we have nearly infinite fuel. And, on top of those points, the amount of energy produced would be tremendously immense – fusion is what powers stars, after all!

Wisconsin already has the makings of a strong fusion energy hub. Type One Energy and Realta Fusion, both UW spinoff companies whose homebase is Madison, recently received grants worth millions of dollars from the Department of Energy to support research and development of fusion energy technologies. Another UW spinoff company, SHINE, based in Janesville, has already been paving the way when it comes to regulating fusion energy.

To keep Wisconsin on the path toward a fusion energy future, Garcia thinks graduate students play an important role. She says there needs to be a connection between scientific advancement and lawmaking. “It’s important to be involved, especially as a grad student. You’re making a lasting impression and lawmakers can see ‘This is our future generation that’s working on this and they really believe this effects them.’”

Featured image: Steffi Diem, Kelly Garcia, and Paul Wilson in D.C.