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Adelle Wright
November 2, 2023

Focus on new faculty: Adelle Wright is bridging the gap between fusion science and real-world energy technology

Written By: Adam Malecek

In her highly interdisciplinary research, Adelle Wright brings together cutting-edge insights from plasma physics, applied mathematics and computer science to enable the development and deployment of fusion as a clean energy technology.

Wright studies magnetohydrodynamics, which describes the macroscopic behavior of magnetically confined plasma, the ultra-hot ionized gas that produces energy in a fusion reactor.

“These plasmas consist of charged particles in a fluid that interact with electromagnetic fields, so a whole range of different interactions and couplings can occur, making this nonlinear system very difficult to understand and predict,” says Wright, who joined the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics at UW-Madison as an assistant professor in August 2023. “A key goal in my research is to develop a predictive understanding of nonlinear magnetohydrodynamic phenomena, which is essential for the success of magnetic confinement fusion.”

Wright’s research is focused on stellarators, which are viewed as the main alternative to tokamaks for fusion reactors. Because stellarators haven’t been studied as extensively as tokamaks, there’s a limited amount of experimental data for these devices. To help speed up stellarator development, Wright develops tools for high-fidelity numerical simulations and leverages high-performance computing to investigate and validate stellarator designs.

“One reason I’m really excited about joining UW-Madison is because the university is one of the world’s leading institutions in fusion science research and education, and it’s particularly strong in the specialized area of stellarator physics, so there are many great opportunities for collaboration and to make an impact with my work,” says Wright, who plans to collaborate with experimentalists who work with the college’s Helically Symmetric eXperiment.

Wright received her bachelor’s degree in physics and her PhD (2021) from the Australian National University. Prior to joining UW-Madison, she was a staff research physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

She has also worked at the Australian Academy of Science, first as the international science council liaison officer, then as the coordinator for international science engagement. In this capacity, she worked closely with the National Committees for Science to manage the representation of Australian science at the International Science Council and its member organizations.

In her research, Wright works at the intersection of science and policy. She examines the drivers that shape the environment into which fusion energy technologies would be deployed. For example, Wright aims to understand factors such as social license, markets, regulation and geopolitical impacts so they can be considered early in the design process, increasing the likelihood that the fusion technology would be successfully adopted.

She is especially interested in science diplomacy, in which nations engage with each other on scientific issues that support their strategic interests. At UW-Madison, Wright wants to create interdisciplinary research and educational programs focused on this topic.

“There are actually very few formal accredited programs or courses dedicated to science diplomacy,” she says. “I think, particularly given the expertise of NEEP faculty as well as faculty from across the university and the highly collaborative interdisciplinary environment here, that UW-Madison is really well-placed to establish a footprint and be a leader in this area.”

Top photo of Adelle Wright by Joel Hallberg