Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) in Hefei, Anhui [Source: China Daily]

US and China Scientific Fusion In and Outside of the Lab Continues


A joint US-Chinese research team has just made a scientific breakthrough in fusion energy technology. At Hefei’s Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) facility, the team carried out a never before accomplished experiment that managed to temporarily “confine plasma in a powerful magnetic field and prevent it from escaping”. While there is still a long way to go, this is an important step toward solving some of the problems in constructing a fusion reactor and eventually harnessing a new source of clean energy.

This project was the result of a long-term collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and three fusion research institutes in the United States: the Lawrence Livermore National laboratory, General Atomics, and Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The result came soon after the teams celebrated the 30th anniversary of collaborating on fusion research, and a team of Chinese fusion experts will soon travel to San Diego in order to replicate the experiment.

Chinese talent and collaboration with the United States is important to the mutual development of science and technology, benefiting both countries. The great majority of Chinese PhD recipients intend to stay in the United States after graduation and high-skilled workers like these are an important part of keeping US companies innovative.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is another field in which Chinese contributions are important. The majority of Chinese-born researchers (59%) on AI perform their research at US institutions. Furthermore, all Chinese authors involved in the highest tier of elite AI research are affiliated with US institutions.

Chinese students make up the largest group of students studying in the United States. They make contributions to the academic life and development of the institutions at which they study, and since they pay higher fees than local students, they are important for keeping funding high for public universities. It is estimated that the economic benefit in 2016 of over 350,000 Chinese students studying in the United States was more than $12 billion.

While the trade war, security concerns, and technological competition may be heating up, China and the United States both stand to benefit from continued and careful collaboration in scientific and technological pursuits.

Mark Witzke is a participant in the East-West Center in Washington’s Young Professionals Program. He is also a graduate student studying international politics at UC San Diego's School of Global Policy and Strategy where he is the editor in chief of the school's China Focus blog.