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Student Excellence: Research, Teamwork, Involvement

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Student Projects

Interdisciplinary Research Points Senior to Graduate School
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After reading up on nuclear fusion power, senior honors student Brandon Sorbom thought building his own nuclear reactor would be a fun personal project. “Unlike fission power that involves breaking apart heavy and very radioactive elements, fusion power gets energy from creating bonds between small elements like hydrogen or helium, releasing much more energy and having the possibility for relatively ‘clean’ nuclear energy,” Sorbom explained. Unfortunately, he said, fusion power is much harder to achieve than fission power and more expensive. In his research, Sorbom happened upon the Farnsworth fusor, a tabletop fusion device that creates lower-temperature fusion reactions that don’t require large, expensive magnetic fields to contain. Sorbom, a double major in electrical engineering and engineering physics with a minor in applied mathematics, thought building one on his own would be a great, handson way to look at some of the things he hopes to study in graduate school. “This reactor is an unlikely candidate for actually making power, but it does produce fusion reactions,” he said. “The first reactor that I am building might not even go ‘nuclear,’ but it would produce plasma, the first step toward fusion.” Sorbom is a teaching assistant in physics and engineering, and a member of LMU’s rowing team. In addition to being nominated for male athlete of the year, he has earned numerous academic honors. Sorbom is a member of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honors society and Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit honors society. He also has had the opportunity to work with professors Jeff Sanny and David Berube over the past couple of years on a Rains research grant studying space plasma physics. He said that in graduate school he would like to study applied plasma physics, and after that, he is torn between researching fusion power as an energy source and researching plasma rocket engines. But as he prepares for his future, Sorbom said he appreciates the advantages that come with being an LMU student. “I really like how the school is small enough that it is possible to develop relationships with my professors,” he said. “I can’t even count the number of times that I have gone to office hours to ask for help with homework, my major/minor planning or just life in general.”