A Physicist Is Using Mayonnaise to Study Nuclear Fusion

Investigating a promising aspect of US nuclear fusion may depend on a homemade sauce as famous as mayonnaise. We tell you what its use in the laboratory is.

To recreate the conditions necessary for nuclear fusion reactions, physicists sometimes use something called inertial confinement studies. This gives the fuel particles the amount of movement necessary for the phenomenon to occur.

A typical experiment involves using frozen gas inside metal balls the size of a pea, which are placed in a centrifugal chamber and bombarded with high-power lasers that compress the gas and heat it to a few million Kelvin, reaching the amazing figure of 400 million degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of nanoseconds.

According to, an unwanted side effect occurs when this test is performed: the granules often explode before reaching the melting conditions. To resolve issues in this field, Arindam Banerjee, associate professor of mechanical and mechanical engineering at the University of Lehigh, has focused on the dynamics of materials in extreme environments, designing various devices to measure forces in inertial confinement studies.

One issue of his research is the phenomenon of instability between materials of two different densities in extreme conditions, such as pellets and gas, known as Rayleigh-Taylor instability. Banerjee compares it to the air inside a balloon.

"As the balloon compresses, the air inside pushes against the material that limits it, trying to get out," explains the physicist in a press release. "At some point, the balloon will burst under pressure. The same happens in a fusion capsule. The mixture of the gas and the molten metal causes an explosion ".

To understand how molten metal and gases interact, Banerjee and his collaborators sought to imitate metal. They determined that the properties of the material and the dynamics of the metal at a high temperature are very similar, precisely, to those of the mayonnaise at low temperature.

In the experiments, the team poured the real Hellman mayonnaise into a Plexiglas container and subjected it to some of the same conditions as the molten metal. Using a high-speed camera and an image processing algorithm, the team calculated the parameters associated with the instability.

The results of the study were published this week in the journal Physical Review E, in one of the first stellar appearances of salsa in the scientific literature. Banerjee, who has been experimenting with mayonnaise since at least 2015, could be of great value to help solve problems in geophysics, astrophysics, industrial processes such as explosive welding and high energy density physical problems related to the problems posed by inertial confinement studies. When it comes to exploring nuclear reactions.