Welcome! I am a fifth-year PhD student in the MIT Department of Physics, studying plasma physics and fusion energy sciences at the Plasma Science and Fusion Center.

My thesis work focuses on the generation and evolution of relativistic “runaway” electrons in plasmas, specifically in the Alcator C-Mod tokamak at MIT.

More broadly, I am interested in the physics of plasma disruptions, as well as the high magnetic field path toward future compact fusion devices.

Scroll down to learn more about my research, publications and presentations, news, and other info.

Credit: David Sella


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My research interests include the physics of…
  • Relativistic particles in plasmas—“runaway” electrons in tokamaks
  • Tokamak plasma disruptions—prediction, avoidance, mitigation, and impact
  • High magnetic field, compact fusion devices—concepts and diagnostics
  • Transformation optics and optical black holes—new!

Runaway Electrons

My PhD thesis work focuses on the physics of “runaway” electrons (REs) in tokamak plasmas. Interestingly, in a plasma, the probability of one particle colliding with another decreases as the particle’s speed increases. This means that, given a strong enough electric field in a plasma, a fast electron can overcome friction and “run away” to relativistic energies! While REs are a neat plasma phenomena, they can also hit the wall of the plasma chamber and cause serious damage. Thus, the ultimate goal of this field of research is to know enough about RE evolution to avoid them in future fusion devices.

We generated REs in the Alcator C-Mod tokamak, which has a strong enough magnetic field for REs to emit visible synchrotron radiation. In close collaboration with the Plasma Theory group at the Chalmers University of Technology, I have studied how synchrotron spectra can indicate RE energies and how synchrotron images—like those shown below—can give insight into RE spatial and temporal dynamics. Currently, I am looking at what information can be gained from polarization measurements of synchrotron emission.


Tokamak Plasma Disruptions

Fusion-grade tokamak plasmas can have temperatures over 100 million  Kelvin and carry currents over 1 million Amps! Therefore, they carry a lot of thermal and magnetic energy. Confining a donut-shaped plasma in a “magnetic bottle” can sometimes lead the plasma wriggling out of control and expelling its energy over milliseconds; this is called a plasma disruption. For future power-generating tokamaks, disruptions need to be predicted in advance and avoided—or their effects mitigated if avoidance is impossible.

To better understand the physics of disruptions, I have studied radiation asymmetries from mitigation of “healthy” and “sick” C-Mod plasmas, measured profiles of “halo” current as disrupting plasmas touch the vacuum vessel wall, and built databases for new machine learning applications to disruption prediction algorithms. Runaway electrons—mentioned above—can also be caused by disruptions. See the impact of runaways with the vacuum vessel wall in the figure below.


High Field, Compact Fusion

A future fusion power plant will have to confine a plasma with a high enough pressure for a long enough time in order to produce net energy, i.e. more power output (from fusion reactions) than input (to run the device). In the past, the main focus of the fusion community was to make the device really big—more plasma means more power. However, big machines are costly. Recently, advancements in high temperature superconducting (HTS) magnets allow another path: compact (cheaper) devices with high magnetic fields, strong enough to balance high plasma pressure. This was the inspiration for the conceptual ARC pilot plant, as well as MIT’s newest innovation, the net-energy SPARC tokamak.


During my time at MIT, I got to work on—and inside!—the Alcator C-Mod tokamak. With the highest magnetic field in a tokamak, C-Mod broke the world record for stored plasma pressure on its last day of operation, 30 September 2016. Since then, I have helped update the ARC design—see the rendering—to include a novel divertor design and robust heat exhaust management system. In addition, I have explored the feasibility of neutron diagnostics for a high-field, compact, SPARC-like device.


Transformation Optics for Black Holes

The mathematical existence of black holes is one of the most amazing consequences of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Astronomical evidence suggests that there are many super massive objects in our universe, sitting at the centers of galaxies and colliding to produce gravitational waves; these are very likely black holes. However, we will not likely have the chance to visit one in our lifetimes. A field of research called transformation optics aims to study black holes in the lab by tailoring optical media to have black-hole-like properties.

My good friend Andrew Turner and I submitted two short pieces to Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative essay competition. Andrew’s brainchild, “Black Holes, Entropy, and the Arrow of Time,” won fourth place! Check out this article in the magazine Nautilus and Elon Musk’s tweet about it. And my hope of “Building a better black hole demonstration” led to our newfound interest in and exploration of optical black holes. Hopefully another publication is coming soon!

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Publications + Presentations


first author publications

RA Tinguely and AP Turner. Optical analogues to the Kerr–Newman black hole. (2019) | arXiv:1909.05256

RA Tinguely, KJ Montes, C Rea, R Sweeney, and RS Granetz. An application of survival analysis to disruption prediction via Random Forests. Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion 61 095009 (2019) | arXiv

RA Tinguely, M Hoppe, RS Granetz, RT Mumgaard, and S Scott. Experimental and synthetic measurements of polarized synchrotron emission from runaway electrons in Alcator C-Mod. Nuclear Fusion 59 096029 (2019) | arXiv

RA Tinguely, A Rosenthal, R Simpson, SB Ballinger, AJ Creely, S Frank, AQ Kuang, BL Linehan, W McCarthy, LM Milanese, KJ Montes, T Mouratidis, JF Picard, P Rodriguez-Fernandez, AJ Sandberg, F Sciortino, EA Tolman, M Zhou, BN Sorbom, ZS Hartwig, and AE White. Neutron diagnostics for the physics of a high-field, compact, Q ≥ 1 tokamak. Fusion Engineering and Design 143 212-225 (2019) | arXiv

RA Tinguely, RS Granetz, M Hoppe, and O Embréus. Spatiotemporal evolution of runaway electrons from synchrotron images in Alcator C-Mod. Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion 60 124001 (2018) | arXiv

RA Tinguely, RS Granetz, M Hoppe, and O Embréus. Measurements of runaway electron synchrotron spectra at high magnetic fields in Alcator C-Mod. Nuclear Fusion 58 076019 (2018) | arXiv

RA Tinguely, RS Granetz, A Berg, AQ Kuang, D Brunner, and B LaBombard. High-resolution disruption halo current measurements using Langmuir probes in Alcator C-Mod. Nuclear Fusion 58 016005 (2018) | arXiv

co-authored publications

KJ Montes, C Rea, RS Granetz, RA Tinguely, N Eidietis, OM Meneghini, DL Chen, B Shen, BJ Xiao, K Erickson, and MD Boyer. Machine learning for disruption warning on Alcator C-Mod, DIII-D, and EAST. Nuclear Fusion 59 096015 (2019)

C Rea, KJ Montes, RS Granetz, RA Tinguely, and K Erickson. A real-time machine learning-based disruption predictor on DIII-D. Nuclear Fusion 59 096016 (2019)

ML Reinke, S Scott, RS Granetz, JW Hughes, SG Baek, S Shiraiwa, RA Tinguely, S Wukitch, and the Alcator C-Mod Team. Avoidance of impurity-induced Current Quench using Lower Hybrid Current Drive. Nuclear Fusion 59 066003 (2019)

AQ Kuang, NM Cao, AJ Creely, CA Dennett, J Hecla, B LaBombard, RA Tinguely, EA Tolman, H Hoffman, M Major, J Ruiz Ruiz, D Brunner, P Grover, C Laughman, BN Sorbom, and DG Whyte. Conceptual design study for heat exhaust management in the ARC fusion pilot plant. Fusion Engineering and Design 137 221–242 (2018) | arXiv

C Rea, RS Granetz, K Montes, RA Tinguely, N Eidietis, JM Hanson, and B Sammuli.  Disruption prediction investigations using Machine Learning tools on DIII-D and Alcator C-Mod. Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion 60 084004 (2018)

M Hoppe, O Embréus, RA Tinguely, RS Granetz, A Stahl, and T Fülöp. SOFT: A synthetic synchrotron diagnostic for runaway electrons. Nuclear Fusion 58 026032 (2018) | arXiv

D Shiraki, RS Granetz, N Commaux, LR Baylor, D Brunner, CM Cooper, NW Eidietis, EM Hollmann, AQ Kuang, CJ Lasnier, RA Moyer, C Paz-Soldan, R Raman, ML Reinke, and RA Tinguely. Disruption Mitigation in the Presence of Pre-existing MHD Instabilities. Proceedings of the 26th IAEA Fusion Energy Conference EX/P3-20 (2016)

letters and essays

​AP Turner and RA Tinguely. How Black Holes Nearly Ruined TimeNautilus (January 2019)

AP Turner and RA Tinguely. Black Holes, Entropy, and the Arrow of Time. Awarded 4th place in the Harvard Black Hole Initiative essay competition (2018)

RA Tinguely and AP Turner. Building a better black hole demonstration. Submitted to the Harvard Black Hole Initiative essay competition (2018)

J Boguski, M Brown, R Buttery, R Churchill, W Guttenfelder, G Hammett, J Hanson, D Hatch, C Hegna, M Knolker, X Liu, L Lodestro, R Majeski, R Pinsker, M Shafer, D Sutherland, RA Tinguely, E Tolman, and D Weisberg. Discussion Group 5 Summary of USMFRSD Workshop in Austin, TX. Submitted to The National Academy of Sciences regarding A Strategic Plan for US Burning Plasma (2018)



An analysis of synchrotron radiation from relativistic electrons in the Alcator C-Mod tokamak | Doctoral Thesis Defense | MIT PSFC | May 2019

Experimental and synthetic measurements of polarized synchrotron emission from runaway electrons in Alcator C-Mod | Talk | Runaway Electron Meeting | January 2019


Synchrotron spectra, images, and polarization measurements from runaway electrons in Alcator C-Mod | Talk | 60th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics | November 2018

Synchrotron spectra, images, and polarization measurements from runaway electrons in the Alcator C-Mod tokamak | Poster | 45th EPS Conference on Plasma Physics | July 2018

Using SOFT and CODE to study spatiotemporal dynamics of runaway electrons in Alcator C-Mod | Talk | Runaway Electron Meeting | June 2018

Spatiotemporal dynamics of runaway electrons in Alcator C-Mod | Talk | US Transport Task Force Workshop | May 2018


Synchrotron emission in Alcator C-Mod: Spectra at three magnetic fields, visible camera images, and polarization data | Poster | 59th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics | October 2017

Halo current measurements using Langmuir ‘rail’ probes in Alcator C-Mod | Talk | ITPA MHD Workshop | October 2017

Fusion Energy | Presentation at MEETConf | Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow | July/August 2017

Synchrotron emission in Alcator C-Mod: Spectra at three B-fields and visible camera images | Talk | Runaway Electron Meeting | June 2017

A first look at the spatial distribution of runaway electrons in Alcator C-Mod | Poster | 9th ITER International School | March 2017


Analysis of runaway electron synchrotron emission in Alcator C-Mod | Talk | 58th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics | November 2016

Analysis of runaway electron synchrotron emission in Alcator C-Mod | Talk | Runaway Electron Meeting | June 2016


Analysis of runaway electron synchrotron radiation in Alcator C-Mod | Talk | 57th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics | November 2015

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in the news

A new path to solving a longstanding fusion challenge | MIT News | 9 October 2018

Bridging the divide with technology | MIT News | 14 November 2017

Profile in From Graphene to Galaxies: Graduate Physics at MIT | pages 4-7 | March 2017

PSFC invites the public to “Ask Me Anything” | PSFC | 24 October 2016

High-intensity fusion | MIT News | 14 October 2016

Alex Tinguely: Working toward a fusion future | MIT News | 20 November 2015


Energy Night provides close-up look at MIT’s fusion future | PSFC | 31 October 2018

Connecting with students, teachers and research colleagues at APS-DPP | PSFC | 3 November 2017

Scientists work side-by-side with students at Bay View High School | WTMJ-TV Milwaukee | 24 October 2017

Connecting with kids at AAAS | PSFC | 22 February 2017

PSFC fusion outreach ignites in Spring | PSFC | 10 May 2016

PSFC Local Outreach Programs Follow Recent National Efforts | PSFC | 9 December 2015

blog posts

Addir: Where scientists talk religion | MIT Graduate Admissions | April 2018

My Life as a GRT/Two Time Scootah Hockey World Champion | MIT Graduate Admissions | March 2018

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I am originally from Fort Madison, Iowa, where I graduated from Holy Trinity Catholic High School in 2010. I received my BS in Physics and Mathematics from Iowa State University in 2014. During the summer of 2013, I participated in the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. There, my interest grew in plasma physics and fusion energy research. That brought me to the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, where I am now pursuing my PhD in Plasma Physics.


As a GRADUATE RESIDENT TUTOR in Simmons Hall, I live with and mentor over 300 MIT undergraduate students. I have enjoyed every minute living in the Sponge—a porous building with its own song—and getting to know some amazingly-talented, smart, and quirky kids. Read more about my experience as a GRT and playing scootah hockey here.

I sing! Watch my recent concerts of Britten/Vaughan Williams with the MIT CHAMBER CHORUS (April 2018) and my favorite piece, Carmina Burana, with the MIT CONCERT CHOIR (May 2017). I have also had the distinct honors of singing with Jacob Collier in this Emmy-winning documentary (December 2016), as well as Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Handel+Haydn Society for its bicentennial celebration (July 2015).

During summer 2017, I taught introductory Python to 80+ Palestinian and Israeli high schoolers participating in the Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET) program.  Based in Jerusalem, we met with students 5.5 days a week with the aim of fostering a welcoming, collaborative learning environment. Read more about my MEET experience with PSFC labmates here.


  • TA for 22.63 Engineering Principles for Fusion Reactors, taught by Dennis Whyte | Fall 2018
  • Completed Kaufman Teaching Certificate Program | Spring 2018
  • TA/Grader for 8.624 Plasma Waves, taught by Miklos Porkolab | Spring 2017
  • TA/Grader for 8.613J/22.611J Introduction to Plasma Physics, taught by Anne White | Fall 2015


MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, Cambridge, MA, USA—PhD in Plasma Physics, Department of Physics, Plasma Science and Fusion Center, expected June 2019

IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY, Ames, IA, USA—BS in Physics and Mathematics, summa cum laude and with Honors, May 2014

HOLY TRINITY CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, Fort Madison, IA, USA—Valedictorian, May 2010

Honors and Awards

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative Fellow | 2014-present
  • Student Marshall/Convocation Speaker, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University | 2014
  • Phi Beta Kappa, Zeta Chapter of Iowa, Ruth and Clayton Swenson Award in the Sciences | 2013
  • National Merit Scholarship | 2010