Farewell to Maurizio Gasparotto, ITER Department Chief Engineer.
Maurizio Gasparotto, ITER Department Chief Engineer
At the end of last year, Maurizio Gasparatto, the ITER Department Chief Engineer, left F4E. The only possible option to carry out this interview was during his last week at work given the fact that until then he remained consumed by his long list of tasks. For those who know Maurizio Gasparotto this should hardly come as a surprise. The dedication of F4E’s Chief Engineer has been the driving force of the ITER Department for years. We met with him to obtain a rare personal interview on the highlights of his career and future plans.
He was born in Rome and from an early age he developed an interest for maths and physics. Italy’s post-war economic climate pushed him to look for a job in a research institute, currently known as ENEA, contributing to build a plasma experimental machine while at night he would study in university from where he graduated with Honours in Physics and with his thesis focusing on Theoretical Plasma Physics. In ENEA his rank and responsibilities grew offering him the opportunity to coordinate the design and building of the upgrade for the Frascatti Tokamak machine. He became Vice-Director in Frascatti with an increasing interest in the machine that would follow JET, what came to be known as ITER.
In 2000, he moved for three years to Garching to coordinate the EFDA Long Term programme and from there he went to Greifswald to work on the stellarator. EFDA however claimed him back offering him the responsibility to coordinate all the technological work for ITER and the F4E Director at the time, Didier Gambier, asked him to join him in setting up F4E’s ITER Department. Since January 2008, he has been the Chief Engineer of the ITER Department, by leading it and offering his expertise in all technical matters regarding Europe’s contribution to ITER. His breadth of knowledge and thorough understanding of the Tokamak complexities can compete with that of information contained in an encyclopaedia.
Trying to scratch beneath the surface we asked him what attracted him to fusion research. He replies that “it has always been the prospective benefit for humanity and the constant competition with nature’s forces through technology, materials and sophisticated engineering” that made him tick about this field.
He has seen the evolution of Tokamaks from the very beginning. So we asked him when did the so-called breakthrough happen in this domain? “In the beginning plasmas lasted for milliseconds but with Tokamaks coming in the picture there was widespread belief that they could be the way forward towards a future power plant. Nevertheless, we will still have to tackle some remaining obstacles.” We asked him to list some of them. “In my view technical aspects can be managed as long as we refrain from carrying out redundancies on the safety and remote handling. Having said that, there are without doubt some critical points. To begin with, the interaction between plasma and the components needs further improvement in future machine designs. Second, we would need to invest in new structural materials with sufficiently good mechanical properties to sustain the high neutron activation. Last, the existing complexity of the machine flags the need for stronger collaboration between industry and engineers towards the development of a less complex machine.”
We concluded the interview asking him about his future plans. His passion for fusion will take him back to Greifswald’s stellarator as Chief Engineer. He will work there part-time and in parallel, he promises to take the remaining time to rediscover Rome and spend as much time as he can with his family.