Explaining nuclear fusion in a minute to millions of people

How does one prevent the wall of a nuclear reactor from melting during the process of nuclear fusion? To master's student Gijs Derks, that topic was perfect for the Veritasium Contest. The challenge of that contest is to explain a complex phenomenon to a broad YouTube audience within a minute. Derks, who started at the TU/e in 2015 as a mechanical engineering student, chose his favorite topic: nuclear fusion.

photo DIFFER/Van der Vlis

As part of his master's degree in Science and Technology of Nuclear Fusion, Gijs Derks joined the Veritasium Contest on YouTube. The educational channel Veritasium has amassed almost 10 million subscribers who are interested in science. Derks tells how the competition came into being. 


"The founder and host of Veritasium, Derek Miller, had won a bet against a professor from the American University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Muller claimed that a cart with a windmill attached to it would be quicker than the wind. When that was proven, Muller received 10.000 dollars. He decided to use that money as the prize money for the top three winners of the YouTube competition." The contestants come from all over the world and range from seasoned professors to teenagers. "There is also a fifteen-year-old contestant who made a video about the water displacement of a boat."

Full of excitement, Derks dove into the assignment in which he had to make a video that explained a complex mathematical, mechanical, or physical phenomenon. "It was my first video. I had to buy the software, and I've also bought licenses for the imagery." It took him more than a working week to make the minute video. 


The 59-second video answers one of the problems that come into play when dealing with nuclear fusion: the heat exhaust problem. Combining his own animations with the imagery he has received from DIFFER and the Swiss university EPFL, Derks shows how it is possible that the nuclear reactor wall can withstand the excessive heat produced during fusion. 

Read on below the video

[Translate to English:] Video | Gijs Derks

Nuclear Fusion - Extracting the Heat and Protecting the Wall

[Translate to English:] Video | Gijs Derks

Despite his passion for nuclear fusion, the fact that Derks is currently doing his graduate internship at DIFFER wasn't always obvious. "I did my bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. However, the elective course on chaos was so much fun that I started looking into Applied Science. In the newspaper of the study association, Simon Ster, I read an article in which control theory and physics were brought together. After reading that, I was sold." Derks chose to do his master's in nuclear fusion and was unstoppable from thereon. "I decided to do a master's in System and Control as well. By combining those principles, you can improve the systems of a fusion reactor, allowing for more new experiments. Amazing!"


As far as Derks knows, he is the only contestant of the thousands who has submitted a video on the technology of nuclear fusion and the only student of the TU/e to participate in the competition. He believes he has a good chance of his video being seen by the judges. The staff of Veritasium will only judge his video if it ends up in the top two hundred most liked videos. "That's also a big task for them" Derks realizes. He doesn't expect to win the grand prize, although 5.000 euros would come in handy to pay off his student loans.

Nevertheless, entering the top 10 would be "just insane." "Veritasium will probably make a compilation using those videos, and when that happens, I will have an audience of millions of people! However, I also consider it a win if students of the TU/e watch my video with interest, and if they like it, they can also tap the like button." That is still possible until the 30th of August. 

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