Shira Morosohk: ‘I don’t want my home to be underwater in 40 years’

Shira Morosohk '18, PhD student, Mechanical Engineering 

“I sort of did everything out of order,” says Shira Morosohk ’18. 

She’s referring to how, as an undergraduate, she took sophomore classes as a first-year and junior classes as a senior, started her capstone early, and did a nontraditional co-op. “Lehigh was really accommodating, and if I hadn’t gone here as an undergrad, I wouldn’t be doing any of this.” 

By this, she means getting her PhD in nuclear fusion control systems. Morosohk is in her fourth year in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics. She’s currently doing research at the DIII-D National Fusion Facility in San Diego.

“In theory, nuclear fusion is the perfect energy source,” she says. “It’s carbon free. The only by-product is helium, which is as benign a substance as you can imagine. The fuels can be derived from seawater. And unlike with nuclear fission, if everything goes wrong, the worst thing that happens is you break part of the machine.” 

The problem is that it currently takes more energy to start and sustain a fusion reaction than the reaction generates. So Morosohk is working on how to control and maintain the optimal conditions for a sustained reaction, in part by using machine learning techniques to create better prediction models. 

In addition to conducting research on the DIII-D tokamak—the machine that produces controlled fusion reactions—she has run experiments at the KSTAR tokamak in South Korea; toured similar machines in Oxford, England; and been the lead author on two papers. She’s not sure what will come next, academia or industry. But she has found her path. 

“Renewable energy is important to me,” she says. “I don’t want my home in San Diego to be underwater in the next 40 years. Having carbon-free energy sources would make a huge difference.” 

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This profile is part of Resolve Magazine's Soaring Together series.