Fusion Veteran David Swain Passes, Age 78

September 28, 2020

Oak Ridge National Laboratory veteran fusion energy research scientist David Swain passed away on Sept. 15, 2020 at home, where he had been ill for several months and under hospice care.

David was born Jan. 10, 1942, in Raleigh, N.C., to John Swain and Mary Allen. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969, after receiving a B.S. and M.S. from North Carolina State University in 1963. He became a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1985.

Dr. Swain was an internationally renowned physicist in the field of fusion plasma research and a well-respected colleague. His significant contributions to the advancement of experimental and theoretical plasma physics and technology spanned more than half a century during which he produced over 150 scientific papers. His scientific work has been cited by researchers in more than 35 countries over five continents, and he was often invited to present his work at numerous national and international conferences and symposia. For much of his career, his field of research was focused on confining and heating plasmas, consisting of ionized fusion fuel, to the conditions required for an efficient reactor. The majority of his work involved using high power radiowaves to achieve the extremely high fuel temperatures, more than 10 times hotter than the center of the sun, needed to initiate and sustain fusion reactions in magnetically confined plasmas.

Notably, David was an early and critical member of the international team charged with designing systems for the ITER tokamak device, now under construction by six international partners in France. He had major international responsibility for design and R&D for the ITER Ion Cyclotron Radio Frequency (ICRF) heating system during the Conceptual Design Activities and Engineering Design Activities (1989-1998), and was the U.S. Home Team Task Area Leader for microwave and radiowave plasma heating systems. He led the construction of an ITER prototype ICRF antenna, and he received a commendation from the US ITER Home Team and the Department of Energy for his work in that area.

Following David’s retirement from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), his productivity remained high as a consultant to US ITER, the lead project office responsible for designing and delivering US systems to be installed on ITER. He was responsible for development of the overall US ITER ICRF power transfer and tuning, key parts of one of the major plasma heating methods on ITER. He contributed significantly to the detailed performance requirements and design of high-power components of the ITER ICRF power transfer system and its evolution to the present configuration. During the last months of his life, David was still pursuing his passion. He was consulting regularly with the ITER Organization team to develop and model the control algorithms for the ITER ICRF power-launching antenna.

In his professional and personal life David possessed a generosity of spirit, good-natured friendliness, and a dry sense of humor that made it a pleasure to work and travel with him. His folksy sayings, rooted in his North Carolina upbringing, were legendary. His organization skills, attention to detail, thoroughness, willingness to work collaboratively while sharing the credit with others, made him a successful and respected fusion energy researcher throughout the world.

David was preceded in death by his parents; his son, David, his brother, John, and his sister, Dorothy. He is survived by his devoted wife, Berta, of 57 years, and his daughter, Rachel. David was loved and admired by all his extended family.

A private graveside service will be held at a later date in Faison, N.C.
In memory of David, memorials may be made to
Second Harvest Food Bank, 136 Harvest Lane, Maryville, TN 37801 or to
ALS Association (Tennessee Chapter), 4825 Trousdale Drive, #107, Nashville, TN 37220.
Arrangements by Cremation Options, Inc. (865)6WE-CARE (693-2273) www.cremationoptionsinc.com.

For his obituary, see:


Remembrances and condolences may be sent to his wife Berta at swain0512@mindspring.com