Greek fire: Nicholas christofilos and the astron project in america's early fusion program

Elisheva R. Coleman, Samuel A. Cohen, Michael S. Mahoney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The Astron project, conducted from 1956 to1973 at Livermore National Laboratory, was the brainchild of Nicholas Christofilos, a Greek engineer with no formal physics credentials. Astron's key innovation was the E-layer, a ring of relativistic electrons within a magnetic mirror device. Christofilos predicted that at sufficient E-layer density the net magnetic field inside the chamber would reverse, creating closed field lines necessary for improving plasma confinement. Although Astron never achieved field reversal, it left important legacies. As a cylindrical device designed to contain toroidal plasmas, it was the earliest conception of a compact torus, a class that includes the Spheromak and the FRC. The linear induction accelerator, developed to generate Astron's E-layer, is now used in many applications. Through examination of internal lab reports and interviews with his colleagues and family, this research charts Christofilos' career and places Astron in its historical context. This paper was originally prepared in 2004 as an undergraduate Junior Paper for the Princeton University History Department.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-256
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Fusion Energy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
  • Nuclear Energy and Engineering


  • Astron
  • Field reversal
  • Fusion
  • Linear induction accelerator
  • Nicholas Christofilos


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