The Past is Prologue?

It’s always interesting to see what fusion research looked like in the early days….

The Stellarator, ca. 1953

The Stellarator, ca. 1953

…if for no other reason than because it affords some insight into just why, as Richard Hull (among others) is so fond of saying, “Fusion is 20 years in the future and always will be…”

It is also intriguing to see the subject of fusion being picked up among the tech cognoscenti, as in this article that appeared recently on the popular tech-geared site Gizmodo, which describes Lyman Spitzer’s “Stellarator” – one of the earliest magnetic confinement schemes:

Virtually all plasma physics research throughout the 1950s and 1960s occurred on Stellarators. The Model C, above, was the largest of these devices. … It entered service in 1962 and immediately blew the doors off of the earlier figure-8 design. It incorporated a pair of major innovations—the divertor, which sucked unwanted waste particles out of the stream without disrupting the confinement field, and ICRH that uses radio waves to force the ions to spin around the center axis of the field the same way the wire helix of the earlier models wound around the central core of their support matrix—mitigated earlier models’ issues with plasma loss.

Well, certainly no jargon there!

The Stellarator was an early attempt at “magnetic confinement” of a fusion reaction – in other words, marshalling titanic external forces in the service of confining a plasma and squeezing ions together.  It sounds reasonable enough, but magnetic confinement was once likened to “trying to contain a scoop of jello with rubber bands.”

It strikes me that all that “jargon” is the scientific description of how you keep the jello from escaping.

Fusion Finally Tempts The Startup Crowd

And I dare say it’s been a long time coming…

The Helion fusion process will employ a hybrid of magnetic and inertial confinement models.

The Helion fusion process will employ a hybrid of magnetic and inertial confinement models.

News surfaced this past week that one of the world’s most prominent startup incubators, Y Combinator has taken a stake in a company called Helion, which insists that it will produce a break-even nuclear fusion process in three years:

So it came as a surprise to hear that Y Combinator and Mithril Capital Management are investing $1.5 million in Helion Energy, a Redmond, Washingon-based startup that says it has a plan to build a fusion reactor that breaks even on energy input and output, a challenge whose solution has been considered decades away for, well, decades. Helion CEO David Kirtley says that his company can do it in three years….

…When the team left to form their own company, they did so with the express intention of using electronics advancements from other fields to create a magnetic-inertial confinement fusion reactor.

I suppose it’s good news that this initiative will be using “electronics advancements” in the development of their fusion process.  Lord only knows that the advancements in electronic monitoring and computer control are light years ahead of what a fusion pioneer like Philo Farnsworth had at his disposal in the 1950s and 60s.

But as soon as I read that the process revolves around “magnetic” confinement (even if it is some kind of hybrid with inertial confinement) I become pretty skeptical.  I forget who it was but long ago somebody likened magnetic plasma confinement to trying to wrap jello in rubber bands.  That much has not changed, and billions – maybe hundreds of billions – have been spent over the past several decades on monolithic systems that pretty well prove the point.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging that the Silicon Valley tech/startup community is taking at least a marginal interest in the promise of fusion. And these guys do have the right idea to decentralized, distributed power network:

Instead of building at the scale of a gigawatt power station right out of the gate, the company is looking to compete with smaller, more distributed plants, like large diesel generators in regions where fuel has to be trucked in. It’s a market where the current “best” solution isn’t great and the barriers to entry are far easier to deal with than when competing with the big guys.

But they still have to find a fusion process that actually produces more power than it consumes.

Lord knows, if this server-farm reality we’ve created for ourselves is going to be sustainable, we’re going to have to find some source of electricity other than fossil fuels – and fusion, if it can ever be achieved, offers at least the siren song of temptation for the biggest bang for the buck.

So it’s good to see the Big Bucks that technology has generated finally taking a serious interest in the field.  It’s about time the prospect of fusion energy appealed to some deep pockets other than government funding.

 

Letterman Gets Fused

I really do need to keep better track of my daily Google Alerts.  Unfortunately, I’ve become somewhat immune to them.  The fusion alerts, in particular, are usually about the ITER or the NIF or some giant government funded fusion boondoggle. They show up in my inbox everyday, and I mostly ignore them.

So I missed this when it showed up in my inbox last week: an appearance on the David Letterman show by Jamie Edwards, the 13-year-old from Lancashire, England, who is now the youngest person to ever build a fusor and achieve a nuclear fusion reaction.

The appearance actually begins just few seconds prior to this video.  Letterman has introduced Jamie who has taken his seat on the sofa, and the conversation begins:

Unlike his immediate predecessor in the “youngest fusioneer” sweepstakes, Jamie is modest, well spoken, and even a bit funny as he deflects Dave’s attempts to make light of something he barely comprehends.

What’s ironic is that this appearance is on that gizmo called television, and there’s no mention of the fact that the same guy who created the fusion process that they’re talking about also invented the medium they’re talking about it on.  But, that’s the way it goes when Philo Farnsworth is the topic.

Philo who??

- – - – - – -

But… wait!  Despite all the coverage of Jamie’s work – and his appearance on a big-time US network TeeVee show – it turns out that Jamie’s claims of having achieved actual fusion (as evidenced by the production of neutrons) remains unsubstantiated as of this date.  There is a thread of discussion on this in the fusor forums, read it here.

We Have a New “Youngest”

Previously, Taylor Wilson was the youngest fusioneer, achieving fusion in his own home-built reactor at age 14.

Now we have 13 year old Jamie Edwards:

youngest_fusioneer

And now we know the missing ingredient in a successful fusion operation:

Jamie Edwards is the boy from Preston who two weeks ago entered the record books as the youngest person — he was 13 — in the world to build a nuclear fusion reactor. George Barker is his assistant, sidekick and loyal best friend.

George, 13, says: ‘I organise meetings for Jamie, and tidy up for him — he’s really, really messy; you should see his bedroom, it’s a right tip with stuff everywhere! I make brews for him — he  prefers hot chocolate with just a little bit of milk.’

New Site Update

As of today – May 8, 2013 – the transition to our new home and platform is nearly complete.

By and large, the whole process was relatively painless. We hit only minor obstacles in the migration.  We had to shut down for a couple of days when we we discovered one “feature” that had to be turned off. But once we got it back up the adjusting went pretty quickly and smoothly.

We’re still learning our way around.  Today, for example, we discovered that the Forum Search function is going to take some finessing.  And we’re still trying to get users to change their profile and Login/User ID so that real names will appear on the forum Index page – that could take some time.

I spent most of today transferring setting up this WordPress portion of the site, and transferring all the resources for newbies to a new page just for newcomers.

Now we’ll see if I can keep maintain a more regular info-flow to this front page than I have in the past.  I’m not the most reliable or consistent blogger in the world.  I just post when something strikes me.  The real content on this page is user generated in the forums.

Please feel free to offer any feedback or suggestions you have for the new format.  It’s still a work in progress (and always will be).

Thanks,

–PS

Welcome to Fusor.net v3.0*

FusorHQGreetings from FusorHQ.

If you’ve made it this far, then you’ll notice things have changed considerably.  We have relocated Fusor.net to a new server host.  Everything about the site has changed.

The front page (that you are looking at now) is no longer hosted by TypePad; it is now it’s own, stand-alone, WordPress installation.

And the heart of the site – the Fusor Forums – have been converted from the platform that has served us for the past decade (called w-agora) to pretty much the industry standard for this sort of thing, phpBB.

Basically, what we have done here is throw up the frame and roof, and moved right in. Now we have to finish the walls and the trim, plug in a few appliances and hang some paintings on the walls before this is going to feel like home again.

And we’re all going to have to get used to doing some things differently.  The new site has been active for less than 24 hours as I type this, and those of us who try to keep the wheels turning here are just getting under the hood to start tuning things up. (House building… engine tuning… my mother always loved it when I mixed metaphors…).

It’s up, it’s running, but it’s a really a whole new site in many respects.

So bear with us…

And thanks to all who have helped get us this far: Tyler Christensen, Carl Willis, Frank Sans and Richard Hull.  Thanks also to Marc Druilhe, the developer of the old w-agora format, who implemented the conversion to phpBB.  And welcome aboard to Michael Lovett, my friend and a developer here in Nashville who will help with some of the UI/UX details as the new site evolves.

And thanks too to the nearly three dozens members/users of this site who contributed sufficient funds to finance this transition.  Their generosity has assured not only the successful transfer/migration of the site to its new host and platform, but is sufficient to keep the site running for another year or two, at least.

So we’re in good shape, just gotta get a few changes under our belt.

That’s all for now…

Paul Schatzkin
aka “The Perfesser”
Fusor.net Founder and Host

- – - – - – - – - – - – -

*Fusor.net v3.0?  I think the songs.com installation – which served from about 1998 to 2000, was like version 1; the very short-lived “Intranets” forum was… let’s call it v1.5.  The w-agora platform that served the past decade was v2.  So consider this Version 3.

 

A Change is Gonna Come

Get out your Sam Cook records, kids… A Change Is Gonna Come.

Fusor.net
has been in business since 1998 – I think that's like several centuries
in Internet years. Why, when we started this, it was all hand-cranked,
remember?

In the 15 years since its inception, Fusor.net has
had three major incarnations. First there was the very simple BBS
operated under the aegis of my 90's-era Internet music business,
Songs.com. Then there was a brief interval when it was hosted by a
service called "Intranets." When that enterprise faded into the digital
sunset, we set up our own forums using a platform called "w-agora" -
which was fairly state of the art at the time (about 2002).

So this platform has served us well for at least a decade. But now it, too, is about to go the way of the digital dodo…

A number of factors have arisen in the past few months that dictate a change:

1)
We discovered that users from Australia were having difficulty getting
consistent access to the site. Our host, Sitemason.com, was maintaining
a fairly high firewall in order to defend their servers against bots
from Asia, and that was causing problems for legitimate users on the
other side of the dateline;

2) The platform that we have been
operating on for the past decade has become quite antiquated and is no
longer supported by the developer. Sitemason has been precluded from
upgrading its services for other customers as long as the Fusor.net
boards were dependent on outdated circuitry;

3) Sitemason's own
business has evolved in such away that they are no longer able or wiling
to devote their limited resources to keeping the wheels of one site
rolling down the digital highway. I have done business with these
people since, oh, 1997 or thereabouts, and regard them as outstanding in
their field. It has always been a genuine pleasure to do business with
them. But their business has changed, and though they personally like
having a unique site like Fusor.net under their umbrella, the site is no
longer compatible with their business model and they've politely asked
us to find other hosting.

Accordingly, in the weeks ahead, two
major things are going to happen. One will be (hopefully) transparent,
and the other… well, not so much…

1) Fusor.net is going to move
to new servers. This in itself should/would not be disruptive, save for
the 24 hours or so it would take for the Domain Name Service (DNS)
change to propagate around the Internet. But while we're at it…

2)
The operational face of the forums is going to change dramatically
with the conversion from w-agora to the now default standard discussion
platform, phpBB. The user interface of phpBB is very different from
what we have become accustomed to with w-agora; the simple one-line
threading of discussion threads will be transformed into a format that
will be unfamiliar at first and will probably be a source of some
consternation while we're getting used to it.

The Fusor.net front
page – i.e. the "blog" portion of the site, will also be converted,
from TypePad to WordPress, but that will be of less concern to the
regular users of the forum.

We may not know until we get there
the full extent of the disruption For example, we don't know yet if we
will be able to transfer existing user registrations — user ID and
password – from the old platform to the new one. We're still
researching all the particulars. I will use this space to keep users
apprised as we learn more.

The tentative date for the transition
is April 22-25. It is likely, that the forums will be semi-closed for
at least several days while all of the engineering is implemented. By
"semi-closed" I mean that the existing forum will remain in a a "read
only" state, and new postings will not be allowed until the site is
re-opened in its new format and on its new servers.

That's the news, now HERE'S THE POINT: We're going to need to raise some money to get this done.

Fusor.net
has always been a free service and I have every intention of keeping it
that way. But we will need to raise something on the order of
$600-$800 to to implement all these changes. So it's time to pass the
virtual hat.

On the very front page of the site – http://fusor.net
- in the upper right corner, there is a link to my PayPal account. I'm
asking now for everybody who feels that they benefit from this site's
existence to go there now and pitch in whatever you can. Please make a
note on your submission that it is for "fusor.net" so I'll be able to
keep track of the contributions.

Things might be a bit chaotic
for a while, but I fully expect that we will survive any disruption.
Once we do, the site will be well positioned to flourish for another
decade or so.

And, hallelujah, by the end of that 10 years, practical fusion energy will only be another twenty years away!

OK, kids, please hurry over to the PayPal button now. Let's get this ball rolling…

(if you have anything to add to this discussion, please post your comments in the forums.)

Thanks,

Paul Schatzkin
aka The Perfesser
Founder of Fusor.net

Fusioneers Storm The Gates at MIT!

 

FusorDuo

Richard Hull with FusioneerJeanette Brown at the 2012 HEAS gathering

So, you've heard of this place in Cambridge, Massachusetts called "MIT"? 

 

Massachusetts Intitute of Technology.

It's where all the really smart kids go to school.  The list of notable alumni is pretty impressive: Apollo 11 astronaucht Buzz Aldrin, current Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, renowned architect I.M. Pei, former UN Secretary General Kofi Anon, instant photo pioneer Edwin Land and current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - to name just a few that were easy to dig up with the Google.

Now add to the roster of notables who have matriculated into MIT not one… not two… but THREE members of the Fusor.net community.

BIG Congratulations to Will Jack, Jake Hecla and Jeanette Brown – who learned yesterday, March 14 (aka "Pi Day" – 3.14… get it?) that they have been accepted to the MIT class of 2017. 

 

WillJack

Fusioneer and MIT student Will Jack

Now, nobody's saying that these kids got into MIT because they hang out at the Fusor.net website.  But we might be saying that some really sharp kids really do hang out on this site, and it can't hurt that they are conversant in such a rarefified subject as nuclear fusion when they show up for the admission interviews.

 

It is very gratifying to think that there will be a cohort of students
who show up at such a prestigious institution with practical experience
in fusion energy research.  If ever fusion is going to deliver a practical source us useable energy, it just might be because people like these young fusioneers show up at an institution like MIT with the mindset that "this CAN be done…"

So, congratulations are clearly in order – not only for our three new
MIT students, but for everybody who contributes to this site.

Nice work, everybody. This is a really great result. 

J.Hecla

Jake Hecla, Jedi Fusioneer

–PS

At Last: Farnsworth is in the Hall of Fame!


(originally published at Farnovision.com

TVAcademy_HallOfFame__111128224311

There's been an increase in traffic to the Farnovision site in the past week or so, which is quite possibly a result of the recent news that Philo T. Farnsworth – arguably the man who started it all – will be inducted next month into the Television Hall of Fame:

This
year’s honorees include Emmy®-winning actor/director/producer Ron
Howard, legendary sportscaster Al Michaels, iconic network executive
Leslie Moonves, acclaimed journalist Bob Schieffer and prolific
writer-producer Dick Wolf. Additionally, Philo T. Farnsworth, credited
with inventing all-electronic television transmission, will be inducted
posthumously. The inductees will be honored during a gala ceremony at
The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 11, 2013, which is sponsored by Audi®.
The Hall of Fame gala will be executive produced by noted television
producer Phil Gurin (Oh Sit!, Shark Tank, The Singing Bee).

Of course, whenever the name of Philo T. Farnsworth bumps up against the established interests in the industry his invention spawned, controversy looms in the wings. 

But this event will a reunion of sorts for a lot of people who have been carrying the Farnsworth torch for a long time  A lifetime in the case of all those Farnsworths, nearly four decades in the case of this writer. 

The occasion is also an opportunity to pass that torch on to a new generation (apologies to JFK).

It stands to be a joyous occaasion for all concerned, and while the interest of setting the record straight after decades of misinformation is never far from our priorities (even as the play continues to find new audiences), the universal hope is that we'll all be able to set the controversies aside at least long enough for everybody involved to enjoy this particular occasion.

 

Don’t Tell These Students That Fusion Is “Impossible”

Nuclearreactorcrew2.web

The Braniac's version of "Friday Night LIghts"

I just love stories likes this:

Thanks to Carl
Greninger and a partnership with Federal Way Public Schools, a select
group of students are given the privilege of performing scientific
experiments with Greninger's fully functional IEC-9000 nuclear fusion
reactor.

Greninger works as the IT operations program manager for
Microsoft by day and moonlights as a nuclear physics and science teacher
by night. The chance to work with the students who gather at his house
every Friday night is one Greninger relishes.

"I love it. I am totally about this. These are the best of
the best, and there isn't a bozo in the bunch," he said. "They are top
flight kids."

And they realize what a unique and valuable experience they're getting:

Auburn Riverside student Kayla Schuh says working with
Greninger's reactor and the related facilities is much more fun than
what her school would have her doing in science class.

"It's nice, because in school we don't get to do anything
fun," she said. "And here, we get to. Here we get to do actual science,
and in school, it's reading a book with awful pictures."

If fusion is ever going to be "figured out" – if it's ever going to live up to its promise of clean, safe, and abundant energy – then it's kids like these who are going to figure it out. 

Thanks to the ready accessibilty of the Fusor – and gentlemen like Carl Greninger – these kids are growing up in a world where fusion is not only possible but within reach. 

You just never know when inspiration will strike in an environment like that.