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The inside of a tokamak: Cumbersome, Complex, and COSTLY

Why Nuclear Fusion Is Always 30 Years Away

I dunno, maybe because most of the money seems to get siphoned off for the biggest, most cumbersome, complex, and costly (the 3-Cs of most fusion research)  schemes and machines money can buy (and the bloated scientific staffs that build them) to solve what is essentially a simple challenge?

Why Nuclear Fusion Is Always 30 Years Away.

Fusion, at its core, is a simple concept. Take two hydrogen isotopes and smash them together with overwhelming force. The two atoms overcome their natural repulsion and fuse, yielding a reaction that produces an enormous amount of energy.

But a big payoff requires an equally large investment, and for decades we have wrestled with the problem of energizing and holding on to the hydrogen fuel as it reaches temperatures in excess of 150 million degrees Fahrenheit. To date, the most successful fusion experiments have succeeded in heating plasma to over 900 million degrees Fahrenheit, and held onto a plasma for three and a half minutes, although not at the same time, and with different reactors.

The most recent advancements have come from Germany, where the Wendelstein 7-X reactor recently came online with a successful test run reaching almost 180 million degrees, and China, where the EAST reactor sustained a fusion plasma for 102 seconds, although at lower temperatures.

Still, even with these steps forward, researchers have said for decades that we’re still 30 years away from a working fusion reactor. Even as scientists take steps toward their holy grail, it becomes ever more clear that we don’t even yet know what we don’t know.

Meanwhile, somebody with an original idea like Doug Coulter on a substantially smaller scale runs a one-man shop out in the woods, doing everything (more or less) by himself.  We’ll probably see a better result than the billions being spent on the 3-Cs.

So, yeah, fusion will be 30 years in the future… until it isn’t.

Fusion in the Northwest

Here’s a great example of what one motivated individual can do to inspire the next generation of Fusioneers.

CarlG2

Carl Greninger

Carl Greninger is an IT executive at Microsoft who became frustrated a few years ago with the limitations placed on science education in the public schools in his home town of Federal Way, WA.

It started with a guy named Carl Greninger, and his realization that tight budgets and fear of lawsuits have pushed out much of the fun, dangerous stuff from high school science labs, leaving “nothing sharper than silly putty.

“I walked into a classroom and I saw a science teacher. And he had a string and a paper cup. And he says, well, we’re studying physics, and I looked back at the kids and I saw the word ‘lame’ tattooed across their foreheads. And I said, I can do better than this in my garage,” he says.

And so despite the fact that he had no “nuclear physics” or engineering in his background, Carl went about the not entirely difficult project of building a fusor in his basement and garage.
Now comes this recent, detailed account of the inspiring work that Carl is doing, sharing his laboratory with students from all over his part of the country and getting them excited about the possibilities of fusion research and advanced science and physics in general:

As I have reflected on this experience, I think the fusion reactor was pretty awesome, but it was the students and what they were doing that was truly amazing.

Carl …had a vision of a private science club to teach students “real science.” He turned his vision into a Friday night program that attracts the brightest minds in the region. Adult volunteers, who are experts in biology, electrical engineering and software engineering also attend the Friday night meetings.

So yeah, fusion is definitely cool, but not nearly as cool as the knowledge and skill sets reaching for fusion can instill in its pursuers.

What Carl’s efforts demonstrate is that as our technology advances, there is a concurrent need for new and innovative educational concepts and processes.  It’s gratifying to think that offering the body of knowledge that has been compiled here at Fusor.net has had some small hand in instigating such an effort.

High school senior Raymond Maung poors liquid nitrogen into the reactor. Photo by GABRIEL SPITZER / KPLU

High school senior Raymond Maung poors liquid nitrogen into the reactor. Photo by GABRIEL SPITZER / KPLU

The Mad Scientist

No, not really mad… just Richard Hull turning down the lights in his lab while demonstrating his Fusor IV today at HEAS – the High Energy Amateur Science confab at his home and lab in Richmond, Virginia.  More photos and stories when I get home….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yeah, That’s Sure To Work…

It's Called

Isn’t this the outfit that got a whole lot of press last year when they got some funding from one of Silicon Valley’s start-up incubators?

“What Helion is trying to achieve is to shoot two plasma balls made of hydrogen atom cores at each other at one million miles per hour to collide within an indescribably strong magnetic field to create a 100 million degree Celsius reaction for a millisecond.”

via Energy’s Holy Grail? You can find it at Redmond’s Helion Energy | Crosscut.com.

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.’

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.