“Fusion is not 20 years in the future. It’s 50 years in the past – and we missed it.”
–– Paul Schatzkin – Founder and host of Fusor.net
author of The Boy Who Invented Television
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Pictured above is Philo T. Farnsworth. On the left is the difficult thing that he invented in the 1920s. You are probably familiar with it.
It’s called ”television.”
On the right is the “impossible” thing that he invented in the 1950s.. You are probably less familiar with it. In fact you are probably not familiar with it all, because the device was never perfected nor made practical. At least, not yet. Indeed, the impossible takes slightly longer. In this case, about 40 years longer…
The device is a nuclear fusion reactor.
If you are familiar with the subject at all, then you probably know that controlled nuclear fusion poses the seemingly impossible task of taming the very same process that triggers a hydrogen bomb. They managed to control fission – the process at the heart of the original atomic bomb and the nuclear reactors in use as electrical generating plants today. But controlling fusion has proven to be a much stickier wicket.
You see, fusion – the combining of light nuclei – is also the process that powers our Sun and all the stars in the heavens. It is God’s own way of powering the universe. But controlling fusion here on earth, to harness its power in the same way that fission has been harnessed to convert nuclear energy industrial power, well…. that has proven infinitely more difficult. Over the past fifty years, billions have been spent trying to solve the riddle: how do you bottle a star? How do contain a reactive mass as hot as the sun without either melting the container, or extinguishing the reaction? It’s no wonder that some have concluded that harnessing fusion is, simply, impossible.
Still, the lure of fusion is unmistakable. Particularly when compared to fission, a fusion reactor would be “clean” – there are no radioactive by products that will take hundreds of thousands of years to decay, as there is with the nuclear waste from a fission plant. The only by product is helium – an inert gas. The reactors themselves would be safe; there is no danger of a “meltdown” as there is with a fission reactor because there is only a tiny amount of nuclear fuel present in the reaction chamber at any given time.
So fusion would be safe, and there is no radioactive waste as there is with fission. But the most compelling promise of fusion is in the fuel itself: fusion is produced from an isotope of hydrogen called deuterium, which exists in the Earth’s oceans in sufficient abundance to supply the planet’s energy needs for hundreds of millions of years – until long after the Sun itself has flamed out.
So, understandably, science has been trying to solve this riddle for as long as the potential of fusion has been understood. Government, business, and academia have invested vast sums on a variety of approaches, but the results to date have been disappointing, to put it mildly.
Farnsworth spent his life and career outside the scientific and industrial mainstream. Though his contribution to our contemporary culture is undeniable - the man invented video, precisely what you are looking at this very instant – when the time came to deliver his second great invention, he was unable to either prove or disprove his theories. The work remains, in a word, “unfinished.”
Farnsworth’s approach to fusion has been dubbed “Inertial Electrostatic Confinement” or “IEC” for short. (VERY) simply put, the process uses forces within the atomic particles themselves to bring them close enough to fuse. The more common approach uses tremendous external forces to achieve the same effect. These enormous machines employ powerful magnetic fields and the method is called “magnetic confinement” Literally billions of dollars have been spent in the last thirty years with little to show in the way of meaningful results. After thirty years, the “experts” still say that a practical fusion power plant is still – would you believe? – at least another thirty years away.
Experiments with Farnsworth’s “Fusor” in the early-to-mid 1960s were impressive but inconclusive: despite tremendous “neutron counts” (the evidence of fusion), the Fusor never conclusively reached “break-even” — the point at which there is more energy coming out of the device than goes in to start and sustain the reaction.
Nevertheless, in the past few years there has been a resurgence of interest in the Farnsworth approach to fusion. There is now a small cadre of “fusioneers” building “Fusors” in their basements and garages. These are low-power devices, based on a variation of the Farnsworth approach that was developed by Farnsworth’s colleagues Gene Meeks and Robert L. Hirsch,that are relatively simple to build and employ all the multidisciplinary techniques that fusion requires: vacuum pumping, stainless steel machining, power supply management, etc. Believe it or not, some of these devices, which really do produce fusion reactions, have been built for “less than the cost of a set of used golf-clubs.”
Building these devices is teaching a grassroots group of dedicated experimenters how to produce fusion. This website – fusor.net – is where these people gather to share their experiences, to swap tips and techniques, and pass on encouragement. Who knows, perhaps one of the people who visit this site will learn a thing or two and go on to do what “the experts” have been unable to accomplish.
If this is your first visit to this site, then the links on the right are here for you. This is your “primer” on fusion, on electrostatic confinement, and on how to build and operate a fusion device in your basement or garage.
Fusion may sound like an exotic, “impossible” feat. But the fact is people like you are achieving the “impossible” on an almost daily basis. It is only a matter of time before somebody stumbles on the breakthrough that we are all hoping for.
Have a look around… maybe that “somebody” is you….