Hacking The Universe


"Veteran" Fusioneer Chad Ramey came to Nashville last week to speak at a hacker's convention called "PhreakNic."  It was a petty impressive demonstration, too… and probably not what any of the spectators expected. After all, it's not every day that a college student wheels a cart into a conference room and proceeds to produce an artificial star. In real time, too.  I mean, he hooked it up, pumped it down, and within a few minutes had a star on the video screen.

Chad even makes his own deuterium!  He described how it was going to cost more than $400 in shipping to get his deuterium bottle filled (hazardous material, you know?), so he created his own electrolysis system to distill the deuteirum in real time and feed it into the the reactor.  Correct me if I'm wrong, butI think this is the first time anybody's gone straight from water to fusion. 

One of these days… straight from water to electricity? 

"A Star In A Jar," he called it…  I wonder where he got that expression?


The Youngest Fusioneer

…has been showing up in the news lately…

01-Taylor-Wilson A couple of stories percolated around the Interwebs over the past few weeks about Taylor Wilson, who, at the age of 14, claimed the mantle of "World's Youngest Fusioneer" – i.e. the youngest person to build a fusor (or any kind of fusion device) and produce neutrons – the evidence of actual fusion. 

Looks like stories about Taylor first appeared late last spring on the web at Gizmodo.com after he demonstrated his nuclear weapons detector at the Intel International Science Fair:

…his science project…was titled “countering nuclear terrorism”, and was designed to make checking cargo containers for weapons a much easier job. The detector acts like an X-ray, scanning containers for fingerprints or traces of radioactive materials without having to even open them. With 35 million cargo containers going through customs each year, a device like this will definitely make the lives of cargo inspectors much easier.

More recently, Taylor has raised eyebrows after testing his nuclear fusion reactor, as reported at TheBlaze.com:

Wilson was 14 when he became the youngest person in the world to build a nuclear fusion reactor. Getting his start on Fusor.net, Wilson joined the ranks of only 30 hobbyist ‘Fusioneers’ before him who were able to fuse two atoms together.

We're probably a little late to Taylor's party.  He's been a active member of the fusor.net forums for several years, it's about time he got some attention here on the front of the site.

So, what were you building when YOU were 14 or 15 years old?  Me, I was building model cars… didn't find out about fusion until several years later…

Let us all raise a glass to Taylor, who has elevated the level of teenage geekdom to heights that can only be imagined by your average teen hacker. 

I guess Taylor's glass will have to be root beer for a few more years..


A “Micro-Softie” Builds a ‘Mr. Fusion’ In His Garage

Jeez, the front page of this site really doesn’t do a very good job of reflecting what’s going on in the background, does it?  I mean, there are dozens of posts every day to the forums, and I haven’t posted anything to the front page since December 2010?  What’s up with that? 

It probably has something to do with the fact that the news on fusion is, for the most part, not really news.  It’s the same thing, over and over again: “Big bucks being spent on tiny results.”  That meme got tired years ago.  

So it’s exciting to see somebody getting well deserved attention for their efforts spend “small buck” to get commensurate results. As I’ve said many times, you may still not be anywhere near a break-even reaction, but you still get a lot more fusion per dollar spent with a fusor than you do with, say, a tokamak.  

So here’s a bit of video footage that was posted to the forum last week about a garage fusor in Washington State, where forum veteran Carl Greninger works for Microsoft:

The True Story of a True Story

Epochhull There is a great story running this week in an online publication called The Epoch Times.  The feature offers a pretty balanced perspective on the history of the Fusor, the work that has been done over the past decade-plus, and the realistic prospects for ever achieving useful (i.e. "breakeven") energy from a fusion process.  

One important note, though.  The article cites this anecdote, which I shared with the author, regarding the manner in which Farnsworth discontinued his fusion work:

After inventing the television in the 1920s, Farnsworth was ready to change the face of society once again. Just as he managed to get his machine to achieve the impossible, his son peeked into the bizarre laboratory. Suddenly a thought struck him, causing Farnsworth to dismantle his machine. He placed it onto a shelf where it could not be reached and never worked on it again.

Farnsworth had a struggle with himself “for several years over what was going to happen to culture and society if we suddenly had virtually unlimited resources of energy at our disposal,” said Paul Schatzkin, 60, who relayed the story of Farnsworth.

That is not, strictly speaking, a "true" story.  It is, rather, an apocryphal accounting, an artifact from the very first time I ever heard about Philo T. Farnsworth and his fusion work.

The occasion was in the summer of 1973.  I had just moved from the east coast to California after graduating from college (well, sorta…), and with a friend made a road trip from LA up to the Bay area.  I had only first heard of Philo T. Farnsworth a few months earlier in the "Videocity" edition of a publication called "Radical Software," which brought the anarchistic hippie sensibilities of the 1960s to the guerilla video (the "new media" of its day) of the 1970s. 

I'd experimented with the very earliest portable video systems in college, and Radical Software was the bible of that movement.  The "Videocity" edition was so-named because it was edited out of San Francisco, the city where, I learned for the first time, video in its electronic form had made its first appearance in 1927 on Philo Farnsworth's workbench.

Long story made short, during that trip up to Santa Cruz, my friend and I dropped in on a fellow video activist who styled himself as "Johnny Videotape" and ran the Santa Cruz Public Access Community Television Service behind that moniker.   "Johnny" (I have no recollection now what his real name was…) was friends with a fellow named Phil Geitzen, who edited that "Videocity" edition of Radical Software, and Phil Geitzen, in turn, was a friend of Philo T. Farnsworth III – the eldest son of The Boy Who Invented Television.

P3 The story that is cited above is a story that Johnny Videotape told me, which is his retelling of the story that Phil Geitzen told him, which is thus some variation of a story that originated with Philo T. Farnsworth III. 

Little did I know at the time that a couple of years later, I would meet Philo T. Farnsworth III myself, that he would be come a dear friend, and that the Farnsworth family and story would become an integral part of my life for years to come. 

When I met Philo III (aka "P3") in the summer of 1975, one of my first questions to him was to ask for some corroboration of the story I'd heard from Johnny Videotape.  He explained in very sanguine terms that while the specific story was not true, the essence of it is:  he had been present during many of his father's experiments with fusion in the early 1960s, and held the conviction that once his father could see a path from his experiments to some realization of his work (in theory, at least), he then made a conscious decision to stop.  He did, in effect, shelve his own work.

Whether or not there is, indeed, any path from Farnsworth's work to a practical source of fusion-generated energy will be debated until either that path is found or an entirely different approach proves viable and puts the Fusor, once and for all, on the shelf of scientific footnotes. 

Until then, the work continues, and the Fusioneers blaze the trail.

The Fusioneer-Powered Future

You know how sometimes you got to a dinner party and the "adults" all sit at a big table and there's another table set aside for the "kids"?

Well, yesterday I went to dinner with all the folks who attended Richard Hull's "High-Energy Amateur Science" fair at his home in Richmond, Virginia. After spending the afternoon at his lab, the bunch of u all all went to dinner at a nearby restaurant (Anthony & George's). 

By the time I got there, most of the assembly had taken seats at a long table near the window.  But, as luck would have it, some of the younger attendees grabbed a circular table for themselves (I'll take a small circular table over a long rectangle any day).  There was room for one more seat at the table… and I swear, it was the best time I ever had sitting at "the kids table" — waaaaay more fun than when ever I was a kid…

From left to right, my dinner companions here are: Robert Tubbs (who flew in from Seattle for the event), Chad Ramey, Ben Bartlett, Tyler Christensen, and Steven Shaw. I believe these guys (except possibly Steve, who racers lawn-mowers instead of building fusors) have all achieved nuclear fusion with their experimental reactors – which is to say, they are members of "the neutron club." And the average age of this group is… 17.6 years! 

Having dinner with these guys was like being in the middle of an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" on TeeVee (and imagine my relief when, after confessing that I watch that show, they all told me they like and watch it too…).  I mean, how often do you sit around a table and banter about phrases like "periodically oscillating plasma spheres" ?

When I first sat down with these guys, I thought of Pem Farnsworth. I remembered how she loved to talk with young people about her late husband, Philo T. Farnsworth, with the hope that his story would inspire them to experiment with their own lives.

These guys are the truest expression of the Legacy of Philo T. Farnsworth.  Forget television, forget patents, forget gizmos and doohickeys… it's the spirit of exploration and adventure these guys embody that really impresses me.

As I sat with these guys, all I could think of was how very, very proud Pem would be if she could have sat there with them.  I can just see her beaming from ear to year…

Happy Birthday, Philo T. Farnsworth

Inventor and television pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth was born August 19, 1906 in Beaver County, Utah. The family moved to a farm near Rigby, Idaho during World War I. There, Philo set off on the path that would earn him the designation as “the father of television.”

via sfcompanion.blogspot.com

I don't remember this date when it rolls around every year, but there's been enough in the wind lately that I remembered this time…