Uh, Houston? We Have… An Icon!

Do you have an iPhone, iPad, or some other such "iGizmo" that you use to follow Fusor.net? 

Apple-touch-icon  If so, then we have an icon for you.  If you want to make fusor.net or the forum page (fusor.net/board/) a "home screen" icon on your mobile device, then follow the drill on the gizmo (i.e. the "+" button in the menu) and this lovely icon will find a place on your screen.

Thanks to regular contributor Steve Sesselman for the graphics work.   

Let The Kids Do It

Statesciencefair  Kudos to Dan Solomon at Asylum.com for getting to the real heart of the "amateur" fusion movement hosted here at Fusor.net. In this piece published to the website yesterday, he focuses on modest high-schooler Chad Ramey, who at age 17 is building himself one of those fusion contraptions and showing it off at high-school science fairs:

When we read about Mark Suppes, the Brooklyn amateur physicist who built a nuclear reactor in a warehouse lab, we got curious: Is building a nuclear fusion device in your spare time a thing that people actually do?

It turns out that, not only is this a legitimate hobby, it's actually a thriving, supportive subculture. Asylum dove into the "Fusioneer" community to learn who its members are, how they practice their science and what they get out of it. 

At the risk of immodestly quoting myself (heh!), I think Dan gets to the very heart of the matter — why this site is here — with these paragraphs: 

No one who's built a Farnsworth reactor believes that it's going to become the "break-even" device that would allow it to generate at least as much energy as it requires to be active, which Schatzkin says has led some of the elder statesmen among the Fusioneers to become jaded. 

"That's what makes someone like Chad Ramey so important," he notes. "People in his generation don't know that it can't be done, so there's nothing to stop them from doing it."

Cliff1 Now, in all fairness, I think I need to give credit to where <I> got that line.  It was from Cliff Gardner – Philo Farnsworth's brother-in-law, who signed on early in the process of inventing television in the 1920s as the makeshift lab's "chief glass blower."  He knew nothing of the subject when he volunteered for the job, which was entirely appropriate since nobody in the world had done what they were about to do at 202 Green Street in San Francisco in the summer of 1926. 

Four years later, when Vladimir Zworykin showed up at Farnsworth's lab to see real television for the first time (since he'd been unable to produce it in his own well-funded labs at Westinghouse and RCA…), Cliff showed him an Image Dissector he'd built with a novel feature: instead of the sort of glass-dome end that was typical of vacuum tubes in those days, Cliff had devised a novel way of sealing flat, optical glass into the end of the tube.  

When Zworykin was shown this glass marvel, he said to Cliff in his fractured English, "my people told me this could not be done."  

To which Cliff replied, "well, I didn't know it couldn't be done, so I just went ahead and did it." 

And THAT is the spirit, so alive today in the younger members of Fusor.net, which will someday find the path that Philo Farnsworth was following in the 1950s and 60s, and turn a science-fair experiment into the gizmo that transforms the world.  

Or so I would like to believe, or its doubtful this site would be here at all.  And if I'm wrong, please, leave me to my delusions.  I've earned them. 

CNN.com Covers “Prometheus” and Fusor.net

The story of Mark Suppes' polywell fusion project in Brooklyn, NY continues to viralize itself around the virtual tubes of the Internetz.  This morning CNN.com posted this story to its website: 


New York (CNN) – Some people collect stamps or build miniature boats, while others obsess over their tricked-out cars — but what if your hobby was building a nuclear fusion reactor? For Mark Suppes, it is.

By day, Suppes is a freelance web developer at Gucci, but at night he works in a warehouse lab in Brooklyn, New York, experimenting with nuclear fusion..

This story strikes me as pretty well-rounded coverage, as it lacks the sensational "is it safe in my neighborhood??" angle of some of the earlier reports. 

This one also quotes yours truly: 

Paul Schatzkin, founder of Fusor.net, says people typically think of Hiroshima or the Chernobyl disaster when they hear the word nuclear."And when they hear it they should think sun," he says, "because what they are building is a miniature synthetic star. A fusion reaction is a star."

To which I can now add (because it didn't occur to me when I was talking to the reporter yesterday, that what all these fusion researchers are building amounts to "a star in a jar."  

Which begs the obvious question, the conundrum that faces all fusion research:  "How do you bottle a star?"  In other words, how do you contain a reaction that is as hot as the sun without either destroying the container or extinguishing the reaction?  I think that is the central challenge of the whole fusion experience.  Whether or not it will ever produce useful industrial energy, that remains entirely debatable. 

I am also pleased to read this remark from Stan Milora, the director of Fusion research at Oak Ridge Nat'l Laboratory:

Milora says that while Suppes' experiments may be amateur because they are smaller and less complex, they can be more efficient than the massive projects funded by national governments.

I think that's a point that we've stressed at Fusor.net from the very beginning: that, dollar for dollar, the results achieved in the basements and garages around the world by members of this site for thousands of dollars are equal in many respects to the results attained by large-scale, institutional and government-sponsored experiments costing millions, hundreds of millions, and now even multi-billions of dollars.  

It is this notion that success can only become by throwing large sums of money at a problem that the work represented by this site fundamentally challenges.  

If indeed fusion is ever to produce useful energy, I think the activity and discussion found here demonstrates that that "holy grail" as the press likes to call it is just as likely to be found at a grass-roots level than it will be found under a mountainous pile of cash. 

But then, maybe the press is unwittingly right using such expressions as "Holy Grail."  Last I read, other than fiction, we're still looking for that,

No Sleep ‘Til Fusion

The Mark Suppes fusor story is going viral now.  There is an account at Gizmodo, which offers a much better overview than the first BBC piece, and stresses the pivotal issue that governs this and ALL fusion research:  

The problem with fusion has always been that we don't know how to get more energy out of it than we put into it. We know the energy is there. We know effective fusion is likely to take a lot of energy to jumpstart, but we don't know how (or if) we can ever get fusion going well enough to capture as much energy out as we put into it—the elusive break even point

This article makes another valid point that is often overlooked amid all the "free energy" excitement over a concept that is still anything but: 

As evening falls, Suppes wonders aloud if cheap fusion energy is even a good idea. "Would we just use up the planet quicker?" he asks, then shrugs and moves on. It's a good question. In every age access to easier energy has gone along with environmental destruction. From Native Americans fire clearing forests and the extinction of Australian megafauna to the Industrial Revolution fouling up everything else, we've always used energy for beating the hell out of the planet. Today tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil have poured into the Gulf of Mexico. Might as well try for the devil we don't know.

It goes more or less without saying that — in the paradigm of the past one or two millennia — the production and consumption of energy is a destructive process, as the situation in the Gulf painfully demonstrates.  But, if the process itself is clean, does that just unleash us for ever greater planetary destruction?

Philo T. Farnsworth invented a nuclear fusion process in part because he was looking for a means of propulsion in space other than liquid and solid fuel rockets.  If his vision is realized, we may yet need it for that. 

via gizmodo.com

Another Fusioneer Makes the News

Well now, finally, after too many months, something new to report here on the front page of Fusor.net.

Oh, I know, there have been some stories, but most of them have been about how the debt and currency crisis in Europe has de-railed ITER, which strikes me as not much of a loss since that was all about institutional funding for a monolithic dinosaur to begin with.  Let it die along with the rest of the corporate dinosaurs that need to roll over and die (BP, anybody?).

Mark Suppes So meet Brooklyn, NY -based Mark Suppes — Fusioneer Neutron-Club member number 37 by my count — who was recently subject of a profile by the BBC news (let’s see… guys live in US but gets coverage from the UK.  How exactly does that happen?).

The coverage is pretty interesting, actually, even if it does seem to dwell a bit unnecessarily on the sensational, scare-the-neighbors, “is it safe!?!?!” angle of having a fusion reactor in the middle of a Brooklyn neighborhood: 

Many might be alarmed to learn of a homemade nuclear reactor being built next door. But what if this form of extreme DIY could help solve the world’s energy crisis?

As we witness the endless carnage in the Gulf of Mexico, it seems to me it’s about time somebody asked the question. .  

So take the time to watch the video that accompanies the article online (I’d embed it here, but the site doesn’t offer any embed code).  About a 1:10, Mark says “I’m going to take you through the steps to create nuclear fusion.”  And yes, it’s a bit technical and all, but in its totality the clip makes the point we have been making here for more than ten years now: 


Wormhole-sci-fi-movie-contact-machine-paintingIt doesn’t require billions of dollars and machines the size of a soccer stadium that are more complex than “The Machine” in the movie Contact to produce nuclear fusion – the same process that powers the sun and stars.

To the contrary, as Mark Suppes and three dozen other members of the “Neutron Club” have demonstrated, fusion can be produced on a workbench with components that can be purchased off of eBay. 

No, the devices we are talking about here do not produce “net energy.”  They do not produce more energy than it takes to produce the reaction.  So they are not yet useful as an actual “energy source” to power industry and commerce.

But that time will come, and I bet it will come sooner from the kind of devices these “amateurs” are building than it will from the humongous institutional behemoths like ITER or NIF.   My God, will you look at the sheer SIZE of these things?? These things aren’t being built and operated to experiment with fusion; they’ve being built and operated to keep physicists employed.  

Unfortunately, the piece ends by returning to the “safety” issue with a series of “man in the street” interviews wherein the man behind the camera must have asked the question “do you know there’s a guy running a nuclear reactor in a warehouse across the street?” in order to generate the sort of reaction that kind of question could be expected to generate. 

Maybe he should have asked him “do you know that the oil in the Gulf of Mexico was being drilled to power your iPhone?”  I’d rather see what sort of reaction a question like that would generate.  If people made the connection between their gizmos and the energy it takes to keep them going, they might take a more serious interest in the guy next door who is fusing hydrogen atoms. 

Tonight’s “Top Ten List” of Fusion Projects Around the World

Generalfusion-150x150  In case you're not keeping score, here's a round-up of the most visible fusion projects around the world. And while the article notes that "even amateurs have done it," there's no mention among this Top Ten list of the Fusor or any of the individuals who are experimenting with it. In other words, if you don't have a big institutional budget, you just don't register on the radar.

Interest in nuclear fusion, in which atoms are forced to join and thus release some of their energy, has been on the rise along with the development of solar, wind and other renewable energy technologies. Fusion is the holy grail of energy: completely clean, using only water and other commonly available elements as fuel, and cheap.

The problem isn’t that scientists can’t produce fusion reactions; even amateurs have done it. It’s that all discovered fusion processes consume more energy than they produce. (The similarity of the terms can be confusing, so it’s worth a reminder that nuclear fission, in which atoms split, is the well-known technology that already keeps lights on in some homes.)

via industry.bnet.com

Yet Another Fusion “Breakthrough”

What's the old saw, "Nuclear fusion is 20-30 years in the future — and always will be" ? Here's another example, from the University of Florida, as reported in the New Zealand Herald (huh?).

The University of Florida have taken a different tack, by putting hydrogen and boron fuel into an accelerator that fires them towards each other at incredibly high velocities. When the hydrogen and boron 11 atoms smash into each other, they fuse, producing fast moving helium nuclei whose motion is converted into electricity.

via www.nzherald.co.nz

Another “Student Fusor” Makes the News

Bilde  Every now and then, one of these basement fusor projects makes the local news. Here's an article from a recent edition of the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle about the fusor that Matthew Honickman built to start the New Year: 

"This is fun," he said. "For a lot of people, fusion seems kind of like something that's only done in really, really large, expensive government facilities."

Ted Kinsman, one of Honickman's science teachers at Brighton High School, said that he is aware of only a few high school students who have ever constructed fusors.

"It's quite an accomplishment," he said. "Basically, I applaud him. That's a lot of work."

The article says that Matthew hopes to be admited to either Cal-Tech or MIT next year. Either one of those institutions will do well to have a student like Matthew in their halls and classrooms — assuming those institutions can give him free reign, as opposed to grinding his brain into orthodox forms of thinking.

Farnsworth’s Pontiac St. Plant Slated for the Wrecking Ball?

Readers and Fusioneers familiar with the story of Philo Farnsworth's 1950s and 60s fusion research will recognize this as the address where that seminal research was conducted.  Apparently the building has served its purpose for its present owners: 


Indiana's NewsCenter has learned a demolition permit has been issued for the so-called Farnsworth Factory on Pontiac Street. The building originally housed the Capehart Corporation, which built radios and record changers. It was later sold to Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of electronic television who built TV sets at the site. The building’s also where Philo Farnsworth performed his experiments with nuclear fusion. No word yet on when the structure will be demolished. There are groups in Fort Wayne working to save it.

via www.indianasnewscenter.com

ITER On The Ropes

News.2009.ITERsite I guess that's what happens when you set out on a path that requires billions of dollars from dozens of countries — just to light a match.

Construction at the site of ITER — the multibillion-euro project to prove controlled nuclear fusion — has been at a standstill since April, Nature has learned.

The stoppage comes as European contributors negotiate how to pay for their share of ITER, a collaboration between Europe, Japan, South Korea, Russia, the United States, China and India. The European Union (EU) is by far the largest participant, providing some 45% of construction costs, including the buildings that will eventually house the giant machine in St Paul lez Durance, in the south of France.

Excavations for the buildings, slated to begin this autumn, will not start until spring 2010 — roughly a year after site preparations were completed.

via www.nature.com