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. 

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

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.