Nuclear Fusion Power Without Regular Tokamaks Or Stellarators

When it comes to nuclear fusion, the most well-known reactor type today is no doubt the tokamak, due to its relatively straight-forward concept of plasma containment. That’s not to say that there aren’t other ways to accomplish nuclear fusion in a way that could conceivably be used in a commercial power plant in the near future.

As we covered previously, another fairly well-known type of fusion reactor is the stellarator, which much like the tokamak, has been around since the 1950s. There are other reactor types from that era, like the Z-pinch, but they seem to have all fallen into obscurity. That is not to say that research on Z-pinch reactors has ceased, or that other reactor concepts — some involving massive lasers — haven’t been investigated or even built since then.

In this article we’ll take a look at a range of nuclear fusion reactor types that definitely deserve a bit more time in the limelight.

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Lead-Free Solder Alloys: Their Properties And Best Types For Daily Use

Lead-free solder alloys have been around for as long as people have done soldering, with sources dating back about 5,000 years. Most of these alloys were combinations like copper-silver or silver-gold and used with so-called hard soldering. That’s a technique still used today to join precious and semi-precious metals together. A much more recent development is that of soldering electronic components together, using ‘soft soldering’, which entails much lower temperatures.

Early soft soldering used pure tin (Sn), yet gradually alloys were sought that would fix issues like thermal cycling, shock resistance, electron migration, and the development of whiskers in tin-based alloys. While lead (Pb) managed to fill this role for most soldering applications, the phasing out of lead from products, as well as new requirements for increasingly more fine-pitched components have required the development of new solder alloys that can fill this role.

In this article we’ll be looking at the commonly used lead-free solder types for both hobby and industrial use, and the dopants that are used to improve their properties.

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Nuclear Fusion At 100: The Hidden Race For Energy Supremacy

It’s hardly a secret that nuclear fusion has had a rough time when it comes to its image in the media: the miracle power source that is always ‘just ten years away’.  Even if no self-respecting physicist would ever make such a statement, the arrival of commercial nuclear fusion power cannot come quickly enough for many. With the promise of virtually endless, clean energy with no waste, it does truly sound like something from a science-fiction story.

Meanwhile, in the world of non-fiction, generations of scientists have dedicated their careers to understanding better how plasma in a reactor behaves, how to contain it and what types of fuels would work best for a fusion reactor, especially one that has to run continuously, with a net positive energy output. In this regard, 2020 is an exciting year, with the German Wendelstein 7-X stellarator reaching its final configuration, and the Chinese HL-2M tokamak about to fire up.

Join me after the break as I look into what a century of progress in fusion research has brought us and where it will take us next.

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Tetraethyl Lead: The Solution To One, And Cause Of Many New Problems

From the 1920s until the 1970s, most gasoline cars in the USA were using fuel that had lead mixed into it. The reason for this was to reduce the engine knocking effect from abnormal combustion in internal combustion engines of the time. While lead — in the form of tetraethyllead — was effective at this, even the 1920s saw both the existence of alternative antiknock agents and an uncomfortable awareness of the health implications of lead exposure.

We’ll look at what drove the adoption of tetraethyllead, and why it was phased out once the environmental and health-related issues came into focus. But what about its antiknock effects? We’ll also be looking at the alternative antiknock agents that took its place and how this engine knocking issue is handled these days.

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The Barcode Revolution: Welcome To Our Automated World

Featured in many sci-fi stories as a quicker, more efficient way to record and transfer information, barcodes are both extremely commonplace today, and still amazingly poorly understood by many. Originally designed as a way to allow for increased automation by allowing computer systems to scan a code with information about the item it labels, its potential as an information carrier is becoming ever more popular.

Without the tagging ability of barcodes (and their close cousin: RFID tags), much of today’s modern world would grind to a halt. The automated sorting and delivery systems for mail and parcels, entire inventory management systems, the tracing of critical avionics and rocketry components around the globe, as well as seemingly mundane but widely utilized rapid checkout at the supermarket, all depends on some variety of barcodes.

Join me on a trip through the past, present and future of the humble barcode.

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The Story Of The Quickening: Mercurial Metal

Of all known metals, mercury is probably one of the most famous, if only for its lustrous, liquid form at room temperature. Over the centuries, it has been commonly used in a wide variety of applications, including industrial chemical processes, in cosmetics, for telescope mirrors, thermometers, fluorescent lamps, dental fillings, bearings, batteries, switches and most recently in atomic clocks.

Though hardly free from the controversy often surrounding a toxic heavy metal, it’s hard to argue the myriad ways in which mercury has played a positive role in humanity’s technological progress and scientific discoveries. This article will focus both on its historical, current, and possible future uses, as well as the darker side of this fascinating metal.

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RISC-V: Why The ISA Battles Aren’t Over Yet

A computer processor uses a so-called Instruction Set Architecture to talk with the world outside of its own circuitry. This ISA consists of a number of instructions, which essentially define the functionality of that processor, which explains why so many ISAs still exist today. It’s hard to find that one ISA that works for as many distinct use cases as possible, after all.

A fairly new ISA is RISC-V, the first version of which was created back in 2010 at the University of California, Berkeley. Intended to be a fully open ISA, targeting both students (as a learning tool) and industrial users, it is claimed to incorporate a number of design choices that should make it more attractive for a number of applications.

In this article I’ll take a look behind the marketing to take stock of how exactly RISC-V differs from other open ISAs, including Power, SPARC and MIPS.

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