All of us probably know what neutrons are, or have at least heard of them back in physics class. Yet these little bundles of quarks are much more than just filler inside an atom’s nucleus. In addition to being an essential part of making matter as stable as it (usually) is, free neutrons can be used in a variety of manners.
From breaking atoms apart (nuclear fission), to changing the composition of atoms by adding neutrons (transmutation), to the use of neutrons in detecting water and inspecting materials, neutrons are an essential tool in the sciences, as well as in medicine and industrial applications. This has meant a lot of development toward the goal of better neutron sources. While nuclear fission is an efficient way to get lots of neutrons, for most applications a more compact and less complicated approach is used, some of which use nuclear fusion instead.
In this article we’ll be taking a look at the many applications of neutron sources, and these neutron sources themselves.
Continue reading “Where Do You Get Your Neutrons? Neutron Sources For Nuclear Fusion, Science, Medicine, And Industry”
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.
Continue reading “Nuclear Fusion Power Without Regular Tokamaks Or Stellarators”
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.
Continue reading “Nuclear Fusion At 100: The Hidden Race For Energy Supremacy”
Nuclear fusion, as a method of power generation, continues to elude humanity. It promises cheap, virtually limitless energy, if only we could find a way to achieve it. On the other hand, achieving nuclear fusion of a few atoms just for the fun of it is actually quite doable, even in the home lab. [Jackson Oswalt] is one of the youngest to pull it off, having built a working fusor at home at the age of 12.
The fusor consists of a cross-shaped chamber, which is pumped down to a high vacuum to enable the fusion reaction to occur. Deuterium is then pumped into the chamber, and confined by an applied electric field from a power supply in the vicinity of 50 kV. With the right combination of geometry, vacuum and other factors, it’s possible to fuse atoms and observe the characteristic glow of the reaction taking place.
In order to be recognised as having achieved fusion by the Open Source Fusor Research Consortium, one must typically have proof of the release of neutrons from the fusion reaction. [Jackson] showed this with a neutron detector setup, by inserting and removing it during a run to demonstrate the fusor was the source of the signal. Photos of the glowing fusor don’t go astray, either, and [Jackson] was more than happy to deliver.
We’ve seen fusor builds before – [Erik]’s build got him into the Plasma Club back in 2016.
[via Fox News]
You may not have heard of a Stellarator before, but if all goes well later this month in a small university town in the far northeast of Germany, you will. That’s because the Wendelstein 7-X is finally going to be fired up. If it’s able to hold the heat of a fusion-capable plasma, it could be a huge breakthrough.
So what’s a stellarator? It’s a specific type of nuclear fusion containment geometry that, while devilishly complex to build and maintain, stands a chance at being the first fusion generator to achieve break-even, where the energy extracted from the fusion reaction is greater or equal to the energy used in creating the necessary hot plasma.
There’s an awesome video on the W7-X, and some of the theory behind the reactor just below the break.
Continue reading “Stellarator Is Germany’s Devilishly Complex Nuclear Fusion”
We’ve been sent this press release claiming a new kind of fusion reaction that works at small scales using an incredibly exotic fuel material: ultra-dense deuterium. We looked into it with an open mind, and if we’re being kind we’ll conclude that there’s a ten-year long research project being undertaken by [Leif Holmlid], a single scientist whose claims would win him one or two Nobel prizes if any of it were true.
If we drop the kindness and approach it rationally, this doesn’t smell right and can’t be believed until it has been reliably reproduced by someone not associated with the original research. Let’s delve into the claim of Deuterium powered reactions, and circle around on the cold-fusion hype we found so sadly entertaining back in the ’90s.
Continue reading “Deuterium Powered Homes And The Return Of Cold Fusion Hype”
Week 11 of the Caption CERN Contest has flown by faster than the mullet or hammer pants. Thank you for all the wonderful captions. Some of our astute readers noticed that this week’s photo actually worked as cross view 3D image. This was unintentional, but a pretty cool bonus. The telephone in the background moved just enough to give the image some depth. We probably will never know what exactly these scientists were working on, and why they needed a PDP 11 with some custom hardware to run calculations. They definitely provided us with some entertaining captions though!
- “I know this PDP was expensive, but do we all REALLY need to take a photo with it? I have like serious science to do!” – [Matthew Hoskins]
- “They all laughed at Jane when she said she was going to mine bitcoin with her 168 E. Now they fear the click of her Prada boots and Versace wardrobe. “- [mathew.stevens]
- “Linda! We didn’t get a PDP-11 to play Zork!” – [el.Cannibal]
The winner for this week is [XLT_Frank] with “These ladies were essential to proper operation at CERN because unlike the men, they read the manuals”. As a reward for his efforts, [XLT_Frank] wins a CRT Android T-Shirt From The Hackaday Store!
On to week 12!
One of the best parts of running the Caption CERN Contest is checking out the new images on CERN’s servers each week. Every week I find new images to zoom in on. I trace wires, look at equipment ID cards, and generally try to figure out what exactly is going on.
This image is no exception. At first glance, one would think the CERN photographer was trying out some multiple exposure techniques. Zooming in on the high res JPG available at the original CERN page shows that the strange phenomenon in the center of the image are actually layers of fine wire strung between the two sides of the curve. Between that and the 80’s clean room outfits, this must have been a very important piece of scientific equipment!
Add your humorous caption as a comment to this project log. Make sure you’re commenting on the contest log, not on the contest itself.
As always, if you actually have information about the image or the people in it, let CERN know on the original image discussion page.