Fusion Power is Always 30 Years Away – Could That Be 5 years? #fusion #energy

Sun viewed in X-rays

The Sun: our only reliable source of fusion power

The joke is older than I am! Fusion power is 30 years away and always will be.

The joke works because, after almost a century and billions spent on government-backed megaprojects, we’ve failed. Huge, doughnut-shaped magnetic tokamaks or enormously powerful lasers suck up vast amounts of electricity to produce… no net gain.

Fusion needs a new approach, and today there’s more than one. At MIT, Oxford, and in southern California, researchers promise big things. Neutral hydrogen fuel, superconductors, and inertial-confinement, along with the latest artificial intelligence, could make a difference.

I’m jaded enough to ignore the latest claims if it weren’t for one thing:

If just one succeeds in building a reactor capable of producing electricity economically, it could fundamentally transform the course of human civilization. In a fusion reaction, a single gram of the hydrogen isotopes that are most commonly used could theoretically yield the same energy as 11 metric tons of coal, with helium as the only lasting by-product. ieee.org

That would be a mighty significant outcome, so even a small chance of success is hard to ignore.

Private investors are getting involved and that means innovative ideas are being heard. The trouble with a government project (and I was a contractor for the US Federal government for many years) is there’s no exit strategy, and no sense of how to cut loses or remove powerful individuals who have become drones. Of course, in the private world, returns often need to come swiftly, and basic research takes time. Maybe a mix of funding is best.

The world needs abundant, CO2-free energy, so this blossoming of ideas grabs my attention. What truly seems weird is, even with fusion, we’re still boiling water to drive turbines to generate electricity. But if we can do it cheaply, safely, and without frying the planet – that would transform civilization.

Thanks  ieee.org for their article.

But really, thorium sounds like a better idea.


On This Day in History, Remembering a Genuine Genius #physics #poetry #poem #RichardFeynman #Feynman #quantum

Fifty-three years ago today, Richard Feynman gave his Nobel lecture on Quantum Electrodynamics. Even if you don’t remember him for his Nobel Prize or for Feynman Diagrams, you may recall how, during a televised hearing, he demonstrated what caused the shuttle Challenger’s disaster with a simple experiment using a glass of ice water.

Feynman was also a fascinating human being and you should read about his life.

But on this blog, I celebrate Feynman for his challenge to poets.

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars – mere globs of gas atoms. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them…

Far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? Who are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?

In honor of Feynman, I’m re-posting my poem inspired by his Lecture 1: Atoms in Motion, from the book Six Easy Pieces.

Your cup of tea sits quietly, its surface still and calm.
A tiny wisp of steam is all that’s going on.
Now magnify your vision, expand the scale up.
A cup as big as planet Earth with atoms big as cups.

Tea is a glob of atoms, each jiggling in the heap.
Atoms that are water and jiggling that is heat.
Cup-atoms block tea-atoms, despite how fast they seem.
But if tea-atoms hit the air they pop right out as steam.

Hot tea-atoms jiggle fast – move randomly in air.
If jiggling down, back to the tea, they’re stuck again in there.
Now blow away the steam – atoms don’t return to tea.
Hot atoms still keep popping out; removing heat, you see.

And so atomic theory
Allows your mind to see:
If tea’s too hot for you to sip
Then blow to cool your tea.

Kate Rauner

Wormhole’s Shadow Might Be Detectable, Fascinating and Confusing #poem #poetry #physics #wormhole #space

ship thru a wormhole

Wormhole travel, though maybe only for a microscopic ship

Wormholes are hypothetical,
So hypothetically,
They may leave traces in the sky
That telescopes could see.

Where space-time is so warped,
might trace a ring,
While others falling through the pipe,
Leave dark where light had been.

Not my own reflector
To search for wormhole tubes,
But radio astronomy
Linked across the globe.

Confirming wormholes would confuse
What we know of gravity,
But since that force still puzzles us
They’d mesh abstractedly.

Kate Rauner

Thanks to livescience for pointing out this possibility. For some reason my poetic creativity has been on vacation for a few weeks – hope it’s back now.

Famous Physics Cat, Second Only to Schrodinger’s #physics #science #cats #research #quote #cat #humor #video

siamese cat

This isn’t FDC Willard, but let’s pretend it is, with some of his many academic awards

“Science must be understood as a gutsy human enterprise.” Stephen Jay Gould

Try the video version of this post 🙂 Created with Lumen5.

Yes, scientists are human. They even have a sense of humor. Consider the career of F.D.C. Willard. He’s known for being listed as an author of serious research papers, and he’s a cat.

It seems Jack H. Hetherington, a Michigan State University physics professor, wrote a soon-to-be-influential paper on the low-temperature physics of helium-3 isotopes. He was the sole author, but in the formal tone of research, he had

written the entire paper using the “we” pronoun. This was against the journal’s style rules. Hetherington’s paper would surely be rejected if it wasn’t retyped. livescience

visit Kate Rauner's blog - science and scifiLike any of us, he hated the idea of retyping his paper, so he solved his problem with a touch of whimsy. He added a co-author, his cat Felis Domesticus Chester, or F.D.C. He gave F.D.C. a family name following the usual practice of Americans, adding the cat’s father’s name of Willard. Now there were two authors and no need to change the paper.

Hetherington’s solution wasn’t a secret. His colleagues were fine with it and even enjoyed the joke. F.D.C. Willard became famous in the small world of helium-3 physics.

visit Kate Rauner's blog - science and scifiSeveral years later, a French paper on helium-3 appeared under a single author’s name: F.D.C. Willard. Apparently, the actual research team could not agree on a version of the paper that satisfied them all, so they decided to credit America’s best-published cat instead. livescience

Henceforth, F.D. C. Willard appeared repeatedly in footnotes, where he was thanked for “useful contributions to the discussion” or oral communications, and was even offered a professorship by a Professor and Imminently Erstwhile Chairman:

In response to your valued letter of 25 November: let me admit at once that if you had not written I should never have had the temerity to think of approaching so distinguished a physicist as F. D. C. Willard, F.R.S.C., with a view to interesting him in joining a university department like ours, which after all, was not even rated among the best 30 in the 1969 Roose-Anderson study… Can you imagine the universal jubilation if in fact Willard could be persuaded to join us, even if only as a Visiting Distinguished Professor? wikipedia

On April 1, 2014 (note the date) the American Physical Society announced that cat-authored papers would be open-access, rather than behind a pay-wall.

This post is mostly quotations, because I can’t improve on reality.

If you plan a career in research, be sure to take your sense of humor with you. After all, you might have to survive your colleagues knowing you once announced you’d discovered Mars.