NY team confirms UCLA tabletop fusion

NY team confirms UCLA tabletop fusionResearchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a tabletop accelerator that produces nuclear fusion at room temperature, providing confirmation of an earlier experiment conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), while offering substantial improvements over the original design.

The device, which uses two opposing crystals to generate a powerful electric field, could potentially lead to a portable, battery-operated neutron generator for a variety of applications, from non-destructive testing to detecting explosives and scanning luggage at airports. The new results are described in the Feb. 10 issue of Physical Review Letters.

“Our study shows that ‘crystal fusion’ is a mature technology with considerable commercial potential,” says Yaron Danon, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer. “This new device is simpler and less expensive than the previous version, and it has the potential to produce even more neutrons.”

The device is essentially a tabletop particle accelerator. At its heart are two opposing “pyroelectric” crystals that create a strong electric field when heated or cooled. The device is filled with deuterium gas — a more massive cousin of hydrogen with an extra neutron in its nucleus. The electric field rips electrons from the gas, creating deuterium ions and accelerating them into a deuterium target on one of the crystals. When the particles smash into the target, neutrons are emitted, which is the telltale sign that nuclear fusion has occurred, according to Danon.

A research team led by Seth Putterman, professor of physics at UCLA, reported on a similar apparatus in 2005, but two important features distinguish the new device: “Our device uses two crystals instead of one, which doubles the acceleration potential,” says Jeffrey Geuther, a graduate student in nuclear engineering at Rensselaer and lead author of the paper. “And our setup does not require cooling the crystals to cryogenic temperatures — an important step that reduces both the complexity and the cost of the equipment.”

The new study also verified the fundamental physics behind the original experiment. This suggests that pyroelectric crystals are in fact a viable means of producing nuclear fusion, and that commercial applications may be closer than originally thought, according to Danon.

“Nuclear fusion has been explored as a potential source of power, but we are not looking at this as an energy source right now,” Danon says. Rather, the most immediate application may come in the form of a battery-operated, portable neutron generator. Such a device could be used to detect explosives or to scan luggage at airports, and it could also be an important tool for a wide range of laboratory experiments.

The concept could also lead to a portable x-ray generator, according to Danon. “There is already a commercial portable pyroelectric x-ray product available, but it does not produce enough energy to provide the 50,000 electron volts needed for medical imaging,” he says. “Our device is capable of producing about 200,000 electron volts, which could meet these requirements and could also be enough to penetrate several millimeters of steel.”

In the more distant future, Danon envisions a number of other medical applications of pyroelectric crystals, including a wearable device that could provide safe, continuous cancer treatment.

From Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

42 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry, but many fusion reactions do not generate net power: it takes more power to start them and keep them running than whatever they produce. And I believe it is the case with this one. ¡I think that the authors would be running to the patent office if it was otherwise! 8)

    ¿Want cheap energy? ¡Then pray these other guys are right! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_fusion (Everybody thinks they are wrong. It is a long shot, but the prize is immense…)

  2. Cheap clean power that could run a car or an all-electric home would have a mind boggling effect on the world economy. Businesses, corporations and universities that don’t even seem to be related to oil (or coal) would fail or flounder. Eventually, there’d be a reinventing of business and a redistribution of the workforce … sort of like after a world war. But there would be big pain for a long time.

    It’d be nice to get rid of a few million service stations and a billion or so miles of tacky power lines though!

  3. Yeah, that idea is slower than the type looks… Who do you think has more contacts than anyone else, right now, to be in on the ground floor of any new technologies? I’ll answer, sitting politicians! They see the grants, the fund requests, get briefings from the alphabet-soup agencies regarding research currently known and proposed not to mention first hand access to Darpa projects. I don’t know any poor retired Senators come to think of it…

  4. Perhaps in the near future in airports we shall see screens showing live moving x-ray versions of the passengers before they board as well as their luggage
    contents, such as those nuclear pocket rocket pals the ladies use!! Kinda like the Arnold movie ‘Total Recall’. Should be easy to tell the natural chests from the manmade ones, too!
    Too bad they’re not trying to make energy from it. Probably some govt. lid on developing excess power sources until the oil run administration is out of office. Don’t scoff, it’s probably true!

  5. That the apparatus they describe and the designs for the warp core in Star Trek sound amazingly similar. ;-)

    Still – I didn’t think I’d see it in my lifetime. Kudos to these guys!

  6. That’s a nice thought, but has anyone considered the waste/by-products of this technology? The article only says “neutrons are releaesed.” No elaboration of waste. Any reaction or porcess produces waste of some sort. We might want to learn more before we plan our children’s futures tonight on breakthrough technology! Let’s see how this develops…

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