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College Freshman Builds Fusion Reactor

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  • Um.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kedisar (705040) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:22PM (#6982499) Journal
    Is his name Dexter by any chance?
    • Re:Um.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by deglr6328 (150198) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:44PM (#6982700)
      If you think this guy is brilliant, take a look at this guy's page [umich.edu]. He built a CYCLOTRON(!!!) when he was in his senior year of HS! (he's now doing grad school work at Fermilab, what a shocker)
  • Farnsworth? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:22PM (#6982501)
    Philo T. Farnsworth? Is he any relation to Hubert Farnsworth, inventor of the smelloscope?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:22PM (#6982503)
    to your nearest FBI office where we need to ask you a few questions. You might need to come stay with us in a special facility affectionally known "Camp X-Ray".

  • by rynthetyn (618982) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:24PM (#6982517) Journal
    That kid obviously has waaaay too much time on his hands. I can't imagine doing that my freshman year.
  • Utah Fusion (Score:4, Funny)

    by tinrobot (314936) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:24PM (#6982521)
    Boy, it seems as though Utah has invented yet another way to do fusion... didn't a pair of scientists from Utah already invent fusion once before? What were their names? Pons and Fleischman?

    Oh yeah, I forgot... that line of investigation went cold.
  • Cool... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RIAAwakka_nakka_bakk (704088) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:25PM (#6982523)
    This is a great sign that not all kids and young adults have weak or corrupt minds. The ability of an American college freshman (or anyone else his age) to do this with the parts he used is simply amazing.

    On the other hand, wouldn't the FBI be looking hard at him now that has built something like this?

  • Cool you say? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Stigmata669 (517894) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:25PM (#6982524)
    Check out Fusor.net [fusor.net].
  • by Ro'que (153060) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:27PM (#6982545)
    ...Building it would get him older college chicks?
  • by KRzBZ (707148) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:28PM (#6982553)
    I mean, it's cool he could do this and all, but there's already 30 of these around the country, they don't produce any excess energy, other than that from what will soon be hundreds of little slash.fingers merrily typing away... Misleading intro to this story - I was all set for some kind of great breakthrough, and instead I get the equivalent of a SCO press staement - a story, some hot air, but nothing of real substance. Or am I missing some greater consequence of this?
  • by Rorschach1 (174480) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:30PM (#6982565) Homepage
    No, it's not cold fusion. It's been around for a long time, and it's been mentioned here before. See the wikipedia entry at:

    http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnsworth-Hirsch_ Fu sor
  • The vacuum of space (Score:3, Interesting)

    by t0qer (230538) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:30PM (#6982566) Homepage Journal
    This thing has a vaccum pump attatched to it, I wonder why?

    Either way, that would be one part you could omit if this were launched into space. Could anyone familiar with how this thing works tell me if it would run in space?
  • by GSpot (134221) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:30PM (#6982569) Homepage
    He got second place in a science competition? It makes me wonder what project won first place. An advanced prototype of a nuclear fission weapon using kitchen grease as fissionable material? How manay days is it until April 1st?
    • Re:Second Place? (Score:5, Informative)

      by pr0ntab (632466) <pr0ntab @ g mail.com> on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @12:08AM (#6982862) Journal
      [sciserv.org]
      Scroll about 2/3rds down the page or search for "Spanish".

      He came in second in his category (Physics). He was beat by about 40-some-odd other students altogether, and tied with a hundred or so.

      What beat him?
      Phase transition in chaotic fluids,
      Identifying genes with neural networks,
      Investigation into geothermal activity on Venus
      Silencing cancer with RNA
      Novel asteroid distance determination technique
      Capstone: Brain-computer interface for the disabled.

      He may have not gotten as high marks because he wasn't really discovering anything new or pursuing a topic from a strange angle... it was a humoungous task of engineering, however, and this could not be overlooked.
  • CDs (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:33PM (#6982601)
    "Craig built a neutron modulator (which slows down the emitted neutrons so they can be detected) out of a few hundred spare CDs. "

    I guess we have a new winner for what to do with AOL CDs.
    • Re:CDs (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jimhill (7277)
      Let me be the first NukeE to mention that the reporter didn't quite hear correctly -- it's a "moderator". Which raises the question of why the kid didn't just put a couple of Ziploc baggies full of water between the gadget and his detector.
  • by stanwirth (621074) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:35PM (#6982619)

    Craig built a neutron modulator (which slows down the emitted neutrons so they can be detected) out of a few hundred spare CDs.

    ...and I thought I was going to use them as reflectors for Christmas-tree lights. Now we can use them to power the Christmas-tree lights! Cool!

  • by rzbx (236929) <slashdot@rzbx.oCOUGARrg minus cat> on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:36PM (#6982626) Homepage
    He isn't a die hard nerd that sits around reading books all day, getting straight A's, and spending time doing various things the stereotypical nerd would do. It goes to show that we need to understand that people don't all see things the same, learn the same, and fit in the same model we believe works so well. This college student is more a mechanic than any typical scientist.
    I point all this to intellectual property. He was fortunately able to obtain most of his material cheaply and easily, but what about most hobbyists that want to fidle with new technology? Where do they get the money for new tools, machines, etc? If we applied an open source model to intellectual property and treated ideas not as property, but as what they really are, then we could accelerate scientific and technological progress greatly. What this college student did is quite amazing. The thing he built is only found in top notch institutions. I just think we need more plagiarism prevention, not patents. Btw, I'm sorry for being somewhat off-topic, but I feel that there is an important lesson to be learned here.
    • by dasmegabyte (267018) <das@OHNOWHATSTHISdasmegabyte.org> on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @01:51AM (#6983335) Homepage Journal
      Yes. The lesson is that if you get off your ass you can do interesting things. I don't see where intelelctual property comes into it. In fact, one could just as easily argue that, since he did nothing more than cobble together the type of generator that has been done before, that he has not advanced "science" at all. Sure, he's advanced his own knowledge, it certainly is an interesting and awesome project, but science hasn't moved an inch. That's why he only got SECOND place for this project -- he's shown he's a really talenter tinkerer, not the next Heisenberg.

      As for applying an open source model to ideas...well, we already do that, stupid, it's called peer review. It manifests itself in the form of these cool, incredibly terse publications about the size of silver age comic books, with the words JOURNAL OF at the front of the title and a bunch of syllables at the end. This system is how we "know" cold fusion isn't real, or at the very least it isn't going to be easy. The methodology of experimentation is not prevented by intellectual property law. Patenting something doesn't mean nobody else understands how it works, or prevent you from improving upon it. Pantent law PROTECTS improvements. There is no DMCA for this sort of thing, no FBI agent will come to your lab. In the biotech field you can make as many AIDS cocktails as you like for research. Steal the recipe right out of the JAMA if you like. Shit, Glaxo wants you to. The more publications there are that back up their findings, the easier it is to get the FDA to lay off on them.

      All patent law does is assure that the first guy to come up with a brilliant new concept will be allowed to make money from technologies based off of it. That's how researchers live...selling ideas that can be made into profits. Taking that away from them doesn't help science, mate.
  • by Myriad (89793) <myriad.thebsod@com> on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:38PM (#6982638) Homepage
    Very cool... but not as cool as the breeder reactor this Boy Scout [findarticles.com] was cooking up.

    Good way to win a Darward Award while still living if you ask me...

    Blockwars [blockwars.com]: free, multiplayer, and with new features!

  • by fygment (444210) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:39PM (#6982645)
    Craig built a neutron modulator (which slows down the emitted neutrons so they can be detected) out of a few hundred spare CDs.

    RIAA: "They wouldn't be CD's with pirated music on them would they ??"

    Wallace: "No sir, Mr. RIAA-man. But you can have a look yourself. I keep them over there in that nuclear reactor. Fill your boots."

    • Strange (Score:3, Informative)

      by turgid (580780)
      Craig built a neutron modulator (which slows down the emitted neutrons so they can be detected) out of a few hundred spare CDs.

      In my day we called it a moderator. Why didn't he just use charcoal, coal or graphite?

      And another thing, I thought it was John Logie Baird [mztv.com] that invented (mechanical) television and Marconi who invented magnetically-scanned television? Maybe in America, everything was invented by Americans independently of the rest of the world?

  • by GileadGreene (539584) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:43PM (#6982675) Homepage
    Not that it isn't cool that a college freshman managed to build this, but this isn't exactly the big news it sounds like. What Wallace built is essentially an Inertial Electrostatic Confinement (IEC) [tripod.com] fusion reactor. IECs use the electrostatic field generated by charged concentric spheres to confine the fusing plasma - you can think of it as a mini-sun that uses electrostatic fields instead of gravitational fields. IECs have been around for a good long while (since the days of Philo Farnsworth, as the article mentions).

    Unfortunately, Wallace's IEC, like every other IEC ever built, doesn't get even close to break-even. Their primary utility is, as the article mentions, as a neutron source (and in fact that's what they're usually used for). There are some folks that are hopeful they can find a way to improve the efficiency of IEC fusion and exceed break-even (Robert Bussard, of Bussard ram-jet fame, for example), but no one's managed to actually demonstrate a working, energy-generating IEC yet.

    • There are some folks that are hopeful they can find a way to improve the efficiency of IEC fusion and exceed break-even (Robert Bussard, of Bussard ram-jet fame, for example), but no one's managed to actually demonstrate a working, energy-generating IEC yet.

      Personally, I think these devices are far more likely to generate succes than the current breed of "tokamak" style reactors. They've had 20 years and upteen billion dollars, and still think it will take anotehr 20 years longer.

      I for one think it's lu
  • by Bruha (412869) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:43PM (#6982685) Homepage Journal
    Is that the next generation nintendo?
  • Farnsworth and TV (Score:5, Informative)

    by sbszine (633428) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:46PM (#6982716) Homepage Journal
    Philo T. Farnsworth (the inventor of the television... )

    The inventor of television is not necessarily Farnsworth -- there are several scientists with good claims on the title [physlink.com] (including John Logie Baird, after whom the Logie television awards are named).
    • Re:Farnsworth and TV (Score:3, Informative)

      by cr0sh (43134)
      They, of course, phrased that wrong - arguably, Philo T. Farnsworth is the inventor of completely electronic television. Until RCA and Sarnoff stole his ideas and ran. This resulted in Farnsworth dying "a pauper". Only recently was he reinstated in that role instead of RCA, ala court action, similar to the Tesla/Marconi debate, ENIAC vs. ABC, among others...

      See this site [park.org] and this site [philo75.com] for more details...

    • Re:Farnsworth and TV (Score:5, Informative)

      by Animats (122034) on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @02:21AM (#6983465) Homepage
      Here's the real story:

      Farnsworth invented the Farnsworth Image Dissector, the first TV camera tube. Which sucked. The device required huge amounts of light to work, bright sunlight, and big optics. It required so much light because it didn't integrate over the entire frame time; only the light that came in during the scan of the specific pixel contributed to the output. But it had some light amplification; it works a lot like a photomultiplier. In fact, it's basically a photomultiplier whose viewpoint can be steered.

      Shortly thereafter, Zworklin invented the iconoscope. Which also sucked. That device required huge amounts of light, but for a different reason. The iconoscope has no light amplification, but it integrates the accumulated light over a frame time on a per-pixel basis as an electric charge. The accumulated charge is then read out by a scanning beam.

      After much litigation, RCA ended up owning both technologies, and RCA Labs spent many years developing the image orthicon, which combines the good features of the two technologies. The image orthicon is just what you'd expect from a big corporate lab. It took years to develop, it's incredibly complicated and expensive, requires a huge amount of support electronics, is difficult to adjust, and produces a good picture at reasonable light levels. It has the photomultiplier-type amplification of the image dissector and the charge accumulation of the iconosope. Only after the image orthicon was developed did TV broadcasting become commercially viable.

  • Sheesh .... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ProfMoriarty (518631) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:51PM (#6982749) Journal
    They found a broken turbo molecular pump lying forgotten at Deseret Industries.

    I'VE BEEN LOOKING ALL OVER FOR THAT!

  • by saitoh (589746) on Tuesday September 16, 2003 @11:53PM (#6982762) Homepage
    ... he will never *ever* get laid. Ever. Period.
  • by chill (34294) on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @12:07AM (#6982858) Journal
    This reminds me of an old Bloom County strip where Oliver Wendell Jones built a nuclear bomb for his class science project. The teacher asked him where he got the fissionable material and he said he scraped all the glowing stuff off thousands of watch dials...

    "Attention students! Fire drill!"
  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @01:41AM (#6983288)
    You don't even need electricity for that. Just mix beryllium with a good source of alpha particles like radium. Beryllium 9 undergoes an (alpha,n) fusion reaction with an incident alpha particle, generating carbon 12 and a loose neutron.

    Beryllium 9 is great because it's essentially two helium nuclei held together by a loose neutron with a very low binding energy (1.66 MeV). It's almost the nuclear equivalent of an alkali metal. You can even pop the thing apart with a gamma ray if you don't want to bother with alpha emitters. For those who worry about berylliosis, boron 11 also works. The (alpha,n) reaction yields nitrogen 14.

    This was the setup that Chadwick used for detecting the neutron in 1932. Back then neutrons were referred to as "beryllium radiation" (sort of like how electrons were first called "cathode rays") and were wrongly thought to be some sort of strongly penetrating photons. Chadwick surrounded his beryllium source with wax and measured the energies of the protons that got knocked out by elastic collisions. Wax is a great moderator because it's full of protons, and the neutron slams into a proton in the wax and loses all its energy like a billiard ball. The neutron that emerges from the wax is a slow neutron. Slow neutrons are generally much more useful than fast neutrons because they spend more time in your fissionable material, and there is no Coulomb barrier that they need to overcome so they react with nuclei very easily.

    I shouldn't say too much more or else I'll get myself placed on the Bush Administration's new list of 100,000 maniacs. [nytimes.com] But if you're building a fission bomb, these reactions are really handy because your implosion doesn't last very long and you need to get hold of lots of slow neutrons in a hurry. If you're building a nuclear reactor for power generation, you're under less of a tight schedule and can probably wait a millisecond or two for neutrons from cosmic rays or spontaneous fissions to get your pile going.

  • by ThesQuid (86789) <a987&mac,com> on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @02:38AM (#6983523) Journal
    I actually read quite a bit on these devices a few weeks ago when the cold fusion article came up on /.
    One of the things I came across was Fusor [fusor.net], which is essentially a site for people who do this as a hobby.
    The most interesting thing I found was a link to the work of a gentleman named Eric Lerner. He actually has a workable, scalable, power-generating reactor [crosswinds.net]. His is based on "dense plasma focus". Thing is, he's already got the thing to 1 billion degrees - and he's going for the big time - the aneutronic p-B11 reaction. That only generates alpha particles - which can be directly converted into electricity. No nasty turbines or steam! Pretty amazing.
    • by Idarubicin (579475) <(moc.liamtoh) (ta) (teiuqslla)> on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @10:06AM (#6985303) Journal
      He actually has a workable, scalable, power-generating reactor.

      No, he doesn't. From the linked article, in the Objectives section.

      Lawrenceville Plasma Physics' objective is to achieve break-even (100% net efficiency) with focus fusion (as much energy out as fed into the plasma).

      [...]
      These experiments, which will take about a year once the equipment is ready, are aimed at achieving a number of goals essential to moving toward a focus fusion reactor.

      It's a pretty set of sketches and projections (right down to very detailed guesstimates at the income and return on investment for a hypothetical company who might want to fund this project) but it is by no means a working generator. He hasn't even achieved break-even yet. Don't hold your breath.

  • More evidence... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LuYu (519260) on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @03:04AM (#6983597) Homepage Journal

    This is just more evidence that the Internet is improving our lives. A science project such as this would have been barely imaginablie before the Internet.

    It is also probable that the boy's access to information would have been too limited to compelete such a task without the Internet.

    If corporations can be prevented from imprisoning this information for their short term profit, progress will be accelerated exponentially. It is essential that communication be kept free. Great discoveries are never made by old scientists (or should I say married scientists [slashdot.org]?). Therefore, young people need more access to information.

    It seems that the monopoly profit model no longer "promote[s] the Progress of Science and useful Arts". Access to all information needs to be guaranteed for the future for progress. Profits are secondary to access.

    Finally, if scientists are not tinkerers, what what is their purpose?

  • Two cultures (Score:5, Insightful)

    by panurge (573432) on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @03:45AM (#6983709)
    The British academic C P Snow spent a lot of time arguing that there are now two cultures which really do not interact: Liberal arts (favored by the people who have the power in society, by the way) and science/engineering. There is very little cross fertilisation. Part of the reason that scientists and engineers for the most part get screwed is that they have this boring addiction to things that are testable, and to objective standards of truth. People who are basically prepared to put spin on anything set off with a huge advantage.

    And why this apparently off-topic minor rant? Because we're seeing it here. The ones who probably can't even change a bicycle tire say "Oh that's easy, probably just followed the instruction book", not having the slightest clue about how difficult it is to make something from disparate parts. The ones who have got a clue or have been involved in projects like this have an idea of how difficult it really is, but actually they have no idea of how huge and insuperable the barrier is to 99% of the population - because they themselves are hardwired to know where to start.

    It's about disparate rewards. The same level of skill and application this guy showed, applied to basketball or acting, might get him a multimillion dollar income. Why don't we perceive someone who spends hours bouncing a little ball around as being sad and geeky and having too much time on his hands? Why does someone who pretends to be other people, often not very well, get paid so much more than an astronaut or a fighter pilot who does something really, really difficult and dangerous?

    Naive ramblings, I guess, but in the conversion of the human race from savannah apes to civilisation, it wasn't the actors and the basketball players that worked out how to bang the rocks together and how to get one stone to stick on top of another.

  • Inventor of TV???? (Score:5, Informative)

    by sbryant (93075) on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @03:46AM (#6983713)

    I would not necessarily call Philo Taylor Farnsworth the inventor of TV. Electronic TV, yes, along with transmission of TV signals (demonstrated in 1927), but Baird was the first to demonstrate a working "television" - a mechanical device, demonstrated in 1925. Farnsworth's used a scanning technique, much different in design to Baird's.

    I think Baird was the first to get colour working (in WW2). There were many others too, such as Zworykin (invented similar things, parallel to Farnsworth), Du Mont (invented the CRT), and Nipkow (invented the scanning disk in 1884, the basis for mechanical TVs).

    More info here [aol.com] and here [physlink.com].

    -- Steve

  • by FrostedWheat (172733) on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @06:24AM (#6984146)
    Craig built a neutron modulator

    Looks like Mr.Crusher has some competition!
  • by Cereal Box (4286) on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @06:54AM (#6984220)
    Others thought it was cool, too. Wallace began winning contests -- local, state, national -- culminating in second place in the International Intel Science and Engineering Fair last May in Cleveland. He's now beginning work on a USU physics degree.

    Wow, building a nuclear fusion reactor only gets you second place in Intel's science contest? What did the kid who got first place do, find a cure for cancer?
  • second place? (Score:4, Informative)

    by MORTAR_COMBAT! (589963) on Wednesday September 17, 2003 @09:59AM (#6985248)
    So this kid builds this amazing thing and he wins second place in the International Intel Science and Engineering Fair last May in Cleveland.

    What won first place, you might ask? According to Intel's [intel.com] page on it, there were in fact 3 winners [intel.com]. One developed a new method for determining the distance of asteroids from Earth, another developed a program that may one day enable a person with muscular disabilities to use brainwaves to control a computer keyboard, and the third set out to solve how to treat cancer patients effectively without destroying their healthy cells.

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