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Homemade Fusion Reactor

Homemade Fusion Reactor

"That? Aww, just a hunk of junk I built in my basement."

Modders everywhere appreciate the feeling of a do-it-yourself job well-done. The harder the job, the more impressive the success. So how about a fusion reactor in your basement when you're 17?

I realize this isn't so much computer or tech industry news as much as it is just something incredibly cool, but I think it deserved some mention. A 17-year-old high school senior in the state of Michigan has developed a homemade nuclear fusion reactor in his basement. No joke - he's even shown the "star in a jar" byproduct to prove it.

Thiago Olsen built the machine using parts that he scrounged off of eBay or in his local hardware store. All in all, it's taken him over 1,000 hours of research and design and over two years to build. But in his basement now sits a machine that is capable of fusing two hydrogen atoms together to create a helium nucleus. His goal for the project? To win a science fair. And just to say he did it, of course.

His mother, oddly, is rather calm and almost unsurprised about the wonder of physics sitting in her suburban basement. She's done the usual "He's so bright" routine, but also joked about Thiago's other "lofty ideas," such as building a hyberbolic chamber (she flatly denied that one). Of course, when he asked about the fusion reactor, she finally said yes. Fortunately, the machine poses little danger aside from the extremely high voltage, small amount of X-rays, and the 200 million degree ball of plasma. That's all...

Have you got a thought on the homemade fusion reactor? Tell us about it in our forums.

52 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
David_Fitzy 28th March 2007, 09:51 Quote
That is cool

could be a interesting PC mod too, anyone want to front mount a star in a jar?
Mother-Goose 28th March 2007, 10:33 Quote
That is one seriously clever guy. Kudos!
dullonien 28th March 2007, 10:59 Quote
Hmm, not entirely sure I believe that this is a fully working nuclear fusion chamber. It's hard to believe that a 17 year old managed to suspend a taurus of plasma at 200 million degrees with electro magnets, using materials off ebay and get it stable. If it's true, get him working on a fully blown one asap.

The day nuclear fusion comes a reality on power plant scale is the day our entire energy needs are solved. No more need to create electricity through coal, gas, oil, nuclear fission, wind, water, solar etc. All the benefits of fission (with loads more energy produced) using deuterium and tritium (renewable forms of hydrogen found in the ocean) and creating helium and a spare neucleus, with none of the side effects (radiatioactive waste etc.)

Here's hoping that it's getting close to becoming a reality.

N.B. It's been a few years since my Physics A-Level, so some details in my post may be incorect.
fini 28th March 2007, 11:28 Quote
AFAIK getting it stable etc isn't the problem - it's getting it stable whilst not costing you energy that's the problem. His probably works just fine, but eats its way through a lot of energy to do so in the process - thus negating any use as a generator.

fini
dullonien 28th March 2007, 11:54 Quote
Cheers for clearing that up fini.
Da_Rude_Baboon 28th March 2007, 11:57 Quote
I seem to remember reading this story a few months ago in the forum. Why has it taken so long to reach the front page?
Zut 28th March 2007, 12:41 Quote
I've seen this done before, and I've seen comments from people (on various different blogs and forums) who have also tried it themselves. AFAIK it is technically fusion, but it uses more energy that is generates and is nothing like the high temperature torus-style reactors like START and ITER.
Veles 28th March 2007, 12:59 Quote
Yeah stable nuclear fusion isn't anything new, been done for a while, but it uses up more energy than it can produce (would hate to see this guys leccy bill 8/). The holy grail of fusion is so called cold fusion, i.e. getting fusion to occur at lower temperatures so energy can actually be produced, once/if that happens, will hopefully be the start of very cheap energy.

EDIT: Seems someone might be getting close: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20020309/fob1.asp
Tim S 28th March 2007, 13:21 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Da_Rude_Baboon
I seem to remember reading this story a few months ago in the forum. Why has it taken so long to reach the front page?
If it was, we're sorry... but we can't keep an eye on every single thread in every forum and maintain the front page - there just isn't the time in the day. There is a handy thread at the top of this forum where you can suggest news though.

Or, of course, you can email or PM any of us if you think you have something newsworthy and we'll be more than happy to publish it if it's a worthwhile piece of news.
ChromeX 28th March 2007, 13:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Veles
The holy grail of fusion is so called cold fusion, i.e. getting fusion to occur at lower temperatures so energy can actually be produced, once/if that happens, will hopefully be the start of very cheap energy.

EDIT: Seems someone might be getting close: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20020309/fob1.asp

The holy grail of fusion power is the ability to produce power from a fusion reaction that doesnt take as much energy to setup full stop, be that cold fusion or thermonuclear. But we are getting there, the JET prgramme attained a Q factor or 0.7 which means 70% of the energy put into the system came out as usable energy and that was in 1997. With the ITER programme they'll probably hit a higher target, will they breakeven? Who knows.
Delphium 28th March 2007, 13:46 Quote
makes my home made CO2 cutting laser look like a lego toy.

KUDOS!!!
Nikumba 28th March 2007, 14:37 Quote
Is this different to cold fusion ?? As i though fusion was easy to do, but cold fusion was the problematic one?

Kimbie
Lord_A 28th March 2007, 14:54 Quote
Respect
r4tch3t 28th March 2007, 15:01 Quote
Many people can do that, I would say its not sustained, nor has it got a Q factor above 1 (If even above 0.1)
IIRC they have produced a fusion reaction with a Q factor greater than 1, but they couldn't sustain it.
This is the kind of thing I want to do for a job. Work for ITER or JET or CERN.
;)
Awesome work though, I wonder how much it cost him to build.
David_Fitzy 28th March 2007, 15:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by dullonien
The day nuclear fusion comes a reality on power plant scale is the day our entire energy needs are solved. No more need to create electricity through coal, gas, oil, nuclear fission, wind, water, solar etc. All the benefits of fission (with loads more energy produced) using deuterium and tritium (renewable forms of hydrogen found in the ocean) and creating helium and a spare neucleus, with none of the side effects (radiatioactive waste etc.)
It still has that word that tree-huggers hate, NUCLEAR! and that's going to be possibly a bigger hurdle than the science. Try telling a born-again anti-nuclear that nuclear fusion is the best way to power the planet, they hear the word nuclear think chernobl and say "not on my planet"
dullonien 28th March 2007, 15:17 Quote
Theoretically alot more energy should be produced than put in. And since the reaction can sustain itself once it get's going (kinda like in spiderman 2 lol), there's only a need to input energy to start the chain of reaction off. This is where stablility comes in, you don't want it to run away and explode/implode (can'r remember which would happen), but you don't want to have to keep putting energy in.

I could have talked about this in more depth a few yrs ago, including the equations and typical energy values the theory behind fusion intail. But I have forgotten almost all of what I learn't at the time.

I do remember my Physics teacher saying at the time, that if he had enough money he would invest it in nuclear fusion. He was convinced that it's only a matter of time (less than 20yrs in his view) untill they cracked it. Can't wait.

Edit.

David_Fitzy

Nah I don't see any problem there. Governments wouldn't let people get in the way over something as stupid as 'It's called nuclear'. It's the opposite of fission and creates no harmfull bi-product. It is the 'perfect' energy source. It's what the entire universe already uses! All energy is derived from nuclear fusion.

Please tell me if anything I have said is incorrect. Wish I could remember what I learn't.
r4tch3t 28th March 2007, 15:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by dullonien
Theoretically a lot more energy should be produced than put in. And since the reaction can sustain itself once it gets going (kinda like in spiderman 2 lol), there's only a need to input energy to start the chain of reaction off. This is where stability comes in, you don't want it to run away and explode/implode (can't remember which would happen), but you don't want to have to keep putting energy in.
The reaction would fizzle out. It wouldn't explode or implode, just fizzle out. If the containment fields suddenly disappeared it would rapidly expand and melt the reactor (and possibly cause small explosions due to other materials getting hot. But nothing huge. You have to keep putting energy in, in the form of magnetic confinement. I need to do more research as my knowledge is fading and getting outdated.
Unless they come up with a complete redesign of fusion reactors (I.E not toroidal or improve toroidal massively) they will still have to put large amounts of energy in, its just the stability part, if they can keep the reaction going they should be fine. But the Helium gets in the way, sapping up the energy, they have to remove it somehow.

Oh and by the way Spiderman 2 is completely infeasible, nothing could withstand those temperatures, and as for doing that reaction in open air, good luck, too much contamination. If it was going to work, it would just be burning the tritium into Helium, then you would need to add more.

Current designs fuse Deuterium and tritium. The deuterium comes from heavy water AKA sea water. The tritium comes from lithium split when Neutron byproducts hit the lithium causing it to split into Helium and tritium. The tritium is then redirected back into the reaction to further fuel it and create more neutrons for more tritium.

Anyways, if you really wanted to know how Fusion reactors work, I'm sure you could find more coherent sources like Wikipedia rather than my ramblings.
Veles 28th March 2007, 15:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by David_Fitzy
It still has that word that tree-huggers hate, NUCLEAR! and that's going to be possibly a bigger hurdle than the science. Try telling a born-again anti-nuclear that nuclear fusion is the best way to power the planet, they hear the word nuclear think chernobl and say "not on my planet"

lol very true, people are really scared of the word nuclear for some reason, probably got it in their heads that anything thats got nuclear in the name would explode like a nuclear bomb.

They even had to rename NMR to MRI because people would go in them

lol at ignorant public
Crazyglue 28th March 2007, 16:24 Quote
2 years of planing and design? WTF, that means he started when he was like... 15 or so... they should just give him a degree in anything, no need to go to college.
zero0ne 28th March 2007, 16:37 Quote
heavy water is not sea water....

Heavy water is water that has an extra H atom.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_water
dullonien 28th March 2007, 16:37 Quote
Cheers r4tch3t. I used to know the basics of how a fusion reaction works, but I have forgotten and can't really be a***d to learn everything again.

I was only using Spiderman 2 as an example of how the reaction itself is or can be a self sustaining one, not the way it was done.

I found nuclear fusion to be one of the most interesting subjects in A-Level physics, but also one of the hardest. Soo many equations and values to learn, revising for that exam (well most physics and maths A-Level exams) was hell. Remember having pages and pages of equations to learn.
gpw111 28th March 2007, 16:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by zero0ne
heavy water is not sea water....

Heavy water is water that has an extra H atom.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_water

I thought heavy water was the same as H20 except the hydrogens have an extra neutron each(they are heavier but still hydrogen - ie an isotope).

Also i'm not convinced about this guy doing fusion. one of the reasons - afaik - that it cannot be sustained is that even if you can heat the core of the reactor to the desired temperatures (hotter than the sun that is) the plasma has to be contained within a very temperamental EM field. The energy is usually lost by the plasma touching the sides of the container (even if only briefly) resulting in huge energy losses. Seeing as how the multimillion pound reactors struggle to do it, i doubt he stands much of a chance.

I have previously heard how people believed they were carrying out cold fusion by causing air bubbles in water to expand and contract extremely rapidly by vibrating them at a particular frequency. they thought fusion was occuring due to the number of neutrons that were being given off, but after 5yrs of testing it turned out these were just neutrons given off by the sun, so im sceptical about the reliance of his experiment.

Anyway! i certainly couldnt do what he's done so im not knocking it!!!
Tyinsar 28th March 2007, 17:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Article
...hyberbolic chamber...
??? Should that be hyperbolic? :) or hyperbaric?
friskies 28th March 2007, 17:14 Quote
Remindes me of the story about that dude who made a missile in his garage:)
r4tch3t 28th March 2007, 17:24 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by zero0ne
heavy water is not sea water....

Heavy water is water that has an extra H atom.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_water
Well not sea water to be exact, but seawater Is plenty abundant and deuterium can be extracted in the form of D2O/Deuterium oxide or even DHO Deuterium Hydrogen Oxide. Basically water with the hydrogen having a Neutron.
Canada is the largest "manufacturer" of Deuterium.
http://i122.photobucket.com/albums/o267/r4tch3t/0672c49f202e8d3c632e027101b0bbf0.png
This is the reaction taking place in the large reactors like ITER and JET, The type of fusion this Guy would be using is most likely D-D which releases less once fused 12.5MeV compared to 17.6 for D-T reactions. Thats only 70% of D-T reactions.

http://i122.photobucket.com/albums/o267/r4tch3t/reactivity2.jpg
This shows why the D-T reaction is favoured.

Tritium is produced in the reactor with Lithium around the inside of the toroid.
For thermal neutrons: n + 6Li -> 4He + T + 4.78 MeV
For neutrons above 2.5 MeV: n + 7Li -> 4He + T + n

Thus producing some of its own fuel.

Also note that all reactions taking place do not involve Electrons, it is all positive charges so they can confine them using magnetic fields.

The reaction also has to constantly be heated, there are several ways they can do this and they use them all, Ohmic heating (inducing a current into the plasma), neutral particle beams (firing tritium backwards opposite to the flow of the plasma so they collied and create heat, also puts the fuel in there) and electromagnetic heating (sort of like a microwave)
Mankz 28th March 2007, 17:30 Quote
I goto Eton, and he makes me feel stupid.
Ramble 28th March 2007, 18:04 Quote
I read a comment somewhere where the commenter knew the guy, apparently he was rich (and got some of the parts from specific places).
Anyway, that's pretty cool stuff.

And Mankz, a private school doesn't make you smart (trust me on that one).
rowin4kicks 28th March 2007, 18:04 Quote
that dude is just crazy!
always thought of building one my self ....
rowin4kicks 28th March 2007, 18:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mankz_91
I goto Eton, and he makes me feel stupid.

dude going to eton makes you rich, not automatically clever
Wolfe 28th March 2007, 18:20 Quote
It's called a Farnsworth–Hirsch Fusor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusor

As for the "years of design and planning" Uh... There's a couple of dozen places where the plans are freely available.

It's not too hard to make either. You just need a high vacuum system, a source of high voltage, and some deturium.



Now, if he had invented a new method of producing fusion, that would be cool. Copying plans off the web? Boring.
pendragon 28th March 2007, 19:12 Quote
wow just wow
Bas van der Werff 28th March 2007, 19:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wolfe
It's called a Farnsworth–Hirsch Fusor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusor

As for the "years of design and planning" Uh... There's a couple of dozen places where the plans are freely available.

It's not too hard to make either. You just need a high vacuum system, a source of high voltage, and some deturium.



Now, if he had invented a new method of producing fusion, that would be cool. Copying plans off the web? Boring.



If you find this boring don't know what will make you excited :|

You can find plans for almost anything on the internet, but that doesn't mean you don't have to plan for it or that it is simple.
And remember this kid was only 15 when he started building this, how many kids are there that can build a fusion reactor?
I find it very impresive.
Mr-IK 28th March 2007, 19:43 Quote
He wins at life.
smoguzbenjamin 28th March 2007, 20:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr-IK
He wins at life.

Touché.
Nexxo 28th March 2007, 20:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wolfe
It's called a Farnsworth–Hirsch Fusor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusor

As for the "years of design and planning" Uh... There's a couple of dozen places where the plans are freely available.

It's not too hard to make either. You just need a high vacuum system, a source of high voltage, and some deturium.



Now, if he had invented a new method of producing fusion, that would be cool. Copying plans off the web? Boring.
You do it. Then come back and Pwnz0r him.
Neogumbercules 28th March 2007, 21:26 Quote
"uh, dad. I kinda acidentally made a fission reactor and enriched it with a plutonium core...I'd suggest running, but it won't really make a difference.


What's mom making for dinner?"
Da Dego 28th March 2007, 22:15 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wolfe
It's called a Farnsworth–Hirsch Fusor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusor

As for the "years of design and planning" Uh... There's a couple of dozen places where the plans are freely available.

It's not too hard to make either. You just need a high vacuum system, a source of high voltage, and some deturium.



Now, if he had invented a new method of producing fusion, that would be cool. Copying plans off the web? Boring.
You are aware that there are only 18 documented successful home-built reactors in the world, right? I've seen plans for all sorts of things on the net - sorting fact from fiction is hard enough, much less actually making them come to light without a supreme understanding of the technologies within. We're not exactly talking about a pile of legos making a "pirate ship with a neat glowey ghost in the brig that you can even open!"...

As Nexxo so kindly put before me, when YOU do it, I'll be happy to hear how easy it was. ;)

"Eh, the Sistene chapel was just a painting. All you need is some scaffolding, paint and a bursh. Now if he did it with a monkey, THEN it would be special..."

;)
unrealhippie 28th March 2007, 23:09 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Neogumbercules
"uh, dad. I kinda acidentally made a fission reactor and enriched it with a plutonium core...I'd suggest running, but it won't really make a difference.


What's mom making for dinner?"

Fission has no place here :p

P.s. I wonder what social services think of parents who let their kids make reactors... Especially one with the big scary 'nuclear' word.
Sim0n 28th March 2007, 23:10 Quote
Simianene Chapel :P
saeghwin 28th March 2007, 23:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim S
If it was, we're sorry... but we can't keep an eye on every single thread in every forum and maintain the front page - there just isn't the time in the day. There is a handy thread at the top of this forum where you can suggest news though.

Or, of course, you can email or PM any of us if you think you have something newsworthy and we'll be more than happy to publish it if it's a worthwhile piece of news.

Yeah I remember seeing this a while ago. But I can't remember if I found the link here or somewhere else. Honestly until someone else mentioned it, I wasn't sure if I was just experiencing deja vu or what. :o
pdf27 29th March 2007, 00:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by dullonien
It's the opposite of fission and creates no harmfull bi-product. It is the 'perfect' energy source. It's what the entire universe already uses! All energy is derived from nuclear fusion.

Please tell me if anything I have said is incorrect. Wish I could remember what I learn't.
The reaction itself doesn't create any harmful by-products. Unfortunately, Neutrons are given off in the process (moderating and ultimately capturing these is how heat is captured from the reaction and used to generate electricitly - or at least will be in the long term). The problem is that Neutron bombardment of substances over a period of time causes them to be transmuted into other elements - and generally radioactive isotopes of these elements. Fusion reactors produce a tiny fraction of the radioactive waste that fission reactors do, but they aren't totally clean.
DXR_13KE 29th March 2007, 00:47 Quote
at least this is cleaner..... i hope someone cracks this and makes it feasible.
Marquee 29th March 2007, 01:14 Quote
i guess he can use his new reactor as a 1mw psu. beat the OCZ and there 2kw PSU.
LVMike 29th March 2007, 02:41 Quote
He made a Farnsworth reaction vessle. Check out www.fusor.net they show how to build one. He is one of a number of people who have, ( a few are high schoolers) this is just one of those slow newsday science stories. if you ask me.
Wolfe 29th March 2007, 08:44 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Da Dego
You are aware that there are only 18 documented successful home-built reactors in the world, right? I've seen plans for all sorts of things on the net - sorting fact from fiction is hard enough, much less actually making them come to light without a supreme understanding of the technologies within. We're not exactly talking about a pile of legos making a "pirate ship with a neat glowey ghost in the brig that you can even open!"...

As Nexxo so kindly put before me, when YOU do it, I'll be happy to hear how easy it was. ;)

"Eh, the Sistene chapel was just a painting. All you need is some scaffolding, paint and a bursh. Now if he did it with a monkey, THEN it would be special..."

;)


I would assign the lack of other examples more to a lack of knowledge or interest, rather than difficulty. Sure, it's interesting, but people who know a lot more about it than me have decided it's not a viable area of research.

Incidentally , there are a lot of them about(way more than 18), but they're commonly just used as neutron sources in other experiments.


Really, If you have a high vacuum setup (though you can gt some interesting effects, but no fusion at lower vacuum levels), all you need is a bit of wire, a high voltage power supply, and some deuterium.


This isn't so much a case of incredible engineering, but a case of having a lot of spare money. If I could afford a vacuum setup with a diffusion/turbomolecular pump, I'd probably make one too. Unfortunately, I havn't several thousand dollars to spare.
KypD 29th March 2007, 17:43 Quote
yeah, i read this story in the most recent Popular Science, amazing stuff. it supposedly only puts out a few watts of power, but still awesome.
Kipman725 29th March 2007, 19:10 Quote
very impressive despite the lack of practical functions (hey I have never made anything with a practical use apart from a few amps).
Soulmage 30th March 2007, 00:53 Quote
To be completly honest, I have and always will believe that "Cold Fusion" or how ever you want to call it, a fusion reactor that is a usable energy source, has been completed for some time. Its just that it will be a long time before we ever know about it because when we do, the world WILL be in a chaos. Do any of you realize what the other countries will do to another if they aren't the first to "come up" with this technology?

Its the same thing as with "Clean fuel" cars. There has been a guy who started by making a blow torch that was powered by average everyday water and he then converted his car engine to run off the same type of fuel (Though he kept it as a "hybrid" provided he ran into any problems) Yet we still are paying an A**LOAD for gas.

It all comes down to politics and the "economy. The technology is already known, it just can't be "shown" due to the chaos it would cause.


Yes its rambling but I hope you see my point.
r4tch3t 30th March 2007, 02:07 Quote
I completely see your point, and understand why it is so, that is why JET (Joint European Torus) and ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) both are not done by a single country (other than cost)
ITER will not generate power though, as it is just on big €10 billion experiment.

Cold fusion on the other hand has been done, but not in the useful sense. There are exotic particles called Muon's, these temporarily disable the electric force surrounding the proton so that they can come close enough for the strong nuclear force to take hold. This is no feasible for production of electricity as muon's are hard to come by and only last for 2.2μs. They can be produced by particle accelerators, but this is hardly an economical way of producing them for energy production due to the large amounts of energy required by the particle accelerator.
Soulmage 30th March 2007, 03:21 Quote
What I am trying to say that all the stuff that we "know" to have been done is only what we are "ment" to know. I would be willing to put a large sum of money on the fact that if we were ever "privey" to the government research labs and such, we would be in serious Awl and discust at the things that have already been created.

Its a well known fact that almost everything we use that has some sort of technological value is basically a "hand-me-down" of somthing that was supassed by better technology we havn't seen yet.
Wolfe 30th March 2007, 04:12 Quote
Why is it every time someone mentions "Cold Fusion" the conspiricy theorists start coming out of the woodwork?



I don't think you realise how difficult it is to suppress technology, particularly in this modern age. Besides, If th government had something that gave them an overwhelming technilogical advantage, don't you think it would have been exploited for wartime purposes already? Particularly given how trigger-happy america has been as of late.

Anyways, I'll believe it when I see it, or see physics equations that adaquately explain it, not before.
Soulmage 30th March 2007, 04:31 Quote
I am not a conspiricy theorist. I just know what I see/read

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_budget

http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/09/05/wow.tech.black.world/

http://www.keelynet.com/energy/waterfuel.htm

Just a few.

Conspiricy Theorist? No.

Realist? Yes.
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