First German Nuclear Fusion Experiment is Successful

by Dion Boyd

An interesting article written by Nathaniel Scharping in Discover Magazine on February 3, 2016 examines the completion of an early phase of German scientists’ nuclear fusion experiment. The purpose of the experiment is to test processes of a reaction that will one-day produce nuclear fusion for use as energy. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Particle Physics in Greifswald, Germany conducted the experiment using a machine called the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator, a donut-shaped device that uses magnetic fields to suspend hydrogen gas while zapping it with powerful microwaves. During the reaction, researchers heated up a hydrogen sample to 180 million degrees Fahrenheit and succeeded in creating a sweltering hot plasma that lasted for a quarter of a second. The Wendelstein stellarator experiment has been developing for over twenty years now, costing nearly €1.06bn with Germany being the primary funder and the US, Poland, and the European Union following closely behind. Although the W7-X isn’t designed to be a major energy producer itself, the experiments it runs will show that plasma can be contained for a period of time when heated to such extremes. []     Continue reading

National Ignition Facility One Step Closer to Fusion Power

by Niti Nagar

Nuclear fusion seems to answer many concerns that we face with finding new sources of energy. Energy from fusion harnesses the powers of the Sun and provides an unlimited and cheap source of energy, while being pollution-free. Capturing the powers of the heavens has been fantasized in the past as mere science fiction, however this fiction may become a reality. Although development is still in its infant stages, a new breakthrough by lead author Omar Hurricane, from the National Ignition Facility at the federally-funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, published an article in Nature that announced researchers saw a net gain in energy following a fusion reaction. The reported results show almost 2 times more energy coming out of the reaction than what went into it. What does it take to run a reaction of this sort? One hundred and ninety-two of the world’s most powerful lasers aimed at a 1 centimeter gold cylinder called a hohlarum. It is a small capsule that contains an extremely cold mixture of hydrogen isotopes. As the laser heats the capsule, the hydrogen is heated and subsequently compressed to 1/35 of its original size. Co-author Debbie Callahan described it as “compressing a basketball down to the size of a pea.” If the compression is high and uniform enough, nuclear fusion will take place and in the nanoseconds that follows the capsule implosion, neutron energy is released. Continue reading