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Michigan Teen Creates Fusion Device 460

Josh Lindenmuth writes "The Detroit Free Press is reporting that Thiago Olson, a 17 year old Michigan teen, was able to create a small fusion device in his parents' basement. The machine uses a 40,000 volt charge and deuterium gas to create the small reaction, which he says looks like a 'small intense ball of energy.' The teen's fusion device is obviously not a self-sustaining reactor, but it still shows how fusion technology is becoming more accessible. Hopefully this points to a future where large scale fusion reactors are both economical and widely used."
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Michigan Teen Creates Fusion Device

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  • by Quixote ( 154172 ) * on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:33AM (#16926796) Homepage Journal
    What is there in the water in Michigan? A few years ago a teen in Michigan created a nuclear fission reactor [amazon.com]; now this guy one ups him and creates fusion ?
  • Becoming? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by taustin ( 171655 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:33AM (#16926800) Homepage Journal
    Becoming more accessible? Electrostatic fusion was first demonstrated in the 20s.
  • Deuterium? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Wavicle ( 181176 )
    How does a 17 year old come by deuterium? I mean the bush administration has a fit when Iran tries to buy some, and in this country you don't even have to be 18 to get it?

    I'm lost.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by taustin ( 171655 )
      Dueterium is present in all water, and can be refined fairly easily with electrolysis. All that's needed is some electricity and some fairly common instruments.
      • by petrus4 ( 213815 )
        I am genuinely greatly encouraged to see that there still are some genuine nerds (the term is not meant perjoritively in this context at all, so please do not take it as such) writing to Slashdot. Given the seemingly unending torrent of peurile, juvenile drivel that seems to have inundated the site recently, I badly needed such an event in order to restore my faith in it.

        Thank you.
      • I think you're confusing deuterium with plain old hydrogen. You can extract hydrogen from water with electrolysis, but separating the deuterium (representing a vanishingly small percentage of the liberated hydrogen) from that would still be, to put it mildly, less than trivial.

        IIRC, commercial heavy water plants do something that takes advantage of the slight difference in boiling point between D2O and H2O, and do a very delicate fractional distillation, over and over and over. The energy involved to do it is pretty immense, and it would be tough to do except under very carefully controlled conditions. Hydrogen sulfide may also be involved at some point in the process, as well, at least according to this WP article [wikipedia.org].
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Just order it from any gas supplier. They deliver. It's not radioactive.

      http://www.airgas.com/browse/product_list.aspx?cat ID=90&Keyword=deuterium [airgas.com]

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by RsG ( 809189 )
        Not only is it not radioactive, it also isn't useful in non-thermonuclear fission weapons AFAIK. For a straight A-bomb, you really need enriched Uranium and/or Plutonium, but you have no need for Deuterium. Small quantities of Tritium can also be used in some designs, but I think that's a little beyond where Iran is today. It's only H-bombs that use Deuterium, and they're a lot more advanced than what we're talking about here.

        I don't know what source the GP has for the US "having a fit" over Iranian Deut
        • Re:Deuterium? (Score:5, Informative)

          by norton_I ( 64015 ) <hobbes@utrek.dhs.org> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:43AM (#16927426)
          I don't believe the US is worried about Iran having deuterium exactly, but the US is worried about Iran building heavy water (D20) moderated reactors. D20 is used in reactor designs that need a low neutron capture cross section, including ones used to breed plutonium. Note that heavy water reactors may also be used simply for power generation with unenriched uranium.
    • You just tell the government officials that you're researching for the next Star Trek movie and drop a lot of hints on how wonderful the movie will be.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by cinexero ( 983612 )
      It's pretty easy to come by deuterium actually. You simply electrolyze heavy water. See this website http://www.rtftechnologies.org/physics/deuterium-e lectrolysis.htm [rtftechnologies.org] for an example of heavy water electrolysis. He's a college student that has done much much more, check out HIS fusion reactor[s] http://www.rtftechnologies.org/physics/ [rtftechnologies.org].
    • Re:Deuterium? (Score:5, Informative)

      by imsabbel ( 611519 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:02AM (#16927058)
      You can buy D2O, for example from sigmal aldrich, for moderate prices, compared to the rest of the equipment. I dunno the actual price, but i bougt 100ml high purity ND4OD, obviously harder to make, for 150$ for 50ml, so i guess 95% grade D2O schould be 50% for 100ml.

      Its a non hazard material, non radiative, and WAY to common for any kind of sale restriction to make any sense.

      Isotopic purification is dead easy if the weight ratio is 2:1, vs for example 235:239...
    • by MsWillow ( 17812 )
      http://www.unitednuclear.com/ [unitednuclear.com]

      'Nuff said?
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:34AM (#16926814)
    His site: http://fusor.net/board/view.php?site=fusor&bn=fuso r_images&key=1150855195 [fusor.net]

    Can anyone independently verify that fusion is actually occurring here? Is he really creating Helium in the chamber?
  • either that (Score:5, Funny)

    by macadamia_harold ( 947445 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:36AM (#16926834) Homepage
    Hopefully this points to a future where large scale fusion reactors are both economical and widely used.

    Either that, or it points to a future where large scale fusion reactors are widely used in parents' basements.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:41AM (#16926870)
    but his mother wouldn't let him. Quite right too. There's way too much unjustified exaggeration these days. Far more dangerous than a glowing ball of energy.
  • by ishmaelflood ( 643277 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:44AM (#16926888)
    From TFA his mother wouldn't let him build a hyperbolic chamber.

    Definition of hyperbolic

    exaggerated: enlarged beyond truth or reasonableness; "had an exaggerated (or inflated) opinion of himself"; "a hyperbolic style"
  • Neutrons (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:49AM (#16926932)
    What did he use to shield the neutrons or did he just suck them up?
  • by UnHolier than ever ( 803328 ) <unholy_@hoDEGAStmail.com minus painter> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:50AM (#16926950)
    Personally, if I put a dilute gas in a vacuum chamber, apply a voltage and see a small ball of fire, I think plasma. Why is this not just a plasma? How do we know it's fusion?

    And what is a "hyperbolic chamber"???????

    Note: creating a plasma at 17 years old in a garage would still be very cool. Maybe not slashdot-front-page cool, but still cool.
  • frightening (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mwanaheri ( 933794 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:52AM (#16926962)
    OK, congrats that this seems to have worked. But a teen experimenting at home with 40.000 volt and Deuterium - am I the only one who thinks this is frightening?
    • by Kadin2048 ( 468275 ) <slashdot.kadin@x[ ].net ['oxy' in gap]> on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:04AM (#16927080) Homepage Journal
      Any kid who ever built a Van De Graff generator has played with far more than 40kV... I mean, that's only a few centimeters worth of spark at STP. If you've ever gotten 3-4" sparks in dry air, you're playing with way higher voltage than that.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tttonyyy ( 726776 )
        Indeed, when I was a teen, I built Tesla coils. The spark gap alone peaked at ~14kV with a lot of energy. And they routinely produced > 1MV (calculated) from the top caps.

        I did this in the back garden (hammering a steel pole into the lawn gives a good earth point). It seems the neighbours on one side didn't like or understand my odd looking machines, because they moved out shortly afterwards. Admittedly it interfered with every electric system in the neighbourhood, and there was a time whe I was expe
    • Re:frightening (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MBC1977 ( 978793 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:09AM (#16927120) Journal
      Perhaps in today's 'lets assume every teenager who is not out trying to score nookie, or hang at the mall' society. But some of us do remember a time when experimentation was encouraged and nurtured. To be honest, I'll be surprised if some state or gov agency doesn't pop by his house and have a little chat or worse the next time he wants to fly any where, his name 'magically' now appears on the no-fly lists.

      What's really sad is that people are so frightened, that they would willingly give up personal freedoms and stifle overly creative children for some ill-perception of national security.
      • Re:frightening (Score:4, Interesting)

        by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @07:19AM (#16928428) Homepage
        I get the impression it's quite the reverse. At least here it is.

        The people who are afraid of overly performing students (there are a lot of them actually) are not the police, or national security or any such people but :
        1) the teachers (most are a) quite dumb b) don't like to be challenged when they screw up a theory c) don't really know the subject)
        2) fellow students (we've all watched the "nerd" movies)
    • Re:frightening (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:20AM (#16927254)
      Right. First he's playing with fusion, the next thing you know, he's building terrorist bombs! Let's ban Deuterium right quick "for the children". (End sarcasm)

      Your comment is symptomatic of a larger problem in society. We're scared of our own shadows. "Oooooh the evil scary nukular stuff is in the hands of the teens! Run for your life!!!" - Is this even slightly rational? He can't hurt anyone with electrostatic confined fusion (if you could weaponize that, the powers that be would have done so already). If he fries himself with X-rays or high voltage, then that's a risk he took for himself; his parents may have a say in what risks he exposes himself to, but it's not my concern or yours.

      Personally, I'm far more worried about what a government will do when given powerful toys than I am about what a lone teenager will.
  • Fusor (Score:4, Interesting)

    by deischi ( 133747 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @03:57AM (#16927006)
    Sounds like a Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusor [wikipedia.org]
    so really nothing new.
  • Future of Fusion (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Yahma ( 1004476 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:03AM (#16927064) Journal
    Hopefully this points to a future where large scale fusion reactors are both economical and widely used.

    I'm sorry... but while this teenagers work is certainly commendable and nothing to sneeze at (in fact, Large engineering firms such as Siemens [siemens.de] seem to take an interest in him). His work does nothing to further research in the field. Non-sustaining fusion reactors have been around for decades, and its been widely known how to build one for at least 20 years. For most people, the cost is the limiting factor. Why would you want to spend $50k-100k on something that uses more energy than it produces?

    Now when we finally get a sustainable fusion reaction that produces more energy that it uses, that would be something to write about!

    ProxyStorm [proxystorm.com] - An apache based anonymous proxy service.
    • "Now when we finally get a sustainable fusion reaction that produces more energy that it uses, that would be something to write about!"

      I agree and I think the more 17 year olds we have building stuff like this the closer we will come to realising that goal. Who knows maybe one of them will make a mistake and discover something unexpectedly useful, the less people you have experimenting the less likely you'll discover anything new.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:06AM (#16927110)
    This is a Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusor [wikipedia.org] . They are no big deal! Effectively it is like a vacuum tube, where an electrical charge is used to accelerate D+ ions until they smack into each other. No biggie! The energy levels needed for fusion are very small and can be achieved in a hand-held device. These fusors are used as laboratory neutron sources.

    So if fusion is so easy, and if it's such a great power source, why aren't we using it right now to generate power? The Fusor device can easily make fusion happen but, for various reasons, it is not energy-positive fusion. The energy you get out of it cannot be capture in a useful way to get more energy than was put into it. So they're great for neutrons but not much else.

    If someone could figure out a design that would be energy-positive then we would have something amazing but there's nothing there for that right now.
  • kaboom! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    dont forget to keep Dee Dee out of lab..
  • by Itsallmyfault ( 1015439 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:12AM (#16927162)
    I'm in the process of this very thing... on a much larger scale... in my dining roo+++NO CARRIER
  • by M0b1u5 ( 569472 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:21AM (#16927258) Homepage
    I love bylines! They're so incriminating.

    Like GINA DAMRON, the reporter who doesn't listen, and can not know the difference between a "Hyperbaric Chamber" and a [sic] Hyperbolic Chamber, which sounds oddly shaped, but unremarkable.

    Good on you Gina, keep up that keen reporting.

    I'm looking forward to your report on the Frictional Distillation process.
    • by Control Group ( 105494 ) * on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @10:43AM (#16930322) Homepage
      Hyperbolic Chamber, which sounds oddly shaped, but unremarkable

      Are you kidding? I made a Hyperbolic Chamber, and it's the greatest thing ever! Its better than a baseball player batting TWO thousand!! No one has ever even imagined anything as phenomenally revolutionary as my Hyperbolic Chamber!!! I can guarantee that my Hperbolic Chamber will solve world hunger and instantiate world peace!!!! It's as hot as the center of the sun, and as cool as intergalactic space!!!!!
  • Dechlorinating the Moderator [antipope.org] by Charles Stross. Check out Scratch Monkey & Accelerando while you're there, too.

    Amazed that no one's posted this yet in a story about amateur physics ;)
  • by tute666 ( 688551 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:33AM (#16927348)
    The FBI hasn't fallen on him like a ton of rectangular building blocks yet?
  • If I had a nickle every time I created fusion, well, I'd still be broke.
  • Well done (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:54AM (#16927506)
    A quick look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnsworth-Hirsch_Fus or [wikipedia.org] reveals that this is a fairly simply, but clever experiment. He is a bright kid, and one day he'll most likely become a physicist. Or perhaps not - whereas the device is simple enough to build, I haven't been able to find a place to buy deuterium, unless you want to talk to a guy called Al (last name of 'Qaeda').
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @04:54AM (#16927510)
    Uh, let's write a story that make it look like he "creates" a standard Fanrnsworth-Hirsch Fusor (built for science fair projects, low level neutron sources, and just shits & grins for 50 years) and make the kid look like a genius.

    Technical skill? Yes. Advanced knowledge? Yes.

    But primarily, ability to follow directions available everywhere [wikipedia.org]? Yes.

    He may very well be a genius, but it is as likely that he's a genius at self-promotion as anything. There are many high-quality science projects he could have done, but add the words "nuclear" and "fusion" and you attract a lot of media attention. He'll make a good string theorist...

  • Kick ass (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phasm42 ( 588479 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2006 @10:21AM (#16929966)
    While there are a lot of comments about this being a well-known device for fusion, it seems the practical application of this is a neutron source. The experience of actually building the machine is invaluable. If you've ever built something complex, you know that simply knowing about how something is built and actually having built it are very different things. By building, he's likely gained a lot of practical knowledge that can be applied to future projects. He could describe the process, drawing from his own experience instead of just what he's read.

    Newsorthy? Not necessarily, but that's no reason to make it seem like what he's done is without merit.

You can measure a programmer's perspective by noting his attitude on the continuing viability of FORTRAN. -- Alan Perlis