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 user 2005-04-28 at 10:32:00 am Views: 32
  • #9162
    UCLA Researchers Produce Nuclear Fusion

    LOS ANGELES(April 05)-A tabletop experiment created
    nuclear fusion -long seen as a possible clean energy solution-under lab
    conditions,scientists reported.

    But the amount of energy produced was too little to be seen
    as a breakthrough in solving the world’s energy needs.

    For years, scientists have sought to harness controllable
    nuclear fusion, the same power that lights the sun and stars. This latest
    experiment relied on a tiny crystal to generate a strong electric field. While
    falling short as a way to produce energy, the method could have potential uses
    in the oil-drilling industry and homeland security, said Seth Putterman, one of
    the physicists who did the experiment at the University of California, Los

    The experiment’s results appear in Thursday’s issue of the
    journal Nature.

    Previous claims of tabletop fusion have been met with
    skepticism and even derision by physicists. In 1989, Dr. B. Stanley Pons of the
    University of Utah and Martin Fleischmann of Southampton University in England
    shocked the world when they announced that they had achieved so-called cold
    fusion at room temperature. Their work was discredited after repeated attempts
    to reproduce it failed.

    Fusion experts noted that the UCLA experiment was credible
    because, unlike the 1989 work, it didn’t violate basic principles of

    “This doesn’t have any controversy in it because they’re
    using a tried and true method,” said David Ruzic, professor of nuclear and
    plasma engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “There’s
    no mystery in terms of the physics.”

    Fusion power has been touted as the ultimate energy source
    and a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels like coal and oil. Fossil fuels are
    expected to run short in about 50 years.

    In fusion, light atoms are joined in a high-temperature
    process that frees large amounts of energy.

    It is considered environment-friendly because it produces
    virtually no air pollution and does not pose the safety and long-term
    radioactive waste concerns associated with modern nuclear power plants, where
    heavy uranium atoms are split to create energy in a process known as

    In the UCLA experiment, scientists placed a tiny crystal
    that can generate a strong electric field into a vacuum chamber filled with
    deuterium gas, a form of hydrogen capable of fusion. Then the researchers
    activated the crystal by heating it.

    The resulting electric field created a beam of charged
    deuterium atoms that struck a nearby target, which was embedded with yet more
    deuterium. When some of the deuterium atoms in the beam collided with their
    counterparts in the target, they fused.

    The reaction gave off an isotope of helium along with
    subatomic particles known as neutrons, a characteristic of fusion. The
    experiment did not, however, produce more energy than the amount put in – an
    achievement that would be a huge breakthrough.

    Commercial neutron generators work in a similar way. But
    the UCLA instrument was “remarkably low-tech” in comparison, Michael Saltmarsh,
    a retired physicist from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, wrote
    in an accompanying article.

    UCLA’s Putterman said future experiments will focus on
    refining the technique for potential commercial uses, including designing
    portable neutron generators that could be used for oil well drilling or scanning
    luggage and cargo at airports.