Build a Homemade Nuclear Reactor
Time: 2 Years
Itching for a challenging science project, two years ago Thiago Olson decided to build a small nuclear reactor. He had limited funds, limited space in his garage, and little engineering know-how. After all, he was only 15.
With a year of research and another of building, Olson pulled it off, joining a club of fewer than 20 amateurs in the world who are known to have created â€fusors,â€ tabletop machines that fuse atoms to produce energy. There´s no risk of a mushroom cloud-the machine creates barely enough energy to heat a cup of coffee, and radiation officials in Michigan (where Olson lives) have already deemed it safe.
How did he do it? Olson pored over graduate-level physics textbooks, studied vacuum-pump manufacturers´ manuals, and scoured the Web for cheap parts. Though mostly self-taught, he occasionally solicited advice on a fusion Web site. Once, he posted photos of a cheap photomultiplier tube he´d bought online because he had no idea how to rig it up. Another fusioneer on the site who had the same model promptly told him which wires went where. Amateur nuclear engineers are, it seems, a helpful bunch.
Now, his reactor up and running, Olson has turned to an even bigger challenge: college applications.
HOW IT WORKS
- Two vacuum pumps suck air out of the central chamber, leaving a near-total vacuum. Loose atoms in here interfere with fusion and lower yield.
- The chamber is filled with deuterium and jolted with about 45,000 volts of electricity. A negatively charged grid of thin steel wires attracts the now-positive particles, sometimes causing them to collide.
- Colliding particles fuse to form helium-3. The resulting neutron emission is measured, proving that fusion occurred.
I would scale it up and run the house off it
Robert1234: It uses more energy than it liberates. Can't run anything off this machine. Remember the 45,000 volts input? High voltage, low amperage, but still more than he gets out. Indeed, he may get nothing out at all, since the article doesn't say he does. It only says he can verify fusion by the neutron emissions.
I don't think he was claiming a positive net energy, but it's reasonable to believe he's got a working fusion reactor. Nuclear fusion has been possible for some time, the holy grail is getting it to self sustain and produce a positive net energy output. But for his age, good work. Nice to see smart people working on this kind of thing instead of scams like ponzi schemes and such.
The fact that fusion reactors are being built on the cheap by crowd sourcing and online collaboration is great. While not as advanced as the experiments in multi billion dollar facilities, one has to believe that these home brew reactors and their developers will be play a vital role in moving this technology forward and helping us get to that holly grail of productive fusion energy.