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Power Science

Eric Lerner's Focus Fusion Device Gets Funded 367

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the race-for-the-power-finish-line dept.
pln2bz writes "Eric Lerner, author of The Big Bang Never Happened, has received $600k in funding, and a promise of phased payments of $10 million if scientific feasibility can be demonstrated to productize Lerner's focus fusion energy production device. Unlike the Tokamak, focus fusion does not require the plasma to be stable, does not produce significant amounts of dangerous radiation, directly injects electrons into the power grid without the need for turbines and would only cost around $300k to manufacture a generator. Lerner's inspiration for the technology is based upon an interpretation for astrophysical Herbig-Haro jets that agrees with the Electric Universe explanation."
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Eric Lerner's Focus Fusion Device Gets Funded

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  • Electric universe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Verteiron (224042) on Monday May 26, 2008 @05:58PM (#23548857) Homepage
    Has the electric universe theory made any headway in offering a viable alternative to currently accepted cosmology? Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:14PM (#23549019)

      Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.
      Yep. Contrasting nicely with "dark matter" and "cosmic inflation" which are mainstream science based mainly on conjecture and magical thinking.
      • Re:Electric universe (Score:5, Interesting)

        by hedwards (940851) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:29PM (#23549141)
        Why not? String theorists are still around despite a complete lack of verifiable findings. At this point, after decades of study, there's still no reason to believe that there will be a way of disproving the framework. Science these days is unfortunately as much about gathering funding as it is about actual science. In that environment crazy whack jobs have a bit of an advantage by seeming brilliant.

        In terms of the matter at hand, does he have a PhD.? It's somewhat odd to refer to a scientist who has one without the title, and even more odd to have a device as significant as this without one. Of course, that assumes that it actually could be made to work in a reliable, safe, cost effective manner. It's definitely not there yet.

        I really wish that I could take another view of this, but in a time where ID can be entertained by anybody as scientific when even at the most basic level it's problematic(As somebody else pointed out elsewhere an intelligent being would not design something as complicated as a person, complexity is just not the sign of a well designed anything), I'd be naive to believe otherwise.

        That being said, there is also a lot of truly amazing work being done, unfortunately a lot of the most interesting, and potentially most useful, is being stymied for political, religious or social reasons.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by OrangeTide (124937)
        To be fair dark matter is just matter that doesn't emit radiation that we can see from here. An asteroid field too far to see but possess a significant mass would be "dark matter" as far as I can tell.

        To prove that dark matter exists we just need to take a probe out far enough to eyeball it or find a way to detect objects in space that are too small individually to have a gravitational effect. But even so, I think it's reasonable to point out that there are plenty of objects in our local area of space that
        • Re:Electric universe (Score:5, Informative)

          by drerwk (695572) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:54PM (#23549343) Homepage
          Your astroid field would be made of Baryonic matter. The current expectation is dark matter is non-baryonic. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baryon#Baryonic_matter [wikipedia.org]
          So dark matter actually does not interact with the photon field.
        • Re:Electric universe (Score:5, Informative)

          by mollymoo (202721) * on Monday May 26, 2008 @07:25PM (#23549563) Journal
          When I was doing my physics degree the big question was: Is dark matter WIMPS or MACHOs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles or MAssive Compact Halo Objects). You're talking about MACHOs. Even if we can't see these objects, we do know where they must be, so if it was asteroid fields or dead stars of little black holes we can calculate how much light they would absorb and see the larger ones as they passed in front of stars, even if we couldn't see them individually. There have been many studies looking for them, but no evidence has been found. WIMPS have pretty much won that one. We've not seen any WIMPs either, but MACHOs are well understood so we know exactly what to look for so if it was them we'd expect to have seen the evidence.

          All this is assuming dark matter really exists. I'm still still not wholly convinced. Basically all our long-distance measurements of gravity give the wrong answer. Even our longest distance solar-system probes (the Pinoeers) give the wrong answer, though that data isn't really good enough to be wholly convincing. Are all these answers wrong because there is hidden hidden matter (and energy, woo hoo!), or is GR just not a good enough approximation at those scales? Eric Lerner thinks it's all about plasmas.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by arminw (717974)
            ....Are all these answers wrong because there is hidden hidden matter (and energy, woo hoo!), or is GR just not a good enough approximation at those scales? .....

            Neither appears to be the case. Earthly matter we are familiar with is mostly electrically neutral We assume (without evidence) that this is the case of objects in the cosmos, such as galaxies, stars, planets and the intervening space. We know the sun emits large electrical currents. When these currents get particularly big, we see spectacular auro
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by MightyMartian (840721)
        Translation: We have a pile of bullshit we're trying to sell, so we'll log into Slashdot as AC's and try a little astroturfing.

        Here's a tip, you stupid shill, using the term "mainstream science" is a dead giveaway that you're a liar and/or a kook.
        • by Hope Thelps (322083) on Monday May 26, 2008 @07:09PM (#23549455)

          Translation: We have a pile of bullshit we're trying to sell, so we'll log into Slashdot as AC's and try a little astroturfing.
          An as agent of the shill consortium I can confirm that this is exactly right. Yesterday we got our check for $600 million. We considered running the experiment. We considered instead using the cash to lobby big business and government. We considered spending it on a big party. Then we realised that all the big players with REAL influence are on Slashdot. So we hired an army of shills to spread the message with their evil talk of "mainstream science". But with your keen insight you saw straight through us. Foiled again :(
      • Re:Electric universe (Score:5, Informative)

        by Broken Toys (1198853) on Monday May 26, 2008 @07:13PM (#23549481)
        Dark matter and cosmic inflation may prove to be incorrect theories but to say they're illogical demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of these two theories.

        The argument for dark matter, in its simpliest form, states that owing to the gravitational effects we observe in the universe there must be a lot of matter we can't measure. There's nothing "magical" about that.

      • Re:Electric universe (Score:4, Informative)

        by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Monday May 26, 2008 @09:45PM (#23550595) Homepage

        "Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking."
        Yep.
        Correct. Read the page; it's seriously wack.

        Contrasting nicely with "dark matter" and "cosmic inflation" which are mainstream science based mainly on conjecture and magical thinking.
        These are not only two completely different things, they are two completely different kinds of things.

        Dark mater is an experimental observation. It's not a theory, it's an observation. There are various theories of what dark matter is, or for that matter of what other possibilities might explain the observations, but dark matter itself is an observation that needs to be explained by a theory; it's not a theory.

        Cosmic inflation is a theoretical concept which looks like it could explain some observations. It's not accepted as any kind of a confirmed theory yet, but it is well accepted as a candidate for a theory that might, with some additional experimental confirmation, become a reasonable model.

        • by ghostdoc (1235612) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @05:06AM (#23553387)

          Dark mater is an experimental observation. It's not a theory, it's an observation. There are various theories of what dark matter is, or for that matter of what other possibilities might explain the observations, but dark matter itself is an observation that needs to be explained by a theory; it's not a theory.

          Not really. The observation is that there doesn't seem to be enough visible matter to explain all this gravity.
          Dark Matter is one possible explanation (simply put: well, the matter must be there, we just can't see it).
          No-one has yet observed any dark matter, so it is just still a theory.
          There are other explanations, including 'Gravity doesn't scale like we thought it did'.

          In my opinion, Dark Matter will turn out to be the Luminiferous Ether of the 20th Century.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Abcd1234 (188840)
            No-one has yet observed any dark matter, so it is just still a theory.

            They haven't? Weird, because I'm pretty sure the Bullet Cluster [wikipedia.org] is pretty damn close to direct observation of dark matter. Heck, in the wake of the BC results, even the MOND folks have had to admit that there must be at least *some* dark matter out there.
    • Personally, I'm interested in eka-heavy elements and their natures in macro sized quantities. I'd bet that one of those elements, combined with other materials and handling, could produce cold fusion.

      Good luck transmuting Uranium or such to those though.. You'd probably lose more energy transmuting than benefit.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935)
      Has the electric universe theory made any headway in offering a viable alternative to currently accepted cosmology? Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.

      Nope... as far as I've been able to tell, the electric universe "theory" is still purely in the realm of pseudoscience, being touted by various internet quacks. Of course, many of its proponents also believe that the empirical scientific method is some sort of outdated relic of a bygone era, so I'm not r
      • by flyingsquid (813711) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:57PM (#23549373)
        Nope... as far as I've been able to tell, the electric universe "theory" is still purely in the realm of pseudoscience, being touted by various internet quacks. Of course, many of its proponents also believe that the empirical scientific method is some sort of outdated relic of a bygone era, so I'm not really sure what sort of standard they should be judged by. I'm actually really curious about where CMEF, the organization which gave Eric Lerner the $600 million in funding, got its money from. Their website doesn't seem to have that info, although it looks like they're trying to raise private funds via the interweb.

        In related news, $750,000 has been awarded to Gene Ray to create a source of renewable energy based on his "Time Cube" concept, and $1.5 million for research into improved fission reactor designs has been awarded to Ludwig Hansen, a.k.a. Archimedes Plutonium.

    • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:23PM (#23549095) Journal

      Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.
      The Chilean Government has put up $600,000 to see if any of that magical thinking can be applied to the real world.

      And really, what's with all the cynicism?
      At worst, someone else's government wasted some taxpayer dollars on science instead of market distorting business subsidies. At best, we have a revolutionary new source of electricity. Somewhere in the middle is the most likely possibility, namely that some bit of research turns out to be useful and can be applied elsewhere.
      • Re:Electric universe (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:44PM (#23549253) Journal

        The Chilean Government has put up $600,000 to see if any of that magical thinking can be applied to the real world.
        Not necessarily a bad idea when you consider how much alchemy (not to mention much of early medicine) produced that could be applied to the real world. Science isn't about truth, it's about telling stories that are sufficiently close approximations to the truth that they can be useful. Alchemy, in spite of being largely nonsense, produced a lot of valid conclusions (although, sadly, not a method of transmuting elements) and it may be that the Electric Universe Theory falls into the same category.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by c6gunner (950153)

          Alchemy, in spite of being largely nonsense, produced a lot of valid conclusions (although, sadly, not a method of transmuting elements) and it may be that the Electric Universe Theory falls into the same category.


          Yeah, and witch-doctors managed to save one or two people when they weren't poisoning dozens. You won't catch me going to one of them instead of an MD, though.
          • by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Monday May 26, 2008 @09:00PM (#23550253)

            Yeah, and witch-doctors managed to save one or two people when they weren't poisoning dozens. You won't catch me going to one of them instead of an MD, though.

            Modern pharma research has done to try to bring useful conclusions off of witch doctors' remedies -- so even if you're going to an MD, you might be getting a (modern, refined, tested, proven) version of something which once was an old wives' tale. Is that an argument for going to an "alternative" physician rather than the MD? Absolutely not! But it is an argument that such alternative approaches may have value, if only as a way of finding interesting things to use an input for the more modern R&D apparatus.

            So -- it's useful for experiments based on bad theory to take place, as their results may lead to refinements in good theory.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AdamHaun (43173)
        Actually, the most likely possibility is that he finds nothing at all, just like everyone else who's tried to develop a magic wand of cheap limitless energy. But hey, at least the labs and grad students and technicians will get some money too.

      • Re:Electric universe (Score:4, Interesting)

        by trawg (308495) on Monday May 26, 2008 @07:46PM (#23549711) Homepage

        At worst, someone else's government wasted some taxpayer dollars on science instead of market distorting business subsidies.
        I suppose the issue is whether or not they've given the money for an idea that isn't going anywhere because this guy is good at selling bad ideas, at the expense of other people out there that might have other awesome ideas they need funding for and can't get it because they don't know how to do it.

        Some of the comments to this article (particularly this one [slashdot.org] make me believe this guy might not know what he's doing.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.
      Well I don't know about "magical thinking" but conjecture is good; where else would hypotheses come from? It sounds like he's working on testing his hypothesis now. Good luck to him.
    • No, the electric universe "theory" is just by a bunch of quacks that take selective analysis to mean that astrophysicists don't take electromagnetism into account and only think about gravity.
      • by Teilo (91279)
        I don't know much about the electric universe theory. It probably is a load of crap, but still I like to laugh at the expense of anyone who is offended by those who dare to put forward alternatives to the "settled" theories of mainstream science. (Hah! I'm not afraid to use the phrase, so there.)
        • Re:Electric universe (Score:5, Interesting)

          by c6gunner (950153) on Monday May 26, 2008 @07:47PM (#23549715)

          I don't know much about the electric universe theory. It probably is a load of crap, but still I like to laugh at the expense of anyone who is offended by those who dare to put forward alternatives to the "settled" theories of mainstream science. (Hah! I'm not afraid to use the phrase, so there.)


          It's not the theories that we're opposed to, it's the approach. You're more than welcome to suggest that the entire universe was the result of God's Gargantuan Fart, and that interstellar space is composed of His Holy Flatulence through which electromagnetic waves propagate. I might think you're being silly, but I won't be offended by your theory. What I WOULD be offended by is your attempt to pervert the scientific method in order to try and "prove" your theory.

          Another example: I'm not offended by creationists who use scripture to dispute evolution. If they want to believe some ancient manuscript instead of modern science, that's their call. But I AM offended when they pretend to disprove evolution by misquoting and misrepresenting the research of others, or by presenting their own asinine assumptions as if they were scientifically verifiable facts.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Teilo (91279)
            You are evidently more than welcome to belittle and offend anyone who holds a shred of religious faith, and you will no doubt be modded up, because this is Slashdot, after all. But heaven forbid that any part of a well-established theory be called into question. That's just heresy, and anyone doing it should be burned.

            I'm just sayin'...

            For the record, as an ID'er (which of course, means that I am a Neanderthal ooga-booga sun worshipper, somewhat below a monkey in intelligence), I am rather embarrassed at wh
            • by c6gunner (950153) on Monday May 26, 2008 @10:00PM (#23550749)

              But heaven forbid that any part of a well-established theory be called into question.


              I suggest you take some remedial English classes, my friend, since your reading comprehension is atrocious. I quite clearly stated that you are welcome to question evolution. You conveniently ignored that, and went on construct a straw man and complain about everyone picking on you for daring to question the establishment. Poor you.

              You didn't, by any chance, have anything to do with that abortion of a film "Expelled", did you?

              For the record, as an ID'er (which of course, means that I am a Neanderthal ooga-booga sun worshipper, somewhat below a monkey in intelligence)


              No, just silly. I don't think kids are "Neanderthal ooga-booga sun worshippers" for believing that the presents under the Christmas tree were left by a fat man in a red suit who climbed down the chimney, so why would I accuse you of any such thing?

              I am rather embarrassed at what passes for science among Creationists these days, particularly when they use material that they just do not understand.


              Then you agree with the premise of my comment, and I'm not sure what you're trying to prove. As I said - you're more than welcome to espouse whatever ideas you want - just don't pretend to be using science to prove them when you're clearly relying on faith.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Teilo (91279)

                I suggest you take some remedial English classes

                I suggest you follow the discussion more carefully.

                I quite clearly stated that you are welcome to question evolution. . . .

                Pardon? How did this get into a discussion of evolution? I certainly wasn't talking about it. I was talking about alternative theories of physics. How exactly does the electric universe theory = denial of evolution? For the record, I believe in the standard model, including the big bang.

                You conveniently ignored that, and went on construct a straw man and complain about everyone picking on you for daring to question the establishment. Poor you.

                Wasn't talking about me, buddy. So far, nobody's picking on me here. I was talking about your license to belittle and offend ("God's Gargantuan Fart, and that interstella

  • But if it works, close enough.
  • by onion2k (203094) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:06PM (#23548933) Homepage
    This is brilliant. $600k isn't a lot to some people, yet there's a tiny sliver of a chance that the guy is on to something. So he gets funding from a private institution who will be absolutely minted in the very unlikely circumstance that he's right. The odd $600k wouldn't even scratch the surface for more traditional avenues of research where the numbers are into the billions, so there's no real loss either.

    Plus, the chances of me getting a backer for my "buttered toast and cat" turbine are much improved. Fantastic.
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:09PM (#23548975) Journal
      Exactly my thought. ITER is costing US$ 9.3 billion. This costs 0.006% as much. If it is more than 0.006% as likely to work, then it's probably a good use of money.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bperkins (12056)
        ITER may have a 0% chance of producing viable fusion power, but it will very likely help us understand plasma physics. That may be a bad investment.

        However, the work described in this story has a 0% chance of working and a 0% chance of putting the Electric Universe crap to bed.

        So it's a worse investment.

        • by Bloater (12932) on Monday May 26, 2008 @07:54PM (#23549749) Homepage Journal
          > ITER may have a 0% chance of producing viable fusion power, but it will very likely help us understand plasma physics.

          Actually it probably won't. JET did, but ITER is just an engineering prototype and proof of concept. It is intended to test the technologies to make a fusion power plant work and be maintainable. The physics is done already.

          > However, the work described in this story has a 0% chance of working

          Actually it has a pretty reasonable chance. Nobody has been able to perform an analysis using previous theories to show that current physical understanding says it won't work. In part because Eric Lerner has been the first person to care enough about certain aspects of plasma behaviour to actually produce quantitative models.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by seven of five (578993)
            Actually it probably won't. JET did, but ITER is just an engineering prototype and proof of concept. It is intended to test the technologies to make a fusion power plant work and be maintainable. The physics is done already.

            From what I gather, the physics ain't done for ITER. ITER's another test bed for the physics, to attempt to show that breakeven can be achieved for a tokamak, and be done in a fairly continuous fashion. The plan was, if ITER was successful, to attempt to build a prototype power plant.
      • by Black Parrot (19622) on Monday May 26, 2008 @07:42PM (#23549685)

        Exactly my thought. ITER is costing US$ 9.3 billion. This costs 0.006% as much. If it is more than 0.006% as likely to work, then it's probably a good use of money.
        That reasoning works when you only consider one fringe idea. What happens if you try to fund *all* of them?
        • by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) on Monday May 26, 2008 @08:03PM (#23549807)

          Then you don't purchase ITER and fund 4150 independent projects instead.

          IANAPP, but my experience with science in general is that you're better off funding many, many projects to the proof-of-concept phase than funding one proof-of-concept project that we're absolutely sure will eventually cost ~$100B to make actually generating power. That way, we learn a huge amount about plasma physics and can make educated decisions about which projects to fund to completion.

          The problem is, right now we know that tokomaks sort of work, but aren't really feasible for power generation. We have *no idea* if all those other systems could be feasible with more work.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by CptNerd (455084)

          Exactly my thought. ITER is costing US$ 9.3 billion. This costs 0.006% as much. If it is more than 0.006% as likely to work, then it's probably a good use of money.
          That reasoning works when you only consider one fringe idea. What happens if you try to fund *all* of them?
          You get "Ice IV" bridges on Jupiter, "spindizzies" and "Cities in Flight"?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ka9dgx (72702)
          You end up getting a bunch of people convinced that you can send data over phone lines, and other such nonsense. Then they start talking about breaking things into packets.

          We all know that phone lines are just tubes, so this "fringe" science talk of "ARPANET" from the folks at BBN should just not be funded. ;-)

          --Mike--

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          How many light bulb did Thomas Edition "funded" that didn't work?
    • by timeOday (582209) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:14PM (#23549017)
      Is it really enough for him to proceed on? At a big company it costs that much to keep 2 PhD's on a project for 1 year. Presumably this project would also have a large requirement for expensive hardware.
    • by Chemisor (97276) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:20PM (#23549063)
      Is it a bad omen that it costs about the same as a typical subprime mortgage?
    • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:25PM (#23549113)

      Plus, the chances of me getting a backer for my "buttered toast and cat" turbine are much improved. Fantastic.
      Don't even try, PETA will shut you down before you can get any serious headway. That's what happened with MIT's monkey-weasel-mulberry bush bomb.
    • by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:27PM (#23549123)
      Yep, and it might be a good idea to repeat this with some other stuff that looks at least borderline credible. Bussard's "polywell" fusion device comes to mind:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell [wikipedia.org]

      Both Lerner's and Bussard's approach are not exactly proven, but they seem believable enough that investing a few millions (as opposed to billions in Tokamak research) seems worthwile.
      • by naasking (94116)
        At least "polywell" fusion is backed by ordinary physics!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Physicists have spent 50+ years trying to confine and stabilize plasmas with negligible progress and with a cost of many billions (or is it trillions over 50 years). Stability, confinement, and plasma just don't seem to go together. Lets not even mention continuous. Success has been only 10 or 15 years away for more than 50 years. The primary results seem to be absorption of Federal funds in huge amounts.

        An approach that tries to take advantage of the instabilities instead of fighting them is
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by smaddox (928261)
      The sad thing is that those multibillion dollar projects (ITER, I'm looking at you) have no chance of producing economic fusion. The technology is just too expensive.

      More fringe possibilities should get funding. Nothing huge, though. Just enough to decide if it is feasible.

      I'm unaware if the DOE has any such program to evaluate cheaper alternatives. If it doesn't, it should.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Hadlock (143607)
      Where can I send my check to fund this buttered toast and cat turbine project of yours?
  • New page 1 (Score:5, Funny)

    by StrawberryFrog (67065) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:07PM (#23548955) Homepage Journal
    It's just a bit harder to take it seriously when the HTML title of the page is still set to "New Page 1"
    • Re:New page 1 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Creepy Crawler (680178) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:16PM (#23549039)
      That tells me his web presence isnt up to snuff.

      Is he being paid to design a hip-hop web presence, or a fusion design type?
    • by smaddox (928261)
      It's more of the fact that it has a website at all that makes it seem less credible. However, when government organizations focus on funding 5 decade old technology (tokamak), it becomes necessary to explore alternate routes for funding.
  • Magneto? (Score:3, Funny)

    by dasheiff (261577) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:10PM (#23548989) Homepage
    I thought it said Eric Lehnsherr for a second.
    • by tedrlord (95173)
      I'd be way more likely to believe Magneto could pull something like that off. Of course, he'd just take the money and use it to destroy us lesser homo sapiens.
  • Last I heard, Lerner was after about $2 million. $600k to $700k isn't all that, but rather than sulk, give it your best shot.

  • by Fieryphoenix (1161565) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:17PM (#23549043)
    Congratulations, Mr. Lerner. You've been promoted from crackpot to fraud. Here's your paycheck.
  • summary (Score:5, Informative)

    by j1m+5n0w (749199) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:21PM (#23549073) Homepage Journal
    It looks like the tech talk is slashdotted, but if memory serves (and I'm not a physicist, so my understanding is fuzzy at best) the idea is that the device (which has some resemblance to a large spark plug) sits in a chamber of has a large electrical current applied and exploits a sequence of unstable states to produce a small ball of plasma where the fusion takes place. The reaction produces X-rays and a directed stream of charged particles. The X-rays are collected by a sort of multilayer onion-like solar panel that converts them to electricity, and the charged particles also get converted directly to electricity. The device can be relatively simple since there's no need for steam turbines. A steady stream of electricity can be produced by repeating the reaction over and over, and storing the output in big capacitors (and part of the resulting energy is used to initiate the next pulse).
    • Re:summary (Score:5, Interesting)

      by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:28PM (#23549139) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, that's close enough. Although, personally, I think once you had one working you could make 20 of them and do a 20-to-20 connection with some high power switching (I believe diamond switches are required anyway) so the output of many units is cumulated on the input of one unit, with no capacitor bank in the way. That way you get really fast cycling of pulses.. much like a piston engine.

  • by wizardforce (1005805) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:24PM (#23549101) Journal
    the p+B11 reaction [the one described here] forms 3 He nuclei [p+B11=C12 which splits into 3 He4] all the products are charged opening up an extra route of power generation that isn't solely thermal to electrical conversion however the reaction produces about half the energy per reaction of deuterium/tritium reaction and much higher energies to cause significant fusion.
  • by neomalkin (1010865) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:42PM (#23549241)
    What is Slashdot's fascination with this guy? Seems like an article pops up every 3 months. As an undergraduate, I had the pleasure *cough* of working with Mr. Lerner when he came to use our plasma focus to do a p-B11 study for JPL. To get the required diborane gas, a nasty toxin, we had to evaporate decaborane, another nasty toxin. In the end, we had a mess to clean up in our chamber and an academic mess when Mr. Lerner embellished (or flatly misrepresented) the results of the experiment in publication. We had to lobby to get our names off the paper, but there's still a few copies of it floating around out there. Plasma focus technology has been around since the 60s (see the works of Mather and Filipov). They make cute neutron and x-ray sources, but not much more practical for fusion power production than these "bubble fusion" designs. I believe there's still a lot to be learned from the plasma focus, and I'm glad that someone is willing to pay for further research. And if we get p-B11 fusion working, that would be a great step forward too. But I wouldn't give this guy a nickel if his head were on fire, let alone $600,000.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147) on Monday May 26, 2008 @08:32PM (#23550005)
      The stereotypical Slashdotter lives in his mother's basement and doesn't shower very often. Even more than other people, they don't want to hear about the mundane details, the real life gotchas, and the hard work.

      They want to hear that the experts are wrong, the solution is simple, revolutionary and cheap, and a downtrodden underdog is about to reveal it to the world.

      Unfortunately, when the problem really is hard, the only way you can move into the latter category is to, uh, be creative with your evidence.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    when will these scientists give up and let me ruin the planet.

    remember kids, if you stop using oil the terrorists win.
  • by chdig (1050302) on Monday May 26, 2008 @06:59PM (#23549391)
    Sounds interesting, but I wish they'd named it after something other than a couple of Ford car models. Ford Fusion, Ford Focus, Focus Fusion?

    If they'd wanted credibility, they shoulda gone for something like the Yaris Matrix or maybe the Fit Element.
  • that damned website reads like an advertisement. I'd like to see a serious proposal.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 26, 2008 @08:31PM (#23549989)
    The biggest selling point of p-B11 is that it's aneutronic. But as any chemist will tell you, there's some amount of everything in everything else. You can't realistically get B11 without a little B10 mixed in, which even in the best of realistic circumstances will spew out enough neutrons to drop a human being in a few minutes. It's a lot cleaner than Deuterium-Tritium but it ain't aneutronic and when people find out, you're going to get the same "not in my backyard" public attitude that is strangling fission energy.
  • by gd23ka (324741) on Monday May 26, 2008 @08:40PM (#23550081) Homepage
    I can't really envision use of this technology in a home or small community without stringent
    licensing to curb proliferation, taxation of manufacture, sale, possession and operation thereof
    and the mandated remote control and monitoring of the device by the government.

    There are also further ramifications to having 5MW or more of electrical power in the hands of an
    individual. It could be used as a weapon or it could power improper research. The implications
    of this device for our control paradigm get worse and worser as devices like that would see use
    in developing countries where the control grid is still loosely meshed. Also it would serve to
    empower the projects of rogue elites to defy us.

    This is definitely not the kind of development our New World needs to see. This technology runs
    counter to all our efforts to build a network of interdependence.

  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Monday May 26, 2008 @08:54PM (#23550199)
    As always when these discussions come up you hear a bunch of "but what if it works, the benefits would be enormous". The problem with this type of logic is of course that it can be applied to ANY claim which promises great returns, no matter how patently absurd it is. Alchemy, perpetual motion, alternative medicine, intelligent design... etc... If you just promise big enough implications for your "science" and make the explanation sound complicated enough that people don't understand it, you will always have some suckers going "Even if there is just a 0.1% chance it works, the benefits will be a quazillion dollars." This is how these crackpots get their supporters, and as usual they will yell they are being suppressed and compare themselves to Galileo, Einstein or Boltzmann when anybody from the "dogmatic scientific establishment" (i.e anybody who actually has a clue about the subject ) points out it is bullshit.

    Oh, and slash dot will give them front page publicity.
  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Monday May 26, 2008 @08:59PM (#23550245) Homepage
    Before you get all up inz:

    1) Fast ignition:

    ICF is unlikely to ever deliver excess power after conversion efficiencies. NIF uses ~400 MJ to produce ~40 MJ out. Sign me up!

    Fast ignition appears to reduce the required input power by about one order of magnitude. Progress in laser diodes appears to offer another. All of a sudden things look very interesting in the ICF world.

    2) Magnetized Target Fusion

    ICF has high-density (10 times lead -- consider that it started as hydrogen gas) and super-short confinement times. The problem is getting the density. Magnetic approaches have low density (almost vacuum) and long confinement times. The problem is getting the confinement time.

    But what about the middle ground between the two? We already know how to confine for "some" time, and compress things "ok". It turns out there's an extremely interesting area of practical design in that grey area between the two extremes, in the performance area we had 20 years ago. MTF attacks that area in an interesting way.

    3) Polywell

    Let's give Bussard the props the guy deserves. I don't know if the Polywell is any better positioned for success than focus fusion, and I have funny feelings in my gut about all magnetic approaches, but if this guy says it's going to work I'm willing to cut him a whole lot of slack.

    Maury
  • evaluation (Score:3, Funny)

    by Tumbleweed (3706) on Monday May 26, 2008 @09:48PM (#23550631)
    1) Does this help my cereal stay crunchy in milk?

    [ ] Yes!
    [X] No!

    If Yes, congratulations, you have made a valid contribution to society!

    If No, fuck off, this has no bearing on real life. Get a haircut and a job, hippie.
  • The Trisops [wikipedia.org] project.


    It produced plasma stable structures which were then compressed. If was de-funded before it could be proven ( or disproven ).

    Disclaimer: I worked on it.

  • Think critically (Score:3, Informative)

    by jandersen (462034) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @01:49AM (#23552489)
    Eric Lerner is described in Wikipedia as "a popular science writer, independent plasma researcher and an advocate of plasma cosmology" - IOW, not actually a scientist, although he may well be knowledgeable; he has a BA in physics.

    However, what really makes me think twice about this is the claim that they achieve fusion without any radioactive by-products, "only harmless Helium gas". How does one produce such a precise result in an environment that is "several billion degrees"? At that temperature the atoms will move about a bit, to say the least, and we are not even talking about pure deuterium; there will be highly energetic collisions all over the place, and a large amount of particle radiation will be produced, as far as I can see, and the reactor casing is bound to become radioactive.

    This has all the hallmarks of a bogus project that has succceeded in milking some funding out of some gullible soul - in this case CMEF, a Swedish startup.

    Once you get the suspicion that this is yet another bogus project, you begin to see signs all over the place: superficially it looks as if they have got some government grant in the US, that Eric Lerner is a scientist, and that the company is some well-established research-company (a search for "Lawrenceville Plasma Physics" on Wikipedia redirects to the article about "Eric Lerner") - IOW, the announcement is deceptive; if this was real, they wouldn't need to deceive.

    And then of course there is the claim that "electrons are injected directly into the powergrid" based on some cosmological phenomenon, that is not yet well understood scientifically. In a Superman comic, perhaps, but not in real life. This is simply a flight of fantasy, unbound by the boring, mundane routine of real scientific research.
    • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Tuesday May 27, 2008 @06:13AM (#23553731)

      "electrons are injected directly into the powergrid"
      That's a piece of whimsy on the part of the submitter, but it's not entirely inaccurate. The reactor is designed to collect power in two ways ; primarily from the energy of the emitted alpha particles, secondarily from an x-ray photon converter (would be a "solar panel" if it was solar rays, I suppose). Neither method involves the usual intervening step of using the heat of reaction products to boil water to run through a turbine, and both could be called a direct injection of electrons.

      This has all the hallmarks of a bogus project that has succceeded in milking some funding out of some gullible soul
      You could say the same of ITER and other tokamak fusion projects ...

        * Enormous amounts of money handed to favoured engineering contractors
        * No viable product
        * No discernible progress

      Oh wait, you can't say any of those things about the dense plasma focus. Nowhere close to the billions that have been poured into tokamaks, it's a viable product on it's own (as a portable bright X-Ray source), and despite the apparent handicaps of a slightly kooky project leader and miniscule funding, their numbers look just as good, if not better, than ITER.

      based on some cosmological phenomenon, that is not yet well understood
      It doesn't even say that in the summary, it says "Lerner's inspiration for the technology".

      Kekulé was inspired to discover the structure of benzene by a dream about a snake biting its own tail. It doesn't make his discovery any less valid.

      IOW, not actually a scientist, although he may well be knowledgeable
      Mendel discovered the science of genetics but had no idea about the mechanism of inheritance. His work with peas is still used to teach the subject to school children. Mendel was a monk, with no degree in science, but he was no less a scientist. Science is a method of working, not a description of the level of your education.

      we are not even talking about pure deuterium
      You are quite correct. We are not talking about ANY deuterium ; this is a proton-boron fusion process.

      At that temperature the atoms will move about a bit, to say the least .. there will be highly energetic collisions all over the place
      Watch the google video ; the reaction is confined to a tiny plasma toroid, which is how it achieves such a high temperature. The p-B reaction itself just emits alpha particles (otherwise known as helium ions), and plenty of X-rays, which do not persist and are intended to be captured to generate part of the power output.

      Given the number of questions you are asking that have answers (however biased they may be) in that Google Tech Talk, you probably haven't watched it. Why don't you (and any other people thinking of spouting off) do the man the courtesy of hearing him out?

      Or are you "not actually a scientist"? A cornerstone of the scientific method is trying to prove yourself wrong.

If A = B and B = C, then A = C, except where void or prohibited by law. -- Roy Santoro

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