Little Fusion Hits The WSJ

Read the article at the Wall Street Journal. My friend Tom Ligon is featured as well as Richard Hull. Read the back story on how the article came about at Talk Polywell.

You can follow developments in this line of research and McCain's interest at: Fusion Report 13 June 008.

You can also read more about Tom Ligon's efforts at World's Simplest Fusion Reactor Revisited.

Cross Posted at Power and Control


posted by Simon on 08.18.08 at 01:24 PM


Alas, these people have read too much Tom Swift and His Electric Whatever.

As a practicing scientist, I got a good laugh out of these types: "The Basement Inventor". After a good basic course in a basic science like Thermodynamics, you realize that there full of shit.

More investors have gone broke (to sort of paraphrase H. L. Mencken) by overestimating the intelligence of the "basement inventor".

Remember "Cold Fusion" folks? The Nevada Legislature pumped lotsa bucks into a similar crackpot scheme a few years ago...and lost every nickel.

Buyer Beware.

Good Ole Charlie   ·  August 18, 2008 6:21 PM


I'm glad to have the wisdom of your comments.

If only you knew what you were talking about I would be really impressed. The method of fusion these guys are experimenting with is not thermodynamic. It is a beam fusion method.

Now there are valid criticisms of the method and we will not be sure if it shows promise until the research the US Navy is sponsoring announces its results in the next month or two.

BTW Cold Fusion? They are now showing valid and replicated results. In fact the US Navy is looking into that too.

For such a genius you seem rather ignorant of the fields you are pontificating on. You aren't one of those guys who doesn't keep up are you? Pity if true.

M. Simon   ·  August 18, 2008 6:52 PM

good on you M. That clown deserved it.

Manny C   ·  August 18, 2008 7:07 PM

Before jumping to conclusions, you might want to check out the history of fusors. They have been around a long time and they have almost always produced real fusion neutrons. They have other limitations, but they start at the right place, unlike the large magnetic confinement machines that the government has spent so much money on. Frankly considering the track record I would more likely expect real innovation come from a garage than a huge research facility, just from experience.

J Carlton   ·  August 18, 2008 7:19 PM

Questions to look for:

Do these devices produce fused nuclei? If so, are they two proton nuclei, such as either He-3 or He-4?

Is there evidence of signature radiation for tritium (since tritium should be produced and is naturally radioactive with characteristic radiation)?

How do they propose to overcome the potential barrier between charged nuclei at small distances? This is NOT a negligible effect and is ultimately what defeats other fusion devices.

How are neutrons detected? Since they are not charged, they are difficult to detect even in a well-organized major lab.

Given the history of physics in the 20th century, I seriously doubt that there will be any success in a garage.

Have any of these people submitted papers to a refereed journal? A paper in Physical Review is more impressive than an article in the Wall Street Journal, admirable though the WSJ is.

I am willing to bet five dollars versus five thousand dollars on the proposition that these results are nonsensical and will have disappeared within ten years. That period gives the garage folks plenty of time to put up or shut up.

Good Ole Charlie   ·  August 18, 2008 9:49 PM


I didn't know you were an experimental physicist with vast laboratory knowledge.

But you seem totally ignorant of neutron detection. Pity. But you are in luck. I can help.

1. Bubble detectors can detect high energy neutrons. That is the gold standard and is used extensively by fusor experimenters.

2. For counting neutrons in real time you first moderate them. Plastic works pretty good. Then you arrange that the neutrons get absorbed by B10. Borated plastic is normally used. Then you collect the light pulses (visible through gamma) by a well shielded photomultiplier tube. The tube needs to be shielded from light and electromagnetic radiation.

3. From personal conversations and from others who I trust who have viewed Richard Hull's experimental set up I can tell you that his neutron counts are real. Cross verified by bubble detectors.

4. Every blog needs an idiot commenter to make the writer of a post look good. I hereby so designate you for that position in all matters pertaining to fusion. It is a singular honor and you should be duly proud.

Y'all come back now y'heah.

Charlie - I'll take your bet. BTW we are only talking fusion not net power from fusors. For net power you need a set up like the Polywell invented by former Assistant Director of the Controlled Thermonuclear Reaction Division of the AEC Dr. Robert Bussard. The Polywell is an advancement based on the fusor design. The US Navy has contracted Dr. Richard Nebel of Los Alamos Laboratories to verify Dr. Bussard's claims. Results due to be published in the next month or two after a review board examines the experimental set up and the experimental results.

In fact it was not made clear in the article, but Dr. Bussard suggested to Tom Ligon that he start the amateur fusion movement.

Had you read World's Simplest Fusion Reactor Revisited you could have found that out. Sadly it appears that reading is not one of your specialities either. My sincere condolences.

I'm told that reading classes can be had for free in almost any American city. I have not verified that fact. You might want to look into it.

Oh yeah, I'm an aerospace engineer and qualified nuclear reactor operator (US Navy) who has studied all this stuff extensively for the last two years. As I said. There are valid criticisms of this approach to fusion. You haven't mentioned any.

Further - the Farnsworth method of neutron production is used in commercial electrically controlled neutron sources. Still want to make that bet? I do. Easiest $5K I ever picked up.

M. Simon   ·  August 19, 2008 2:41 AM

M. I'm not sure why Charlie gets under your skin so much--I get that you don't think he knows what he's talking about, but still...we're all stupid sometimes and I run the risk of it pretty much every time I comment on one of your posts.

From the looks of his wager terms, only you will be putting up 5k. He is offering a mere 5.

tim maguire   ·  August 19, 2008 4:10 PM


I have no problem if people want to know how something is done or are even semi-polite. However, I'm prone to meet sarcasm with sarcasm. As an old usenet hand it is in my bones. Always up for a good flame war.

If he is only putting up $5 that shows he is not very sure of himself. If he is so unsure he should show a little respect.

You know he could have started with the wiki on Farnsworth instead of snark.

Now I must admit I'm prone to stupid snark from time to time. When it blows up in my face I apologize.

M. Simon   ·  August 19, 2008 4:56 PM

History is full of so called experts who were proven wrong. Often this is a result of their own ego/arrogance getting in the way of having an open mind. I prefer to remain open minded on all claims except magic. We all need to remember that our understanding of this universe is at the point that we have only scratched the surface.

Bob S.

Bob Sanborn   ·  August 22, 2008 10:32 AM

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