Let’s celebrate the merger breakthrough, even if it’s “bulls”

Since the beginning of time, mankind has longed to create the sun. And for more than 70 years, scientists have known how to create an artificial nuclear fusion reaction, forcing positively charged particles to stick together and fuse, releasing a huge amount of heat. It’s something the Sun has been doing for nearly 4.6 billion years.

But whenever humans have tried it in the past, it takes huge amounts of energy to heat up the protons and get them moving fast enough to overcome each other’s natural repulsion – far more than is generated by the interactions themselves. Containing the reaction—that is, preventing it from turning into a bomb—also proved suspect. Achieving these two goals was the Holy Grail, a dream that holds huge promises for clean energy, long-distance spaceflight, and other science fiction advances. It’s also been “20 years” as long as the concept has been around.

That all changed on Dec. 5, at 1:03 a.m., when a few night owl scientists at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory bombarded a small capsule of frozen hydrogen with intense 192 lasers, forcing the atoms to bounce back. The container at an incredibly high speed. The protons in these atoms were positively charged, which means they repel each other.

But when they moved quickly within a relatively narrow space… well, sometimes they couldn’t help but bump into each other. Forcing the protons together caused them to fuse, releasing a wave of gamma rays 1.5 times more powerful than the energy the laser puts into the capsule. It was the first time that scientists had been able to trigger a process called ignition, the same chain reaction that powers the sun, producing more heat than it pours out.

In other words, they did.

The idea of ​​fusion on the table has been a white whale to both scientists and consumers for the better part of my life. But now, the promise seems a lot closer to reality: truly clean energy. No uranium. There is no plutonium. No nuclear waste. No gas, no coal. Hydrogen and energy (and maybe a little helium) enter. The lab did not explode. No one died in the reaction, or turned into a super-powered octopus. So congratulations. You’ve lived to see the dawn of the fusion era.

…or did you?

There is plenty of evidence that narrating around this discovery is a classic exercise in American salesmanship. First, experiments like the one conducted by NIF produce radiation in the form of stray neutrons. They can make anything they pass through radioactive, and not in the fun comic book way.

Most damningly, the scientists only produced a net energy gain if you counted the energy from those same 192 lasers, not the energy needed to power those lasers. These are focused lasers that are very hot, which means they consume an enormous amount of energy – hundreds of times the amount of energy produced in a reactor. So the official energy surplus announced this week is an accounting hoax.

“Lasers are an incredibly inefficient way to do anything,” says Philip Broughton, a health physicist (if you’re wondering what a “health physicist” is, Broughton says he’s actually a radiation safety specialist) and laser safety officer at UCLA. Berkeley, who previously worked at Livermore Lab in the same capacity. “It’s a lot more force on the wall to make lasers… It’s the big force. It’s not something to generate energy, and it never will be.”

Bruton also noted that while scientists were able to produce an excess of energy from the fusion reaction, there was no way to harness that energy. There was no water tank in their test room making steam to spin the turbines. There was a bright burst of heat, and then nothing.

Still, these limitations didn’t stop other physicists I spoke with from registering their enthusiasm (or at least admiration) for what Lawrence Livermore’s team had accomplished.

“This is huge,” said Matthew Bellis, assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Siena College and a member of the CMS Collaboration that includes the Large Hadron Collider. “There’s a running joke that fusion energy will always be 20 years in the future. You go back to when they started working on this, maybe in the 50s or 60s, and they were like, ‘Well, it’s 20 years down the road.’ Then 20 years later Well, give us another 20 years, and we’ll have this. We will be able to create more energy from within. This is the holy grail.”

Bellis, like Proton, is well aware of the power demands of those large honking lasers. He believes what the NIF team did counts as ignition, and noted that the techniques used could be applied by other labs, with more efficient lasers. Generating clean nuclear power has never been a priority for the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, which was secretly founded jointly with the Manhattan Project to ensure the safety of America’s aging nuclear arsenal. Other labs, especially in the private sector, have committed enormous resources to this project; Now, they have something much closer to a blueprint for getting to atomic gold.

There is also a possibility that this is less than a file scientific penetration, and more Myself One — one that Bellis believes could potentially accelerate a global race to produce fusion energy on a commercial scale. Let’s be honest: If something hasn’t happened in our lifetime, we’re much less inclined to show any interest in it, whether we’re investing in a technology or voting for our government to do so. Now, today, it seems possible – even logical – to give an idea of ​​\u200b\u200bmerger, because It may already be coming. There is a very big difference between something being theoretically possible and being definitively so, and this event has made the idea of ​​fusion more realistic, and achievable, to a lot of interesting and oddly useful people.

Funding agencies can show the general public that this money is being invested in something worthwhile. I think that’s huge. Now we just have to figure out how to scale it up,” Bellis told me. “Doing a proof-of-principle that humans can produce the same conditions as in the Sun, if only for a split second, is tremendous in giving everyone confidence that there is a way forward for this species.” of energy.”

This trust is no small matter. He has the power to change both the way the world sees the power of fusion and how he aggressively pursues it. You have been told, many times, that there is no stopping the climate apocalypse, that democracy is on its deathbed, and that weapons will prevail, time and time again. It’s easy to forget that the future is not written, and that the human race is far more resourceful than we often give it credit for.

But listen. We went to f-king Moon. We have put robots on Mars. We have launched two probes that are currently floating outside our home solar system. Almost all of those achievements were preceded by accidents, misconceptions, opposition, tragedy, red herrings and false hopes. we Keep trying anywayWhat the scientists did at Livermore was a reminder that we have some measure of control over our own destiny – and that we don’t have to choose our own demise. as such This fate.

We have to keep trying, and now hopefully we do. Because if we let reality hold us back, we will all die.

#Lets #celebrate #merger #breakthrough #bulls

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