Two stories concerning particle physics made the news this week. One was the award of the Nobel Prize to Higgs and Englert for their work on the ‘Higgs Boson’ as an explanation for the origin of mass. The other is the less noticed announcement from the National Ignition Facility based in Livermore, Ca, that scientists there have achieved fusion in which the energy output exceeded the amount of energy absorbed by the fuel. This is an important step on the road to self-sustaining fusion as a source of energy.
Although we have seen stories for decades about fusion as the source of unlimited cheap power “just around the corner,” it has hitherto taken more energy to achieve fusion than has been released in the process. The technique used by NIF was to take a small pellet of extremely cold, solid isotopes of hydrogen and bombard it in a container by 192 beams from the world’s most powerful laser. The X-rays from the container’s walls heat it to millions of degrees and fusion takes place with its release of energy. It is not quite there yet because inefficiencies mean that not all of the energy supplied to the lasers makes its way to the fuel. That which does is exceeded by the energy produced, so it takes us tantalizingly closer to self-sustaining fusion.
What an exciting world we live in. New technologies are constantly being developed with the prospect of enhancing the way we live and the opportunities available. I doubt we’ll any time soon have the “Mr Fusion” device of “Back to the Future,” but if we do, you can bet the car will be driverless…
Filed under: Updates |