UCLA researchers create nuclear fusion in lab

May 01, 2005

Attempts to create controlled nuclear fusion - the process that powers stars - have been a source of continuing controversy. Scientists have struggled for decades to effectively harness nuclear fusion in hot plasma for energy generation - potentially a cleaner alternative to the current nuclear-fission reactors - but have so far been unsuccessful at turning this into an economically viable process.
Meanwhile, claims of cheap "bench-top" fusion by electrolysis of heavy water ("cold fusion") and by sonic bubble-formation in water (sonoluminescence) have been greeted with skepticism, and have not been successfully reproduced.
In this week's Nature, Brian Naranjo and colleagues report a new kind of "bench-top" nuclear fusion, based on measurements that seem considerably more convincing than these previous claims.

The publication was written by a UCLA team that includes Brian Naranjo, a graduate student in physics; James Gimzewski, professor of chemistry; and Seth Putterman, professor of physics. Gimzewski and Putterman are members of the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA.

The team initiates fusion of deuterium — heavy hydrogen, the fuel used in conventional plasma fusion research — using the strong electric field generated in a pyroelectric crystal. Such materials produce electric fields when heated, and the researchers concentrated this field at the tip of a tungsten needle connected to the crystal. In an atmosphere of deuterium gas, this generates positively charged deuteron ions and accelerates them to high energy in a beam.

When this beam strikes a target of erbium deuteride, Naranjo and colleagues detect neutrons coming from the target with precisely the energy expected if they were generated by the nuclear fusion of two deuterium nuclei. The neutron emission is 400 times stronger than the usual background level.

The researchers say that this method of producing nuclear fusion won't be useful for normal power generation, but it might find applications in the generation of neutron beams for research purposes, and perhaps as a propulsion mechanism for miniature spacecraft.

Publication: The Journal Nature, April 28, 2005 "Observation of Nuclear Fusion Driven by a Pyroelectric Crystal"

For more information about the project, visit rodan.physics.ucla.edu/pyrofusion

Source: UCLA

Explore further: Information storage for the next generation of plastic computers

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Generations of supercomputers pin down primordial plasma

Apr 01, 2014

(Phys.org) —Supercomputers are constantly evolving to meet the increasing complexity of calculations ranging from global climate models to cosmic inflation. The bigger the puzzle, the more scientists and ...

Could alien life cope with a hotter, brighter star?

Mar 24, 2014

The stars in the night sky shine in myriad hues and brightnesses—piercing blues, clean whites, smoldering crimsons. Every star has a different mass, the basic characteristic that determines its size, lifespan, ...

Magnetic behavior discovery could advance nuclear fusion

Mar 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —Inspired by the space physics behind solar flares and the aurora, a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and Princeton has uncovered a new kind of magnetic behavior that could ...

A new 'fast and furious' black hole

Feb 28, 2014

A black hole with extremely powerful jets has been found in the nearby galaxy Messier 83 (M83) by a team of Australian and American researchers, as we report in the journal Science today. ...

Physics: A fundamental force for future security

Feb 13, 2014

What is matter? What is energy? What holds matter together? How do the various constituents of the universe interact at the most basic level? Where does the Earth sit in relation to the rest of the universe? ...

Recommended for you

Robotics goes micro-scale

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —The development of light-driven 'micro-robots' that can autonomously investigate and manipulate the nano-scale environment in a microscope comes a step closer, thanks to new research from the ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...