A 2015 Proposal for MIT co-lab: Public Education on Fusion

Discuss the technical details of an "open source" community-driven design of a polywell reactor.

Moderators: tonybarry, MSimon

Posts: 456
Joined: Tue May 27, 2008 11:14 pm

A 2015 Proposal for MIT co-lab: Public Education on Fusion

Postby mattman » Tue Mar 10, 2015 5:15 am

Hello Guys,

I have written a proposal for the MIT climate Co-Lab climate contest:


Below is a summary of the proposal. Let me know if you have any feedback on this. Just because I am suggesting it, I am hoping someone make take it and "run with it". Also feel free to vote!


There are several serious approaches to fusion power:

1. Ringed, magnetically confined systems. These include tokamaks, spheromaks, bumpy toruses and the levitating dipole experiment. These operate at low beta. The plasma is fully magnetized and thermalized. In 2011, there were 177 of these tokamaks' planned, built, or decommissioned worldwide.

2. High density inertial systems. These include variations on direct and indirect drive, laser fusion. Anytime a plasma is compressed with a shockwave.

3. Pinch systems. These include z or theta directed pinch experiments, including focus fusion. Anytime a plasma is forced into squeezing into itself.

4. Field Reversed Configurations. This is where a plasma self organizes into a quasi-stable structure. In the FRCs' case its' own motion generates it's own containment field.

5. Inertial Electrostatic Confinement. Anytime an electric field is used to heat a plasma to fusion conditions. This includes: polywells, fusors, POPS and even ITER's neutral beam injection system.

6. Cusp confinement. This is a theoretical system where diamagnetic plasma rejects the containing B-field. Alone, this is not a fusion path. It also has not really been seen experimentally.

7. Hybrids - Any approach which is a combination of the above. A good example is the magnetized target fusion approach, which combines an FRC with a compression system.

Many of these ideas have been tried in the past 60 years. Fusion has had lots of false starts - where devices were pursued and then abandoned. Regardless of whether there was a massive failure or success, there was never any incentive to educate the general public on what happened.

This is the problem I hope to address. I propose we found a non for profit whose explicit goal is to educate the public on fusion research.


This problem is big.
Here are some examples that underscore my point about how big this lack of information is:

1. Roughly 200 papers on cusp confinement were published between 1950 and 1980. The topic does not exist on Wikipedia.

2. Over forty devices which did field reverse configuration have been built in the past sixty years. None of the results from these machines is on YouTube, Google or Wikipedia. This makes it hard to justify why this approach was abandoned in favor of tokamaks.

3. The federal government poured vast amounts of resources into the magnetic mirror program. Almost 20 years, hundreds of researchers and hundreds of millions of dollars was spent. But there is almost no record of these results on the web. We could spend years pulling out machine designs, experimental results and underlining theory.

4. A variety of machines, that had short life spans have been written out of fusion history. One example is the KEMPS machine.

5. Even the current, flagship efforts are poorly understood by the public. Some examples like the diagnostics used in ITER used in NIF. How do they function? What do they measure? How much do they cost? There is not a good source of information on this topic. Other examples include the instabilities that disrupt ICF or Tokamak work.

I bet if we go back and re-examine old work we see something new. Ideally, this team will go through the subject and "pulled it all together". By this I mean re-examining the context for experiments, cutting through jargon and simplifying the physics. A lot of old data would take on new meaning if re-examined.

This team would need to be housed in a non-for-profit organization
. An independent organization will not be perfect - but it can be far better than what we have seen before. Since fusion power does not exist, there has always been a natural tug-of-war over what a fusion power plant looks like. Sadly, this is where the science gets political. In the past, groups that have set out to educate the public on fusion have tended to be very biased. They push their own vision of a fusion power plant. A good example is the LIFE program at Livermore. The LIFE concept had ideas like a fusion/fission hybrid plant or a wet walled target chamber. After ignition failed to occur, the whole program was scrapped. Why don't we take a step back and collectively realize we do not know what a fusion power plant looks like?

The team would need to be very collaborative. I purpose we hire a diverse team of people to educate the public about fusion. The team would need to be a collaboration between old school plasma science and the new media folks. My ideal organization would have:

1. A science advisory board.

2. A marketing or new media advisory board

3. A permanent science staff member

4. A permanent film staff member

5. A permanent science writer

6. A permanent staff librarian

7. A set of undergraduate interns.

The team would need to be flat. This is an acknowledgement that this cannot be done alone, no matter how many experts we hire. We would need to engage a community of onlookers, by any means possible. This would go the traditional route of social media with profiles, forums, FAQ and social/credibility rankings. Moreover, we will not have the resources to go a traditional brick and mortar space (at least not at first). Hence, we will need to be a flat organization: with online collaboration, video conferencing and freelancing work. I would want to have periodic face-to-face meetings to keep team cohesion and try and build a culture.

The team would use modern marketing presence, something fusion has traditionally lacked.
This goes beyond just having an ITER twitter feed. We need to publish content that is targeted to groups who want to understand fusion. This includes teachers, other researchers, the business community and policy leaders.

The goal would be to leverage early successes to get larger players onboard. Getting buy-in from major players will be hard. These include teams like: PPPL, LLNL, general fusion, the fusion power associates, tri alpha energy and lockheed martin. They have competing interests and may refuse to work together. They tend to not acknowledge competing concepts because it is hard to justify spending more on their idea when other ideas exist. This is why it is difficult to find any over-arching fusion community. Instead, we see pockets. Groups of people around funding streams, institutions or machines. This disconnection may even lead these groups to criticize one another as "junk science" when it serves their purpose. Hence, to protect their interests they will likely not want to work with a group that is not credible. We would need to get credibility and this can take a long time.

Problems I foresee. This is a long term effort. One general problem is that people tend to get worn out by long term efforts. Paying people is a good way to mitigate this problem. Another issue will be dealing with paywalls on content. There are solutions like open-source journals, licensing agreements and donations from major publishers, but it remains to be seen how practical this is. There is also the logistics of establishing 503C entity, some time (six months typically) and cash will be needed to do this. A third problem is resistance from within the physics community. There maybe topics that they feel are unfairly represented or over-represented. The solution is to engage them in the conversation. There may also be very good political, economic or military reasons for hiding information. One final problem could be becoming to biased.


There are a variety of good references in fusion research. Discussing them is a good way to illustrate how big this problem is. Here a quick sketch of relevant work, by topic:

1. Cusp confinement: Dr. Michael Haines, Dr. Thomas Dolan's, Dr. Harold Grad and Howard Berkowitz respective bodies of work cover plasma behavior inside cusps. This also includes diamagnetic plasma and why this line of research was abandoned. Little of this work is searchable on Google beyond the original publications. This work needs to be compared against Dr. Park's experimental evidence of plasma trapping inside polywells.

2. Plasma instabilities were covered by Dr. Marshall Rosenbluth. This work has moved from the published literature into graduate school and undergrad courses. This work has mostly not been converted into YouTube films or searchable, easy-to-follow material.

3. Basic plasma theory was done by Dr. Lyman J Spitzer. His work is extensions of the ideal gas laws for fully ionized plasma. This basic theory has been extended and extended since the 1960's into increasingly theoretical situations. These situations may not reflect reality.

4. ICF and ignition physics was done by Dr. John Lindl and Dr. Riccardo Betti. This work is also highly theoretical and the bulk of it was done with simulations before NIF was in operation. Much of this needs to be re-evaluated and re-examined. Especially now that NIF has failed to get ignition.

5. Magnetic mirror work was done by Dr. Ken Fowler and Dr. Richard Post. Much of this theory and the results from the magnetic mirror program is not on YouTube or Google. Lots of good information is there but it has been mostly ignored over the past 30 years.

6. Field Reverse Configurations have been supported by Dr. Tuszewski, Dr. Wurden, Dr. Rostoker and Dr. Slough. Slough has a big body of published work on the topic going back decades.

Return to “Design”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest