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Several years ago, I saw a Google video (back before the YouTube acquisition) where the leader of a group studying an unusual approach to fusion gave a presentation. His approach centered on a relatively small apparatus where instead of attempting to maintain long term confinement of the plasma, fusion occurred in bursts. I've lost track of everything to do with the project but it was such an intriguing approach that I haven't been able to forget about it.

I'm hoping that from my description of the approach that someone can point me in the right direction so I can go catch up on the project (or not if it's discontinued.) I haven't been able to find anything about this project.

Description of the apparatus

In the center was a tube of copper surrounded a ring of circular copper bars. All there were embedded in a block of a material I don't recall, probably an insulator of some sort. I can't remember if the inner tube was a cathode or anode. A large current was sent into the outer ring of bars forming an electric field with the inner tube. The field travelled up the rods and tube in a fusionable atmosphere of hydrogen. When the field reaches the end of the rods, the energy in the field has to go somewhere so it curls up on itself, capturing some hydrogen and compressing it to fusion temperatures. The energy from fusion leaves the compression region in the form of two streams (can't remember what was in the streams).

The presenter claimed that small reactors like this could generate energy in the low megawatt range and leave behind only minimal radiation that would dissipate in a few hours.

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  • $\begingroup$ There's a good chance you're talking about former astronaut Harrison Schmidt. He's hoping to find investors to mine the Moon for $^3{\rm He}$. His main point seems to be that the fusion of $^3{\rm He}$ doesn't produce neutrons but only protons, which are readily stopped by an electromagnetic field and indeed can yield their kinetic energy up electrically through the confinement apparatus. In contrast, flying neutrons transmute reactor containers supposedly leading to a great deal of radioactivity. His reactors, although not yielding nett energy, are still pretty funky and sit on your desk. $\endgroup$ – WetSavannaAnimal Jul 22 '15 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ @WetSavannaAnimal Perhaps, though the line "leave behind only minimal radiation that would dissipate in a few hours" strikes me as describing neutron radiation. (On the side, I'm trying to imagine how the Moon could possibly be the most cost-effective source of ${}^3$He.) $\endgroup$ – user10851 Jul 22 '15 at 6:16
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisWhite I'm only reporting the thrust of Schmidt's talks: he turns up at many conferences. One needs to recall that the intersection of the set of people seeking investment and the set of objective scientists has a very small measure. $\endgroup$ – WetSavannaAnimal Jul 22 '15 at 6:23
  • $\begingroup$ And the whole 'readily stopping' of MeV energy protons is, well, crap. At least with any hope of recovering a reasonable fraction of that energy as electricity in a net-positive way. $\endgroup$ – Jon Custer Jul 22 '15 at 15:41
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His name was Robert Bussard. This is what you probably saw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rk6z1vP4Eo8

He passed away a few years ago. EMC2 was carrying on the work but it looks like they stalled in 2014. Lookup www.emc2fusion.org

Fun Fact: Those red tips on the end of warp nacelles in Star Trek are called "Bussard Collectors" from a paper Robert Bussard wrote in 1960. google Bussard Collector

Or maybe you're thinking about Eric Lerner's focused fusion. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/focus-fusion-empowertheworld--3?show_todos=true#/story

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Sorry for the necropost, but:

The concept you are referring to is dense plasma focus. This was an off-growth of the earliest linear z-pinch machines in the 1950s, when the dynamic behaviour was first noticed and exploited by Filippov in Russia. The same idea, although in a different layout, was developed by Mather in the US in the 1960s. In spite of considerable study, neither approach was terribly successful, and the introduction of the tokamak in 1968 took away most interest.

The video you're referring to is almost certainly one of Eric Lerner's. Lerner has been experimenting with what he calls "focus fusion" for some time now, although it remains unclear to me why they believe the system will work better than it did when previously researched. The device appears unchanged from Mather's work.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yep, it was definitely Eric Lerner. Thank you very much! $\endgroup$ – Green Nov 20 '18 at 19:52

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