When I came across this link earlier today, I was astounded. Nuclear reactors are immensely complex devices that took scientists years to develop, and are usually housed in huge facilities. The link says that 15 high school students in the world have built nuclear fusion reactors. How is this possible?

I'm not really looking for answers with detailed instructions on how to build a reactor (but I won't complain if you do), but rather a theory on the kinds of tools and materials that this teen would have used to build such a reactor. What kinds of temperatures would he have to deal with? Right now, I'm very impressed, but is this really rocket science?

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    $\begingroup$ It's more plausible that he built something like a van de graaff generator or a cyclotron, and it was capable of creating fusion reactions. It's possible that the newspaper reporters didn't understand the distinction between an accelerator and a reactor. $\endgroup$ – user4552 Jun 2 '13 at 3:02
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    $\begingroup$ Technically, people have generated extremely low levels of fusion using only the electrical potential created by peeling away ordinary adhesive tape in a vacuum (can't recall the exact reference). Not very practical though! The real question should be: Does it create useful net outputs of energy? That you cannot do even in the most advanced fusion test center in existence. $\endgroup$ – Terry Bollinger Jun 2 '13 at 3:21
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    $\begingroup$ Your assumption that "Nuclear reactors are immensely complex devices" is simply incorrect when applied to accelerator based fusion reactors. Mind you, these things are far, far below unity of power generating ability: they require net power input to run. But if you want to fuse nuclei to say you've done it it just takes some vacuum kit, a way to accelerate ions to a few 10s of MeV, and some careful focusing of the beams. $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 2 '13 at 3:28
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    $\begingroup$ For that matter, even fission piles are not intrinsically complicated things to build. They are fiendishly complicated things to run safely while still producing net power output, but that is a much different problem then just generating a sustained chain-reaction. After all, a team working with Fermi built one by hand in the squash court in the University of Chicago... $\endgroup$ – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jun 2 '13 at 3:31
  • $\begingroup$ Another research group that uses the Farnsworth-Hirsch desktop design is Harrison Schmidt's group for research into the fusion of Helium-3 - not for producing energy. They have some fairly out of left field ideas on where the world can get energy from - personally I think it's a bit whacky but it's kind of fun to learn about - see my answer here $\endgroup$ – Selene Routley Oct 7 '13 at 10:05

Following through to previous news articles such as this one:

“This is my Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Reactor. It works on the property of inertial electrostatic confinement,” Conrad says.

See Wikipedia on inertial electrostatic confinement.

The actual design is a Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor. Note Conrad's last name is Farnsworth which is a coincidence, the device is not named after him or a relative.

He has a YouTube channel with a video up showing his "Farnsworth Fusor". His website for the project is http://www.nuclearfarnsworth.com/.


Well, if you search the internet it seems there are kids out there that make the claim of having built a fusion reactor . I watched this link. Note that in .56 minute he gives a small description, and does not claim breaking even, but that he demonstrated fusion. It is a plasma that he obviously creates and manages to fusion some deuterium that is not breaking even of course.

Here is an other interview with Taylor Wilson. It seems he is planning on a large scale form of his "fusion reactor". The the road to the holy grail of getting break even fusion reactors is strewn with failed attempts, but, more power to him. It is time for Tesla to reincarnate :) . In his web page he is more modest.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... first link seems to be broken $\endgroup$ – Joel Jun 2 '13 at 16:46

Note that the definition of "nuclear reactor" or "nuclear power" can be quite broad. Actually, you could build a nuclear reactor with stone age technology, without even understanding the physics behind it: you find some strange rocks, let water run trough it, the water will be heated, now you can cook with it or use the heat for other purposes. (don't try this at home!)

Now you have nuclear power, which is of course very unsafe and unhealthy.


Note that this is not a nuclear reactor, but a Fusor. Fusors work by using a voltage drop to accelerate ions to high velocities and a few may fuse. Due to inefficiencies, they cannot be used for power generation. They are relatively simple to build (they are basically beefed-up plasma globes).


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