Teaching Fusion To The Public (On Wikipedia) by Fusion Advocates
Data from 60 years of fusion research lies dormant in the journals. Collectively, we do not understand it. This project aims to change that.
There are several serious approaches to fusion power (Summary at CERN). But collectively, we do not understand how they work:
1. Ringed, magnetically confined systems. These include Tokamaks, spheromaks and bumpy toruses. These operate at low beta. The plasma is fully magnetized and thermalized. In 2015, there were 215 of these Tokamaks planned, built, or decommissioned worldwide.
2. High-density inertial systems. Basically anytime a plasma is compressed with a shockwave of mass. Shock waves are normally started using lasers, though it can be done with ion beams. Approaches include direct and indirect drive.
3. Pinch systems. These include z or theta directed-pinch experiments, basically 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 its own containment field.
5. Inertial electrostatic confinement. Anytime an electric field is used to heat a plasma to fusion conditions. This includes: 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 and there have been many 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 an organization to teach fusion to the general public. A starting point is coordinated editing and improved fusion education on Wikipedia.
Category of the action
Reducing emissions from electric power sector.
What actions do you propose?
Here are some direct actions:
1. We form a Wikipedia Fusion Task Force. I have already called for one.
2. We update Wikipedia with citations, pictures, details and clear language. The beauty of starting on Wikipedia is that people with a science literacy, peer reviewed documents and an interest can easily pitch in. It gives people a focal point (on which we can organize) and few barriers to entry. Also, we know we will have an impact.
3. From this group we form a working group; from that, a non-for-profit.
5. Together, we work towards spreading the concepts, efforts and implications of fusion to the public. We use the web, with pictures, videos, podcasts and social media. We breakdown the barrier between fusion research and policy makers, business leaders, engineers and researchers.
6. These actions will increase our odds of realizing commercially fusion power. From that, we get cheap, clean, abundant, green energy for all mankind. From that, we change human civilization forever.
Here is why this is needed:
Fusion research suffers from mass amnesia. There are several examples where the same concepts have been pursued even after these ideas failed years earlier. Simultaneously, good ideas have been abandoned or starved for resources, for reasons other than the science. It is important to realize that we are now at a point in fusion research were we need to "take stock" of the full breadth and depth of 60 years of research. We are going to need lots of minds engaged in that effort.
Manmade flight was in a vary similar predicament 130 years ago. Many different concepts were being attempted all over the world. There were "silos" of people focusing on specific ideas with very little cross-talk. It was into this world that Octave Chanute walked. Octave was the first person to start collecting, organizing and sifting everything mankind knew about flight. He made little distinction between the source of the data - comparing the data on merit not on prestige. His book: Progress in Flying Machines took 4 years and was the seminal work for human flight. His networking, funding and organizing of flying amateurs was essential for the Wright brothers.
Today, fusion has no "book" (hard cover or virtual) or any group like this. The seminal works of our field cover niche approaches (Wesson, Chen, Miley, Spitzer, ect..). No book, website, YouTube video or TV program compares every single approach objectively or comparatively. This is a huge stumbling block in our path to fusion power .
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 40 devices which did field reverse configuration have been built in the past 60 years. None of the major results from these machines is on YouTube, Google or Wikipedia, and what is there is certainly not in an easy-to-follow format. 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. For almost 20 years, hundreds of researchers spent innumerable hours, and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent. But there is almost no record of these results on the web. We could spend years pulling out machine designs, experimental results and the underlying theories.
4.Machines - that had short life-spans - have simply been written out of fusion history. One example is the KEMPS machine.
5. Even the current, flagship efforts are poorly understood by the public. Two examples are the diagnostics used in ITER and NIF. How do they function? What do they measure? How much do they cost?
6. We also must address junk/bad/failed/overblown science head on. What are problems and evidence which disprove cold fusion, bubble fusion, pyroelectric fusion and ball lightening? What are the flaws in the Migma machine and the huemul project?
7. We could put a whole team on instabilities. There are many instabilities, each one needs a simple animation, explanation and comparison. Which instabilities apply to which approaches?
8. Even the jargon hurts us. For example, the fusor has been dubbed may different names and acronyms over its' history. Names like: spherical confinement ion focus (SCIF), elmore-tuck-watson machine (ETW) or the ion acceleration machine (IXL). This is all the same machine. These jargon-barriers exist across fusion research.
What we need is a team that will go through the subject and "pull it all together" for the general public, policy maker and the fusion community. By this I mean reexamining the context for experiments and simplify the physics. Tons of educational content could be created and lots of old data would take on new meaning if reexamined.
We must be better than an echo chamber. FuseNet is a good example of an echo chamber. It is an well-funded, fusion education effort. But, the community is limited to Tokamaks, MCF and ITER. It is not a broad enough.
This team would need to be housed in a not-for-profit organization. An independent organization will not be perfect, but it will 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 propose we hire a diverse team of people to educate the public about fusion. The team would need to be collaboration between old-school plasma science and the new media people. 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 organization 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, FAQs and social/credibility rankings. We may be able to collaborate with existing communities that have this set up already: like physics stack exchange, the Quora community or the wikipedians. 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 to build a culture.
The team would use a 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 overarching fusion community. Instead, we see pockets. Groups of people have coalesced around funding streams, institutions or machines. This disconnection may even lead the 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 - it could take up to six months and cash will be needed to do this. A third problem is resistance from within the physics community. There may be 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 too biased in one direction or another.
Here are some (there are many more) illustration of various fusion concepts, for those unfamiliar with fusion research:
A magnetic mirror verses a biconic cusp:
A family of cusped systems:
Stellarators verses tokamaks
Field reverse configurations:
Three members of the pinch family:
Three more members of the pinch family:
The levitating dipole concept:
Two examples of the polywell geometry:
A magnetized target fusion reactor:
Compression With Plasma Cannons:
The plasma focus:
Who will take these actions?
The beauty of starting on Wikipedia is that people with a science literacy, peer reviewed documents and an interest can pitch in. It gives people a focal point and few barriers to entry. We can organize around this and have a real impact. I have had many conversations with people over the past few years about fusion. . I can break this bunch down into different "market segments."
1. Older folks who are technology enthusiasts. These people want to be involved, but they just do not have a meaningful way to do so. They can come from the conventional nuclear industry, software or the business world.
2. People worried about climate change. These people see fusion power as a viable path to undercutting fossil fuels. These people can be old or young and tend to be environmentalists.
3. Traditional scientist or university professors who have been kicked out of fusion research. Typically, the work they were doing fell out of favor, their funding was cut or they just gave up.
I have met many of these folks recently, it breaks my heart. People with a PhD, Post-docs and loads of experience who have been kicked out of the fusion world. Researchers who could not go along with the funding agencies relentless drive to support ITER and NIF.
Where will these actions be taken?
Wikipedia is a good place to start. That is why, I have called for the formation of a fusion power task force. This means starting from a "virtual organization" and moving towards a "brick and mortar" organization. I cannot imagine we will have enough cash on hand to supplant anyone's full time job, or rent a building. Moreover, the kinds of people we want to work with are probably already engaged in a full-time job. A flat organization would use the tools of the internet to get things started. Here are some examples:
1. Skype, Google hang-outs or Go-To-Meeting conversations.
2. Semi-annual meetings in person. Possibly to showcase work.
3. Freelance, outsource or crowd source work like website and content production.
How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?
I cannot project the amount of emissions reduction. I can say that long-term, fusion could drive the world-wide trends to zero. It could be a cheap, scalable and green alternative to fossil fuels. Could be is the operative phrase here, because commercializing such a technology could also lead to increased environmental destruction. Cheap energy is like giving human civilization steroids, we would need the moral fortitude to use this technology responsibly.
What are other key benefits?
Public education is a "force multiplier" for fusion research. It encourages all fusion approaches and facilitates cross pollination between efforts. It also clears up misconceptions and bad information about the effort. This has ripple effects, like helping policy makers make more informed choices with federal dollars. It helps researchers on deciding what topics pursue. It breaks down the walls between people looking for fusion power and the evidence that can help them. It helps educators teach cutting edge fusion to their students.
Fusion is changing anyway, this effort can help. The field is the murkiest its ever been. The failure of the National Ignition Facility to get ignition is a big reason. Meanwhile ITERs' huge appetite for cash has sidelined many programs. Simultaneously, outside groups are fed up - and have advanced their own ideas. All this while an amateur fusion movement has grown. The fusion landscape is changing, public awareness can help.
What are the proposal’s costs?
At this time, I cannot accurately make financial projections like this. It would be easy to put a bunch of items up on this page and assign dollar values to it. I have seen that done before, and it fails miserably. I think this effort needs to grow more organically. I would say that near-term the costs would be:
1. The cost of website upkeep and design. Probably a few thousand dollars.
2. The legal fees and time associated with establishing a 503c entity. This typically takes several months.
The timeline would depend on the public’s interest - because I would not have the resources or the funds to tackle this problem alone.
If this were started today, I think it would take about two months to do the website and about six months to grow the community. I would not expect to be in a position to hire an advisory board, or have early meetings with any major players for at least one year. I would expect hiring undergraduate interns for a summer program would be in the second year.
Fusion was proposed a few years ago at MIT Co-Lab by Dennis Petersen. Given its appeal, I cannot see how it will not be mentioned in future contests that Co-Lab puts on.
There are a variety of good references in fusion research. Discussing them is a good way to illustrate how big this problem is. Here is a quick sketch of relevant work, by topic:
1. Cusp confinement: The work of Dr. Michael Haines, Dr. Thomas Dolans, Dr. Harold Grad and Howard Berkowitz 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 an extension 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 were 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 are 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. Dr. Slough has a big body of published work on the topic going back decades.
Aside from this list, there are both good and bad examples of "open efforts" where a real effort is made to educate the larger community on what is going on. Several examples stand out:
1. Jay Kesner and Michael Mauel deserve credit for making all their LDX material available to the web and taking the added step of doing a museum exhibit.
2. Richard Fitzpatrick in Texas, has devoted a lot of time to lay out the mathematics of plasma physics. His site could be improved with pictures, videos and animations.
3. Simon Woodruff did a great paper covering every approach in 2004, but this needs to be updated.
4. Tomas Linden did a great summary talk of many approaches at CERN on March 26th 2015.
5. Irvin Lindemuth wrote a paper summarizing lots of fusion concepts in 2009. But again, this paper is hard to follow.