Missouri S&T physics students achieve nuclear fusion

Posted by
On May 8, 2014

Pressure building in the middle of the fusion grid. Photo submitted.

Pressure building in the middle of the fusion grid. Photo submitted.

Pressure building in the middle of the fusion grid. Photo submitted.

A team of three undergraduate physics students from Missouri University of Science and Technology have achieved nuclear fusion of deuterium into helium. The reaction was achieved as part of the students’ final project for their senior research laboratory class.

Missouri S&T students Brock Ebert, Sheldon Harper and Jaykob Maser constructed an inertial electrostatic confinement where two deuterium, a type of hydrogen that has an extra neutron attached to the nucleus, was heated to the point that the nuclei overcame electrical repulsion, collided and fused. The collision bound them together to form a new nucleus of helium and a stray neutron.

This nuclear fusion reaction is the same process as the one that powers the sun.

The students, working under the supervision of Dr. Greg Story, associate professor of physics, confirmed that they had achieved fusion by detecting the production of the neutrons. The three students have been conducting the semester-long research project in collaboration with the nuclear engineering department and the Missouri S&T Nuclear Reactor Facility faculty and staff.

“I never thought it would happen because the experiment is so complicated,” says Story. “It is an incredible accomplishment for undergraduate students who built their apparatus entirely on their own. Now that they have achieved fusion, their next goal is to try to optimize the process by adjusting things like the pressure of the gas in the plasma.”

Ebert, Harper and Maser, all seniors in physics, met in a pre-college prep course and have remained friends since then. They all plan to attend graduate school once they graduate from Missouri S&T.

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13 thoughts on “Missouri S&T physics students achieve nuclear fusion”

  • Congratulations Students!!!

  • Katrina Ward says:

    Great job guys! This is awesome!

  • Amea Chandler says:

    This is so awesome!! These fantastic students graduated from The Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing (http://www.nwmissouri.edu/MASMC/) in Maryville, MO before they went on to S&T. Love this program! The students are incredible. It’s cool to see them doing such amazing things.

  • Congrats! Proud to be a Miner.

  • Ryan Winingnear says:

    This is a milestone that will go down in history in the science textbooks for years to come. Scientists who are far more educated have tried to accomplish this and not been successful. Absolutely remarkable!

    • Stephen T. says:

      It is important to note that the students who aren’t (currently) as educated as those far more educated scientists are standing on those scientists’ shoulders. Forward the progress of knowledge!

  • Bradley Denton says:

    Two Deuterium? Fusion, as to my understanding, requires both tritium and deuterium to fuse, which in turn created helium and the extra neutron.

    • Story says:

      Fusion does not require tritium, but it is easier to achieve if tritium is used. Tritium is extremely expensive. Far beyond the budget for this experiment. In this one, the reaction was two deuterium nuclei (each with one proton and one neutron) come together to make Helium3, which has two protons and one neutron. The extra neutron is released in the process and is what the students detected. It is also possible for the two deuterium nuclei to fuse into Helium4 without releasing a neutron, but this result is less probable and of course does not release a neutron, so would not have been observed in this experiment.

    • Jason says:

      From the info I can find (horray wikipedia), the tritium deuterium reaction is easier and yields much more energy. But if you don’t want to release tons of energy in a confined space (some people call this a bomb) then you can use the D-D reaction to make helium-3 and a neutron.

  • Merry Maisel says:

    I don’t know if any of you recall the “cold fusion” hoax of the 1980s, but
    this “news” story is either a hoax or the product of a highly undereducated
    “news” writer. No such story should be given out to the public until and
    unless the result is written and submitted to a reputable journal and the
    article is refereed by experts in the field and accepted for publication. It is
    a disservice to the students and their professor to publish such a story!

    • Story says:

      This experiment is not going to be published in a journal because it is not new science. Nuclear fusion has been around for a long time now. What is exciting about this is that three undergraduates were able to achieve it, building their own equipment, without a big research grant. It isn’t going to solve all the worlds energy problems. It was just a really cool thing for students to achieve. The article was published to show what students can accomplish and hopefully inspire others. The article was written with the full cooperation of the students and their adviser. I should know. I was their adviser.

    • tony says:

      This appears to be based on the Farnsworth Fusor (google it, it’s from the 1960s), an electrical appartus designed to produce fusion as stated in the article. It always requires more energy to sustain the fusion (so far), so maybe you need to tone down your know-it-all skeptism about this proven device.

  • Nate Endebrock says:

    I’m a senior in high school and I recently signed to swim for and attend Missouri S&T. I have always been interested in stars and fusion. I’ll be a freshman in nuclear engineering here next year, and I would just like to say that this really excites me for the next four years. It’ll be great to be a Miner!