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.