Hand Held Neutron Beams and Fusion Drives

No, it’s not the next accessory for the iPod. Scientists from UCLA and the California Nanosystems Institute have created a bench top (read: small) fusion device, published in this weeks Nature. This amazing feat patters carefully around the ‘cold fusion’ debacle of a few years past. While the new device does not fix our energy crisis into the foreseeable future, it is pretty nifty.Yes I said nifty. It is made out of a pyroelectric crystal of lithium tantalite (don’t ask –you don’t want to know), which when heated up creates a rather strong energy field (100kV). The scientists kept the little crystal in a vacuum so the charge that built up couldn’t go anywhere and would just hang out on the crystal surface in a regular geometrical shape. This was key; as it would turn out, by organizing such a relatively large force in a controlled environment they could produce an ion beam of sufficient energy (.80 keV) and current (.1 nA) to drive a deuterium (heavy hydrogen) fusion reaction.

So what does this get us? Well, the team is ready to upgrade the device in ‘pimp-my-fusion-drive’ style. By upgrading the design, and lowering the temperature of the pyroelectric crystal, they will finally be able to get that hot date they’ve been talking about. No, seriously, they won’t get the date… but they do mention that this could be used as a hand held neutron generator, and their clever trick with the crystal could be used, among other things, as a microthruster for spacecraft. I love these guys. ::UCLA ::CNSI ::Nature [by T. McGee]


treehugger slideshows