Last week saw the Navy offering a contract for follow-up experiments from the results the Richard Nebel led team generated with their improved IEC fusion device.
For the new readers Robert W. Bussard, who passed away about a year ago was after 17 or so years, hot on the path to an innovative way to get fusion based on the Farnsworth principles that became a magnetic field in which the protons are trapped and set up to collide at very high speeds. Bussard is in many fields an acclaimed engineer and physicist that had experience in both the tokamak design forwarded to the West by the former Soviet Union, adopted and still in progress by ITER and the now abandoned Riggatron.
Early September 2008 saw these comments form Dr. Nebel as reported by Alan Boyle:
Researchers (the EMC2 Team led by Nebel) have finished the first phase of an unorthodox, low-cost nuclear fusion experiment that has generated a megawatt’s worth of buzz on the Internet – and they are now waiting for a verdict from their federal funders on whether to proceed to the next phase.
Richard Nebel, leader of the research team at EMC2 Fusion in New Mexico, declined to detail the results of the project, saying that was up to the people paying the bills. But he did said, “we have had some success” in the effort to reproduce the promising results reported by the late physicist Robert Bussard.
“It’s kind of a mix,” he said.
Nebel said his leave from Los Alamos is due to reach the one-year mark in mid-September, but he doesn’t foresee any problem in extending the leave if the second-phase funding comes through. Whether or not the Navy funds the next phase, the past year’s effort has been worth it, Nebel said. “We’re generally happy with what we’ve been getting out of it, and we’ve learned a tremendous amount,” he said.
All that learning won’t go away. “Regardless of what happens to it, we’re going to get this thing well written up and documented,” Nebel said.
Getting the experiment’s findings down on paper will help the EMC2 team – or future teams of fusion researchers – advance the legacy left behind by Bussard. And that’s a fitting tribute to the unconventional physicist as the calendar rolls toward the anniversary of his death.
“Bob Bussard was a truly innovative person, that’s abundantly clear,” Nebel said. “I hope he will be remembered for that. I think that will be the case.”
The Naval contract offering is most likely a stopgap measure serving to keep the major participants together and to solve certain issues that are affordable now while the data from the past years work is fully analyzed and funding set up for whatever the next steps are.
This is good news. Bussard’s innovations and creative thinking have become sources of great interest and widespread observation. Posts here about the work bring large page view numbers from across the planet, so I do pay close attention and share in the enthusiasm.
What we can expect is that the Naval contract will almost certainly get awarded to the team and further funding will await a budget cycle and some sense of the political climate. There should be great concern, as political support in the funding has been a problem since Dr. Bussard first began now nearly 18 years ago. The story is themed by the research being under funded and at the edge of termination the whole way.
The remaining question is just what data did the Nebel Team come up with? What problems are now exposed? What are the prospects for a net output device? Is fueling options being considered?
Its wonderful news, but with each passing step the questions get to be more about getting the Bussard theory working than does the theory work.
The story is wrenching, both in the lives of those involved and for those watching. The Bussard device offers the most elegant and perhaps lowest cost way to fully power civilization, and the story so far needs a closure. Does the thing function per the design specifications and yield the results forecast? If so, the theory should lead to a net power production system, and that deserves much more attention and funding than any other power research since the fission effort that has been underway for nearly 60 years.