The Brooklyn Project
June 24, 2010 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by a talk by Dr. Robert W. Bussard, Mark Suppes, a web developer by day, has built his own nuclear fusion reactor.

More details at Gizmodo and more home fusion at
posted by fearfulsymmetry (23 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Good for him! I bet he's still paying a regular electric bill when he's not busy putting more energy into his fusion reactor than he gets out.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:09 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would have loved this piece a lot more without the "What do other Brooklyn residents think about his building a nuclear reactor in their borough?" bit at the end.
posted by 256 at 7:09 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites] be clear, I think this kind of tinkering is awesome, and if there's any jab intended by my comment, it's at the reporting, not the accomplishment.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:10 AM on June 24, 2010

The Farnsworth Fusor is really awesome. If anything, I think the people understate the potential. I've often thought about building one to prove them wrong, but I lack the skills in several key areas.
posted by DU at 7:15 AM on June 24, 2010

Next step: U-shaped power plants.
posted by jefficator at 7:20 AM on June 24, 2010

Certainly an admirable way to convert electricity into neutrons.
posted by atrazine at 7:25 AM on June 24, 2010

The thing that strikes me most about this guy is that he's found his nut to crack, and he's bearing down on it. He believes this is the most important thing for him to do, and he's doing it. How many of us can truly say that? How many of us are instead working moment-by-moment for some nebulous day in the future when we can finally do whatever it is we are dreaming of doing?

Go, dude. Whether or not you find your fusion, you're still a rock star.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:38 AM on June 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

I love that the dude is a web developer for frickin' gucci by day, amateur nuclear fusionist by night- and that he's actually only the 38th non-professional who's gotten it to work.
posted by jenkinsEar at 7:41 AM on June 24, 2010

This looks like the Polywell design, which is much more interesting than the Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor, which seems to have some losses more or less "built-in" to the design that mean that the fusor will never be more than a good neutron source. The Polywell design has had actual Department of Defense funding (+2 credibility points) and is at least relatively new (+3 points of probability for not being a played-out problem space like the FH-fusor).

The Polywell design isn't without some critics. Bremsstrahlung (the "braking radiation" of charged particles being deflected by other charged particles) is a factor in all fusor family designs, leeching out energy at such a rate that breakeven can become very difficult. How difficult is the problem — calculations vary wildly. From the site, I can't tell if he's going to go for standard D-D (deuterium-deuterium) fusion or aneutronic (boron-11 + proton) fusion, which plays immensely into whether or not he can breakeven on energy.

You'd think the Navy would throw this guy a little money, or hire him, or something, since they're still working on Bussard's version and are up to the seventh generation of the design.
posted by adipocere at 8:00 AM on June 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

"A homemade nuclear fusion reactor being built in Brooklyn - I would have thought there would be some sort of rules and laws about messing around with nuclear fusion in your apartment," said Brooklyn resident Stephen Davis.

This was said with the same care and concern if Stephen Davis was informed that his neighbor found some quasi-legal way to make the ConEd meter revolve backwards using magnets. It's the principle of the matter, you see.
posted by griphus at 8:05 AM on June 24, 2010

I love that the dude is a web developer for frickin' gucci by day, amateur nuclear fusionist by night

I have it on good authority that pb has built his own reactor. Meters are indeed running backwards and we'll soon be receiving $5 rebate checks.
posted by lukemeister at 8:17 AM on June 24, 2010

I have it on good authority that pb has built his own reactor.

Presumably with a boron - proton fuel.
posted by atrazine at 8:23 AM on June 24, 2010

However, Rider demonstrates that practical fusors operate in a range of modes that either lead to significant electron mixing and losses, or alternately lower power densities. This appears to be a sort of catch-22 that limits the output of any fusor-like system.
from the wiki article on Farnsworth fusors

the Bussard projects have that "it almost worked" flavor found in many scrabble for funding situations.

I'm skeptical of fusion projects because nobody has come close to break-even in 60 years and there's not much evidence of progress. Compare this to fission (or any other functional tech) where anybody with the resources who tried it got results.

So by all means, people should keep plugging away. But do so in the realization that it's pretty damned rare for some special little secret twist to be the key to making a technology feasible.

In the meantime, these are plasma neutron generators -- and not many neutrons at that.
posted by warbaby at 8:26 AM on June 24, 2010

I admire him for the drive and passion he put in, but I confess to snarkily thinking that he probably should have figured out how to get energy from the naturally abundant resource in his neighborhood: PBR.
posted by ntartifex at 8:55 AM on June 24, 2010

pb's reactor seemed like a good idea until the first jrun error.
posted by Babblesort at 9:32 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think this sounds like an awful lot of fun and I bet my neighbors will be thrilled to know I don't have a spare $40k.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 9:40 AM on June 24, 2010

"There is no chance of any kind of accident with fusion," says Neil Calder, communications chief for Iter,

Clearly Niel Calder has never stubbed his toe on a fusion reactor in the middle of the night, while heading, half awake, to the bathroom.

Because lemme tell you, accidents happen, and they freakin' hurt like hell.
posted by quin at 10:03 AM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

The most frustrating thing about all this Polywell stuff is that the research is still being done, but it's all under embargo by the Navy still. From the wikipedia page:
In August 2008, the team finished the first phase of their experiment and were waiting for the peer review of their results and a verdict from their federal funders on whether the experiment should proceed to the next phase. Dr. Nebel has said "we have had some success", referring to the team's effort to reproduce the promising results obtained by Dr. Bussard. "It's kind of a mix", Dr. Nebel reported. But he stated that the team has "a plan to go forward." "We're generally happy with what we've been getting out of it, and we've learned a tremendous amount" he also said.
Allegedly, they've built the WB8 and are testing it now, but we have no idea what's going on. This is an interesting hobby, but I think people who try to build their own polywell fusors at this point are just doomed to have to re-discover whatever work EMC has already done, but at a much slower rate.

It's frustrating that the government is funding this project at a minimal level while preventing whatever discoveries it makes from becoming public knowledge.
posted by heathkit at 12:58 PM on June 24, 2010

In the meantime, these are plasma neutron generators -- and not many neutrons at that.

You know what they call it when you generate neutrons without a beta source?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:06 PM on June 24, 2010

I met this guy at ToorCamp. I have no idea about the viability of his work, but I can tell you that his laser-cut business card with singed edges is pretty sweet.
posted by finite at 3:45 PM on June 24, 2010

I was disappointed when I got to the IPO pitch. How bourgeoisie!
posted by geoff. at 7:13 PM on June 24, 2010

So in the google tech talk, he said the physics is solved, it works, and what remains to be done is engineering.

Is that holding up? Is this design still looking like it will be effective at generating power?
posted by -harlequin- at 1:01 AM on June 25, 2010

Is that holding up? Is this design still looking like it will be effective at generating power?

I read a bit about fusors awhile ago and they have a bit of a sad history, in that they look promising and should work on paper and then when you build a big one it doesn't work. There's a bit of buzz around the Polywell designs, but I would not be surprised if they had the same fate as the Farnsworth fusors. They say it'll cost $200m which means of course, $800m, and that's a lot of money to be throwing at something that is in a very high risk category.

The way the Navy is approaching it seems like the best way right now. Keep throwing a little bit of money at it and hope there's an experimental breakthrough that says it is worth it to build a huge machine.
posted by geoff. at 3:09 PM on June 25, 2010

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