A (now) teenager from Memphis, Tennessee, might be the youngest person to have built a working fusion reactor. Jackson Oswalt reported the measurements of his experiment to the Open Source Fusor Research Consortium forum, where he got both the inspiration and suggestion for how to build such a device.
The term nuclear reactor might evoke images of radioactive material and a huge facility, but the one built by Oswalt is not like that. It is a fusion reactor, rather than a fission one that uses uranium to produce electricity. In the fusion reactor, hydrogen atoms are turned into a plasma and then pushed together until they become different atoms. In Oswalt’s case, he fused deuterium, a special type of hydrogen with a neutron and a proton in its nucleus.
“For those that haven’t seen my recent posts, it will come as a major surprise that I would even consider believing I had achieved fusion. However, over the past month, I have made an enormous amount of progress resulting from fixing major leaks in my system. I now have results that I believe to be worthy,” Oswalt wrote in a post on February 1, 2018.
The design and construction of this mini-reactor was not easy or cheap. It took Oswalt roughly a year and something between $8,000 and $10,000 to get it together and make it work. Oswalt stated that he achieved fusion on January 19, January 30, and January 31. The fusion of the deuterium atoms led to the release of neutrons – hallmarks that Oswalt and the Fusor verifiers are interested in spotting.
“You have to jump through the right hoops, and we have to believe you and see what you’ve done,” Richard Hull, a verifier with the research consortium and an administrator for its website, told Fox News. He regards Oswalt as the youngest in America and possibly the world to achieve such a feat. The previous record holder was Taylor Wilson, who achieved nuclear fusion in 2008 when he was 14.
Nuclear fusion is the physical process that powers every star in the Universe. It also holds the promise for clean, unlimited energy. As Oswalt demonstrated, we can make fusion happen, but what we are still struggling with is the ability to have sustained reactions that release more energy than we put in.