At left is a picture of Thiago Olson, a 17 year-old kid -- who built a fusion reactor in his parents' Oakland Township, Michigan home.
Here is the link to Gina Damron's story about this achievement, published in the November 19, 2006 edition of the Detroit Free Press. Here's just a brief excerpt:
He's on the cross country and track teams at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills. He's a good-looking, clean-cut 17-year-old with a 3.75 grade point average, and he has his eyes fixed on the next big step: college.I'd seen this story on line last Wednesday, the day Oldest Son and his many buddies descended on my house for a Thanksgiving Eve turkey dinner.
But to his friends, Thiago is known as "the mad scientist."
In the basement of his parents' Oakland Township home, tucked away in an area most aren't privy to see, Thiago is exhausting his love of physics on a project that has taken him more than two years and 1,000 hours to research and build -- a large, intricate machine that, on a small scale, creates nuclear fusion.
Nuclear fusion -- when atoms are combined to create energy -- is "kind of like the holy grail of physics," he said.
In fact, on www.fusor.net, the Stoney Creek senior is ranked as the 18th amateur in the world to create nuclear fusion.
So, while they were eating -- keeping a safe distance, lest I get bitten too -- I mentioned the story and gave them a bit of a hard time about it. These young men are all seniors at the University of Notre Dame, and each one brighter than the next. So, naturally, I called them a bunch of slackers -- comparing their accomplishments to this high school kid, Thiago Olson: He goes down into his parents' basement and experiments with a nuclear fusion reactor he built himelf; you guys go into my basement and play Guitar Hero II.
Well, I thought it was funny.
But, cautious sort that I am, before including that anecdote in my Thanksgiving story, I wanted to look up the article again on line and provide the link.
And I didn't find it right away.
Instead, I found this November 23, 2006 AP story by Angela Charlton. Here are the opening paragraphs:
PARIS - Physicists have dreamt about it for decades: harnessing the fusion process that powers the sun to make clean, safe and limitless energy. A multinational pact signed Tuesday may bring that dream a step closer to reality.Wonderful, thrilling stuff.
Seven partners representing half the world's population have agreed to build an experimental fusion reactor in southern France that could revolutionize global energy use for future generations.
Yet it is also just an experiment - a bold, long-awaited, $12.8 billion experiment - and it will be decades before scientists are even sure that it works.
The ITER project by the United States, the European Union, China, India, Russia, Japan and South Korea will attempt to combat global warming by offering an alternative to polluting fossil fuels. Controlling climate change and finding secure energy sources are urgent goals worldwide.
Except for two problems. First, more from the story:
Physicists have been trying for half a century to create fusion, which replicates the sun's power source and produces no greenhouse gas emissions and relatively little radioactive waste.Trying? For 50 years? What do you mean it will be "decades" before we know if this works? Thiago Olson got a fusion reactor going in his parents' house... and he's the 18th "amateur" to do so. Nor did he bankrupt the resources of any nation while working on his hobby, although Ms. Damron's story did say, "To get all of the necessary parts, Thiago scoured the Internet, buying items on eBay and using his age to persuade manufacturers to give him discounts. The design of the model came from his own ideas and some suggestions from other science-lovers he met online." Maybe ITER could try eBay as well?
The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project recognizes that no single country can afford the immense investment needed to move the science forward.
The other problem with the ITER project is its glacial pace. Last week's story looks an awful lot like the same story reported in June 2005. Here is the June 2005 story from the BBC and from the Boston Globe. You decide.
And this French fusion reactor idea has been kicking about since at least November 2003 as this BBC story shows.
People: Thiago Olson was probably still working with Lego in 2003. Since then he's built a fusion reactor in his parents' garage. Granted, a practical commercial fusion reactor is surely more complicated, and expensive, than young Mr. Olson's basement model. But why is this happening so s...l...o...w...l...y?
Forget about the dramatic plunge in energy costs that science fiction writers have promised ever since commercial fusion was first imagined: Think of what this would do to the propspects for peace in the world. Oil would become... irrelevant.
I wish I were more technically inclined, so I could lend a hand. Instead, all I can do is ask our government: Can you give Thiago Olson a call? Olson told the Detroit Free Press that he hopes someday to work for the government, like his grandfather, who designed tanks for the Department of Defense, once did. Maybe someday should be today.
What do you think?