Sunday, May 1, 2005

A UCLA team, headed by Brian Naranjo, has observed the nuclear fusion of deuterium nuclei in a tabletop device. The device uses a lithium tantalate (LiTaO3) pyroelectric crystal to ionize deuterium atoms and accelerate the ions towards a stationary erbium deuteride (ErD) target. Fusion of two deuterium nuclei results in the emission of helium nuclei (alpha particles), neutrons and gamma rays. The team anticipates applications of the device as a tabletop neutron generator, or in “microthrusters” for space propulsion. It is possible that there may be applications related to nuclear weapons, although this possibility is not discussed in the research paper.

This development is not related to earlier claims of tabletop fusion or “cold fusion” having been observed during sonoluminescence. In fact, the leader of the team behind this development was one of the main critics of earlier low-temperature fusion claims.

This device is not the first reliable tabletop fusion device; the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor, developed in the early 1960s in the laboratory of Philo T. Farnsworth who was instrumental in developing television, is sold commercially as a neutron source. Research by Dr. Todd Rider of MIT suggests that the kind of non-equilibrium fusion produced in these sources will never be usable as an energy source (see his PhD thesis).