Fancy buying a nuclear fusion reactor? Then a former college student in New Zealand has got one going.
If you have a few thousand dollars spare, his homemade nuclear fusion reactor could be yours today. Or perhaps you could just spend the money on something you actually need?
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What is the former college student trying to sell again?
A former student at Marlborough Boys College in New Zealand recently made the news after attempting to sell a homemade nuclear fusion reactor. The inventor, Samuel Lee, even offered the reactor with a vial of 20 grams of deuterium oxide.
The listing includes details of what is included and reassures potential buyers that the device is, currently, safe to use.
"All the electrical work has been completed by a qualified electrical engineer. The transformer should not be left on at max for longer than 20 minutes."
Listed on the trading platform TradeMe, it received quite a bit of interest but no bids have been forthcoming.
"Built-in 2018 and forged from the depths of physics. A mighty machine arose from a seemingly normal garage in suburban Blenheim. After a year of working two part-time jobs, researching, and building, the science fair project was complete!
In its current state, a beautiful plasma generator stands. However, by adding the second isotope of hydrogen into the plasma void. A tasty nuclear reaction will ensue!" - Samuel Lee/TradeMe.
According to the listing, Lee had decided to sell the device in order to afford his upcoming university tuition fees.
Lee was hoping to sell the nuclear reactor for $4,000 with a $3,000 reserve. Unfortunately, he appears to have no takers.
Interestingly, Lee is not the first person to have made his own nuclear fusion reactor. Back in 2010, Mark Suppes made the news by doing exactly the same thing in his Brooklyn-based workspace.
His reactor was about the size of an air conditioning unit and used deuterium gas to fuel it.
What's more, according to Popular Science, Suppes, and now Lee, join the ranks of hundreds of others recognized as achieving the same feat on the online community Fusor.net.
Is it really a nuclear fusion reactor?
As you might have already guessed, the device is not really a nuclear fusion reactor. In the listing, Lee explains that is currently only a working plasma generator.
According to some comments on the TradeMe's listing, a reactor is actually a form of Farnsworth Fusor.
"This device currently stands as a working plasma generator (effectively a display piece). The next step is for a very brave person to start a nuclear reaction with the deuterium and some silver.
15KV is at the low end to initiate neutron production but I have talked to a few people that have achieved it with similar conditions. The purpose of the reactor currently is just to make nice purple light, the potential for the reactor is to produce neutrons for other projects." - Samuel Lee/TradeMe.
Joachim Brand, Massey University's Professor of Theoretical Physics, explained to stuff.co.nz that the device was "pretty impressive". He also explained that developing homemade nuclear reactors is becoming something of a popular hobby.
Such devices "[try] to reproduce in very small amounts the process that powers the sun," Brand explained.
"Where hydrogen fuses together to become helium - that is a nuclear process in which mass is converted to energy and quite a lot of energy is produced."
"People hope that nuclear reactors may one day be used for energy production on earth as a clean energy source but this has not been achieved."
Brand also explained that the described "purple glow" that the device can generate is really a nuclear reaction. It is, however, the result of the device creating a form of plasma.
"In fact, it's very similar to how fluorescent lights operate," he explained.
"To generate a plasma that just means that atoms are ionized and nuclear ion electrons are separated, are very hot and in re-combining, they produce the light that you can see," Brand added.
By adding deuterium, as Lee proposed in his listing, the reactor could theoretically produce helium and neutrons. But it would be very hard to detect.
In Brand's opinion, the device, while not a nuclear reactor, is likely to garner a lot of interest. If it sells, it would likely be snapped up by a buyer with a fascination for physics, Brand explained.
It would make a great decorative piece if nothing else!
Is it legal?
While you might think developing things like nuclear reactors in your back yard could potentially be illegal, in New Zealand, it appears Lee has the law on his side.
While New Zealand passed the Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act in 1987, this piece of legislation only really prohibits ships propelled (or partially propelled) by nuclear power and those armed with nuclear weapons from ever coming into New Zealand waters.
It makes no reference to the specific outlawing of land-based nuclear devices of this kind.
But the seller did clarify some elements of the legality of the device in the listing's Q and A section.
"I've been informed by the Ministry of Health that 'The Radiation Safety Act 2016 (the Act) requires a person who manufactures, possesses, manages, or controls a radiation source to hold a source license that authorizes such activities involving radiation sources (radioactive material or an irradiating apparatus.' They have also asked me to modify the title, and not encourage members of the public to start nuclear reactions with deuterium and silver [Don't do it]"
How can I make one myself?
If this story has whetted your appetite to build your own Farnsworth Fusor, it is actually possible if you have the knowledge and skills. But it is not the simplest of DIY projects so be prepared to upskill yourself.
These types of reactors basically fuse hydrogen into helium by creating a plasma under a very high voltage.
But before you cancel your contract with your electricity provider, it should be noted that these reactors are not very efficient. Once built, it will not be able to power your home.
But if you want to build one just because you can, there are various interesting guides on the net for your perusal.
One great example comes from a home experimenter called Erik G. Burrows. His website has an interesting build log of his project where he explains the materials he used and where he sourced them.
Burrows also gives a nice overview of the theory, and following his build log makes the process look a little too easy.