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Eric Lerner's Focus Fusion Device Gets Funded

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the race-for-the-power-finish-line dept.

Power 367

pln2bz writes "Eric Lerner, author of The Big Bang Never Happened, has received $600k in funding, and a promise of phased payments of $10 million if scientific feasibility can be demonstrated to productize Lerner's focus fusion energy production device. Unlike the Tokamak, focus fusion does not require the plasma to be stable, does not produce significant amounts of dangerous radiation, directly injects electrons into the power grid without the need for turbines and would only cost around $300k to manufacture a generator. Lerner's inspiration for the technology is based upon an interpretation for astrophysical Herbig-Haro jets that agrees with the Electric Universe explanation."

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Electric universe (5, Insightful)

Verteiron (224042) | more than 6 years ago | (#23548857)

Has the electric universe theory made any headway in offering a viable alternative to currently accepted cosmology? Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.

Re:Electric universe (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549019)

Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.
Yep. Contrasting nicely with "dark matter" and "cosmic inflation" which are mainstream science based mainly on conjecture and magical thinking.

Re:Electric universe (4, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549141)

Why not? String theorists are still around despite a complete lack of verifiable findings. At this point, after decades of study, there's still no reason to believe that there will be a way of disproving the framework. Science these days is unfortunately as much about gathering funding as it is about actual science. In that environment crazy whack jobs have a bit of an advantage by seeming brilliant.

In terms of the matter at hand, does he have a PhD.? It's somewhat odd to refer to a scientist who has one without the title, and even more odd to have a device as significant as this without one. Of course, that assumes that it actually could be made to work in a reliable, safe, cost effective manner. It's definitely not there yet.

I really wish that I could take another view of this, but in a time where ID can be entertained by anybody as scientific when even at the most basic level it's problematic(As somebody else pointed out elsewhere an intelligent being would not design something as complicated as a person, complexity is just not the sign of a well designed anything), I'd be naive to believe otherwise.

That being said, there is also a lot of truly amazing work being done, unfortunately a lot of the most interesting, and potentially most useful, is being stymied for political, religious or social reasons.

Electric universe is wackier than string theory (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549427)

String theory is just merely unverifiable and untestable mathematical masturbation right now. It once had some very nice theoretical properties, and now appears to have some insanely nasty theoretical disadvantages tagging along too.

By contrast, the accepted competitor to the "electric universe", big bang cosmology, is based on a wide array of observational evidence which is getting stronger and stronger through the years.

Lerner does have one key insight which is fairly intriguing.

Specifically, he has a rebuttal to the otherwise very powerful results of Todd Rider on any non-equilibrium fusion methods---which appear to

Rider's analysis did not include some particularly odd quantum-mechanical effects (very little plasma physics is ever in a QM regime) which Lerner asserts can give his method an "out" and reduce harmful energy losses.

Re:Electric universe (2, Insightful)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549179)

To be fair dark matter is just matter that doesn't emit radiation that we can see from here. An asteroid field too far to see but possess a significant mass would be "dark matter" as far as I can tell.

To prove that dark matter exists we just need to take a probe out far enough to eyeball it or find a way to detect objects in space that are too small individually to have a gravitational effect. But even so, I think it's reasonable to point out that there are plenty of objects in our local area of space that you would not be able to detect from even a light-year away.

Re:Electric universe (5, Informative)

drerwk (695572) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549343)

Your astroid field would be made of Baryonic matter. The current expectation is dark matter is non-baryonic. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baryon#Baryonic_matter [wikipedia.org]
So dark matter actually does not interact with the photon field.

Re:Electric universe (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549407)

No. Dark matter is stuff that neither emits NOR ABSORBS electromagnetic radiation, which is another way to say it doesn't feel the electromagnetic force.

It is NOT asteroids.

Re:Electric universe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549451)

That is so called "baryonic dark matter", made out of "everyday" particles like protons and neutrons. We can make estimates of how much of this there "should" be; it comes up very short. Current estimates leave a significant majority of the mass in the universe is unexplained: it isn't visible, and we can't account for it by anything we currently understand; there just isn't enough "normal" stuff to account for all the gravity we observe. Hence dark matter theorists suggest that there is something else that we don't understand to explain the missing mass.

I'm personally holding out for somebody to notice some sort of general relativity effect that hasn't been accounted for which explains the discrepancy, but this isn't anything more than a hunch.

Re:Electric universe (4, Informative)

mollymoo (202721) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549563)

When I was doing my physics degree the big question was: Is dark matter WIMPS or MACHOs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles or MAssive Compact Halo Objects). You're talking about MACHOs. Even if we can't see these objects, we do know where they must be, so if it was asteroid fields or dead stars of little black holes we can calculate how much light they would absorb and see the larger ones as they passed in front of stars, even if we couldn't see them individually. There have been many studies looking for them, but no evidence has been found. WIMPS have pretty much won that one. We've not seen any WIMPs either, but MACHOs are well understood so we know exactly what to look for so if it was them we'd expect to have seen the evidence.

All this is assuming dark matter really exists. I'm still still not wholly convinced. Basically all our long-distance measurements of gravity give the wrong answer. Even our longest distance solar-system probes (the Pinoeers) give the wrong answer, though that data isn't really good enough to be wholly convincing. Are all these answers wrong because there is hidden hidden matter (and energy, woo hoo!), or is GR just not a good enough approximation at those scales? Eric Lerner thinks it's all about plasmas.

Re:Electric universe (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549919)

I don't believe your definition has any relationship to the official definition of what dark matter is.

Re:Electric universe (2, Funny)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549269)

Translation: We have a pile of bullshit we're trying to sell, so we'll log into Slashdot as AC's and try a little astroturfing.

Here's a tip, you stupid shill, using the term "mainstream science" is a dead giveaway that you're a liar and/or a kook.

Re:Electric universe (5, Funny)

Hope Thelps (322083) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549455)

Translation: We have a pile of bullshit we're trying to sell, so we'll log into Slashdot as AC's and try a little astroturfing.
An as agent of the shill consortium I can confirm that this is exactly right. Yesterday we got our check for $600 million. We considered running the experiment. We considered instead using the cash to lobby big business and government. We considered spending it on a big party. Then we realised that all the big players with REAL influence are on Slashdot. So we hired an army of shills to spread the message with their evil talk of "mainstream science". But with your keen insight you saw straight through us. Foiled again :(

Re:Electric universe (1)

Bloater (12932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549587)

When I read the slashdot blurb I thought the poster was attempting to discredit Eric Lerner.

Re:Electric universe (5, Informative)

Broken Toys (1198853) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549481)

Dark matter and cosmic inflation may prove to be incorrect theories but to say they're illogical demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of these two theories.

The argument for dark matter, in its simpliest form, states that owing to the gravitational effects we observe in the universe there must be a lot of matter we can't measure. There's nothing "magical" about that.

Re:Electric universe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549033)

My guess is that this won't work, but people of the electric universe theory are going to try to use it to push their fringe stupidity.

The company giving 600k isn't doing this because it supports the electric universe, it is doing it because the gamble might pay off, remember to get something right you don't necessarily have to think about it correctly.

Re:Electric universe (4, Informative)

Bloater (12932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549635)

Interestingly, the theories that might make this work have very little do to with the electric universe. Eric Lerner was doing some theoretical work looking in more detail at some aspects of cosmological plasma and got some inspiration from it - but we're talking about two separate things.

Unfortunately Eric Lerner keeps bringing the cosmological plasma thing up, he somehow got it into his head that associating his current work with that will make him more credible :/

Re:Electric universe (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549059)

Personally, I'm interested in eka-heavy elements and their natures in macro sized quantities. I'd bet that one of those elements, combined with other materials and handling, could produce cold fusion.

Good luck transmuting Uranium or such to those though.. You'd probably lose more energy transmuting than benefit.

Re:Electric universe (1)

Fenresulven (516459) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549533)

Could you possibly elaborate a little on how you expect eka-heavy elements to produce cold fusion?

Re:Electric universe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549071)

It still is - but as they say, fools and their money are soon parted. I guess that's something Mr Lerner has le(a)rned.

Re:Electric universe (2, Informative)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549079)

Has the electric universe theory made any headway in offering a viable alternative to currently accepted cosmology? Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.

Nope... as far as I've been able to tell, the electric universe "theory" is still purely in the realm of pseudoscience, being touted by various internet quacks. Of course, many of its proponents also believe that the empirical scientific method is some sort of outdated relic of a bygone era, so I'm not really sure what sort of standard they should be judged by. I'm actually really curious about where CMEF [cmef.eu] , the organization which gave Eric Lerner the $600 million in funding, got its money from. Their website doesn't seem to have that info, although it looks like they're trying to raise private funds via the interweb.

Re:Electric universe (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549301)

If you stored the wrong number (instead of just making a typo or braino) and have not realized it yet, you will be happy to realize that the amount is $600,000, not $600 million.

Still a chunk of change, but much more palatable.

Re:Electric universe (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549621)

If you stored the wrong number (instead of just making a typo or braino) and have not realized it yet, you will be happy to realize that the amount is $600,000, not $600 million.

Hah, yeah. I think I had started typing something like $0.6 million, and made a slight braino.

Re:Electric universe (4, Funny)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549373)

Nope... as far as I've been able to tell, the electric universe "theory" is still purely in the realm of pseudoscience, being touted by various internet quacks. Of course, many of its proponents also believe that the empirical scientific method is some sort of outdated relic of a bygone era, so I'm not really sure what sort of standard they should be judged by. I'm actually really curious about where CMEF, the organization which gave Eric Lerner the $600 million in funding, got its money from. Their website doesn't seem to have that info, although it looks like they're trying to raise private funds via the interweb.

In related news, $750,000 has been awarded to Gene Ray to create a source of renewable energy based on his "Time Cube" concept, and $1.5 million for research into improved fission reactor designs has been awarded to Ludwig Hansen, a.k.a. Archimedes Plutonium.

Re:Electric universe (5, Insightful)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549095)

Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.
The Chilean Government has put up $600,000 to see if any of that magical thinking can be applied to the real world.

And really, what's with all the cynicism?
At worst, someone else's government wasted some taxpayer dollars on science instead of market distorting business subsidies. At best, we have a revolutionary new source of electricity. Somewhere in the middle is the most likely possibility, namely that some bit of research turns out to be useful and can be applied elsewhere.

Re:Electric universe (4, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549253)

The Chilean Government has put up $600,000 to see if any of that magical thinking can be applied to the real world.
Not necessarily a bad idea when you consider how much alchemy (not to mention much of early medicine) produced that could be applied to the real world. Science isn't about truth, it's about telling stories that are sufficiently close approximations to the truth that they can be useful. Alchemy, in spite of being largely nonsense, produced a lot of valid conclusions (although, sadly, not a method of transmuting elements) and it may be that the Electric Universe Theory falls into the same category.

Re:Electric universe (2, Insightful)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549665)

Alchemy, in spite of being largely nonsense, produced a lot of valid conclusions (although, sadly, not a method of transmuting elements) and it may be that the Electric Universe Theory falls into the same category.


Yeah, and witch-doctors managed to save one or two people when they weren't poisoning dozens. You won't catch me going to one of them instead of an MD, though.

Re:Electric universe (1)

s_p_oneil (795792) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549645)

I agree, and it's got to be better than some of the things the US Army has invested millions of dollars in, like the "gay bomb" [washingtonpost.com] .

Re:Electric universe (4, Funny)

flyingsquid (813711) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549729)

I agree, and it's got to be better than some of the things the US Army has invested millions of dollars in, like the "gay bomb".

Actually, the gay bomb was a good use of our tax money. Not just good... I'd go so far as to call it fabulous.

But seriously, I disagree with the logic here: justifying an idiotic use of money (crazy-ass fringe science research into fusion) by pointing to a more idiotic use of money (gay bombs). It's like arguing, "I'm gonna burn twenty-dollar bills. Why? Because it's far less wasteful than burning hundred-dollar bills."

Re:Electric universe (2, Insightful)

AdamHaun (43173) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549669)

Actually, the most likely possibility is that he finds nothing at all, just like everyone else who's tried to develop a magic wand of cheap limitless energy. But hey, at least the labs and grad students and technicians will get some money too.

Re:Electric universe (3, Interesting)

trawg (308495) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549711)

At worst, someone else's government wasted some taxpayer dollars on science instead of market distorting business subsidies.
I suppose the issue is whether or not they've given the money for an idea that isn't going anywhere because this guy is good at selling bad ideas, at the expense of other people out there that might have other awesome ideas they need funding for and can't get it because they don't know how to do it.

Some of the comments to this article (particularly this one [slashdot.org] make me believe this guy might not know what he's doing.

Re:Electric universe (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549155)

Last I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.
Well I don't know about "magical thinking" but conjecture is good; where else would hypotheses come from? It sounds like he's working on testing his hypothesis now. Good luck to him.

Re:Electric universe (1)

caramelcarrot (778148) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549215)

No, the electric universe "theory" is just by a bunch of quacks that take selective analysis to mean that astrophysicists don't take electromagnetism into account and only think about gravity.

Re:Electric universe (1)

Teilo (91279) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549491)

I don't know much about the electric universe theory. It probably is a load of crap, but still I like to laugh at the expense of anyone who is offended by those who dare to put forward alternatives to the "settled" theories of mainstream science. (Hah! I'm not afraid to use the phrase, so there.)

Re:Electric universe (5, Interesting)

c6gunner (950153) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549715)

I don't know much about the electric universe theory. It probably is a load of crap, but still I like to laugh at the expense of anyone who is offended by those who dare to put forward alternatives to the "settled" theories of mainstream science. (Hah! I'm not afraid to use the phrase, so there.)


It's not the theories that we're opposed to, it's the approach. You're more than welcome to suggest that the entire universe was the result of God's Gargantuan Fart, and that interstellar space is composed of His Holy Flatulence through which electromagnetic waves propagate. I might think you're being silly, but I won't be offended by your theory. What I WOULD be offended by is your attempt to pervert the scientific method in order to try and "prove" your theory.

Another example: I'm not offended by creationists who use scripture to dispute evolution. If they want to believe some ancient manuscript instead of modern science, that's their call. But I AM offended when they pretend to disprove evolution by misquoting and misrepresenting the research of others, or by presenting their own asinine assumptions as if they were scientifically verifiable facts.

Kinda Like Quantum Computing (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549365)

I heard it was a fringe pseudoscience based mostly on conjecture and magical thinking.

Sounds like quantum computing. I mean, isn't superposition or an infinite number of universes just as magical? Physics is so full of bullshit, physicists should go into the fertilizer or methane business. LOL.

Re:Kinda Like Quantum Computing (1)

Goaway (82658) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549799)

Haw haw! Yeah, that science thing sure is dumb!

The big bang is "magical thinking too" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549409)

there is no hard evidence to support the big bang either.

Re:The big bang is "magical thinking too" (3, Insightful)

onkelonkel (560274) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549479)

"there is no hard evidence to support the big bang either."

Not sure what you mean by hard evidence, but um.. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_microwave_background_radiation [wikipedia.org] seems to work for most people.

Re:The big bang is "magical thinking too" (2, Interesting)

Bloater (12932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549687)

The cosmic microwave background is as you would see from a closed universe with a period of expansion as current big bang theories say, but is also as you would see from an infinite, approximately homogeneous universe.

BTW, you can't use wikipedia for the debate between the big bang and electric cosmogonies because the debate between them is not only carried out on wikipedia itself but is carried out on almost purely religious grounds using information removal instead of competitive analysis of gathered information. If you use wikipedia for this you'll just end up believing the least scientific theory.

Re:Electric universe (0)

jessica_alba (1234100) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549763)

Has current cosmology made any headway in accepting itself? Last I heard they were still seeing exceptions to their own theory pulsar binary [slashdot.org] and the plasma universe was on the up and up with 50% of missing matter found to be intergalactic plasma. [slashdot.org] Of course the mainstream still claims all objects in space have a neutral charge and so can you, given that your able to ignore the wealth information that suggests otherwise: the sun [slashdot.org] and everything thing else. [thunderbolts.info]

Not quite Mr. Fusion (1)

stox (131684) | more than 6 years ago | (#23548873)

But if it works, close enough.

you know... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23548887)

Simpson's did it!

Exactly the right approach. (5, Insightful)

onion2k (203094) | more than 6 years ago | (#23548933)

This is brilliant. $600k isn't a lot to some people, yet there's a tiny sliver of a chance that the guy is on to something. So he gets funding from a private institution who will be absolutely minted in the very unlikely circumstance that he's right. The odd $600k wouldn't even scratch the surface for more traditional avenues of research where the numbers are into the billions, so there's no real loss either.

Plus, the chances of me getting a backer for my "buttered toast and cat" turbine are much improved. Fantastic.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (5, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#23548975)

Exactly my thought. ITER is costing US$ 9.3 billion. This costs 0.006% as much. If it is more than 0.006% as likely to work, then it's probably a good use of money.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549309)

This would be a good time to bring up that Richard Dawkins thinks there's a greater than 1% [overcomingbias.com] chance that earth life was designed by an intelligence.

So, do you think he advocates spending money on this idea, or does he just not understand the concept of probability? ;-)

Re:Exactly the right approach. (2, Insightful)

bperkins (12056) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549327)

ITER may have a 0% chance of producing viable fusion power, but it will very likely help us understand plasma physics. That may be a bad investment.

However, the work described in this story has a 0% chance of working and a 0% chance of putting the Electric Universe crap to bed.

So it's a worse investment.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549553)

Do you have any basis for that statement or do you just hate Lerner? 'cause although I'm sure you're not alone in that, the results really should be judged separately to the man.

If he is right, he will have single-handedly solved the hardest, and most important problem of industrialized human history. And if that ever becomes the case, you can be sure his wack-brain ideas about how the universe works will be receiving a lot more serious attention than they are now.. so what do you hope for? That he fails and we don't get any cheap and safe power systems or that he succeeds...

If he manages to make a working unit will you apologize? Will you eat some crow or at least your hat? What I'm asking is; are you willing to risk anything by being a nah-sayer? And if not, why should we have any more respect for you than for the guy who is willing to risk his reputation, his career and a whole lot of money (some of it his own) on something he believes in?

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

bperkins (12056) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549963)

I don't care about Eric Lerner.

I don't believe the theory because it's crack-pot craziness.

If he's proven right, sure I'll apologize, right here on slashdot, for whatever that's worth. I'd send him $100 but it sounds like he wont need it if he's right.

Look, it's _possible_ that the last 30 years of cosmology has been a blind alley, but it's just absurdly unlikely. I understand that there's a certain appeal to a theory that does away with dark energy, dark matter and inflation, but there's just too much evidence in support of it to throw it away.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (5, Interesting)

Bloater (12932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549749)

> ITER may have a 0% chance of producing viable fusion power, but it will very likely help us understand plasma physics.

Actually it probably won't. JET did, but ITER is just an engineering prototype and proof of concept. It is intended to test the technologies to make a fusion power plant work and be maintainable. The physics is done already.

> However, the work described in this story has a 0% chance of working

Actually it has a pretty reasonable chance. Nobody has been able to perform an analysis using previous theories to show that current physical understanding says it won't work. In part because Eric Lerner has been the first person to care enough about certain aspects of plasma behaviour to actually produce quantitative models.

Re: Exactly the right approach. (4, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549685)

Exactly my thought. ITER is costing US$ 9.3 billion. This costs 0.006% as much. If it is more than 0.006% as likely to work, then it's probably a good use of money.
That reasoning works when you only consider one fringe idea. What happens if you try to fund *all* of them?

Re: Exactly the right approach. (5, Insightful)

Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549807)

Then you don't purchase ITER and fund 4150 independent projects instead.

IANAPP, but my experience with science in general is that you're better off funding many, many projects to the proof-of-concept phase than funding one proof-of-concept project that we're absolutely sure will eventually cost ~$100B to make actually generating power. That way, we learn a huge amount about plasma physics and can make educated decisions about which projects to fund to completion.

The problem is, right now we know that tokomaks sort of work, but aren't really feasible for power generation. We have *no idea* if all those other systems could be feasible with more work.

Re: Exactly the right approach. (2, Funny)

CptNerd (455084) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549821)

Exactly my thought. ITER is costing US$ 9.3 billion. This costs 0.006% as much. If it is more than 0.006% as likely to work, then it's probably a good use of money.
That reasoning works when you only consider one fringe idea. What happens if you try to fund *all* of them?
You get "Ice IV" bridges on Jupiter, "spindizzies" and "Cities in Flight"?

Re:Exactly the right approach. (5, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549017)

Is it really enough for him to proceed on? At a big company it costs that much to keep 2 PhD's on a project for 1 year. Presumably this project would also have a large requirement for expensive hardware.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549841)

"At a big company it costs that much to keep 2 PhD's on a project for 1 year."

Maybe it's Google.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (3, Funny)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549063)

Is it a bad omen that it costs about the same as a typical subprime mortgage?

Re:Exactly the right approach. (5, Funny)

moderatorrater (1095745) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549113)

Plus, the chances of me getting a backer for my "buttered toast and cat" turbine are much improved. Fantastic.
Don't even try, PETA will shut you down before you can get any serious headway. That's what happened with MIT's monkey-weasel-mulberry bush bomb.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549617)

peta make me want to hurt animals. More hurt animals = more naked hotties.

Win!

Re:Exactly the right approach. (4, Funny)

Dr. Cody (554864) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549689)

We just need to find perpetual motion machines based off of ugly animals.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (4, Interesting)

Lonewolf666 (259450) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549123)

Yep, and it might be a good idea to repeat this with some other stuff that looks at least borderline credible. Bussard's "polywell" fusion device comes to mind:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell [wikipedia.org]

Both Lerner's and Bussard's approach are not exactly proven, but they seem believable enough that investing a few millions (as opposed to billions in Tokamak research) seems worthwile.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

naasking (94116) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549393)

At least "polywell" fusion is backed by ordinary physics!

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

Teilo (91279) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549547)

Yes, because, after all "ordinary physics" has provided the answer to everything already.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

ConceptJunkie (24823) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549899)

Yeah, I'll accept your explanation of the existence of "atoms" when you show me a good clear photograph of one.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

Bloater (12932) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549781)

Another Quantum Physics denier?

Re:Exactly the right approach. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549765)

Physicists have spent 50+ years trying to confine and stabilize plasmas with negligible progress and with a cost of many billions (or is it trillions over 50 years). Stability, confinement, and plasma just don't seem to go together. Lets not even mention continuous. Success has been only 10 or 15 years away for more than 50 years. The primary results seem to be absorption of Federal funds in huge amounts.

An approach that tries to take advantage of the instabilities instead of fighting them is well worth a few million. Bussard's Polywell device is also worth a few million. These amounts are a drop in the bucket. Even of all they did was expose some interesting physics it would be well worth it. Naturally, the Big-Physics establishment does not like anything that might break their rice bowl.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (2, Insightful)

smaddox (928261) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549203)

The sad thing is that those multibillion dollar projects (ITER, I'm looking at you) have no chance of producing economic fusion. The technology is just too expensive.

More fringe possibilities should get funding. Nothing huge, though. Just enough to decide if it is feasible.

I'm unaware if the DOE has any such program to evaluate cheaper alternatives. If it doesn't, it should.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

kipman725 (1248126) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549495)

what gets me about ITER is that they are so pesimistic! there predicting viable fusion slowly been rolled out in 50 years time, if all goes to plan. I am sure that the technical problems are huge but still why so long?

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

Awptimus Prime (695459) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549579)

I thought the DOE was all about subsidizing our tax dollars to pump them into already expensive, enormous businesses who simply want more market share while making it's decisions based upon politics and not reality.

Just look how well ethanol is working out. Been fishing in the Gulf of Mexico during the last few years? Notice the lack of fish and the tumors all over the ones still there? It looks like they are willing to allow the wiping out of what was once a great food source, while not drilling in areas we know there's good sources of hydrocarbons because it might interfere with a passing grazing creatures who are already overpopulated due to the lack of large predators?

The US.. Well, the "west" is a mess when it comes to getting anything done these days. It's like everyone started listening to the college kids going through their PETA hippy stage instead of dealing with the reality of a pending energy crisis. Thanks to this, we've got gas over $4 a gallon.

Hold on, what were we talking about?

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

marxmarv (30295) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549731)

I might point out that both the hippy PETA kids and a coming deficiency in energy flows would both suggest an urgent need for population reduction over the next few decades, attrition being possibly the most humane way. Who's listening to that? Certainly not The Man, whose answer to the problem is breeder tax credits, counter-effective "faith-based" sex ed and whacking the Middle East hornet's nest like a piñata.

Good sense would also suggest reserving ANWR for last and not sucking it down right away just because lazy WASPs who put their money on internal-combustion-powered ponies are bitching about gasoline prices. The last country with oil under the ground wins.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (1)

Awptimus Prime (695459) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549777)

Yeah, those people suck too. But, it's worth a few pokes into the ground to save the wildlife that isn't all cute and cuddly in pictures, more widespread, and more impacting on the environment than any amount of drilling would ever be.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (0, Troll)

dcollins (135727) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549225)

Yeah, this is basically the same con that organized religion plays with the whole "heaven" hypothesis.

Re:Exactly the right approach. (2, Funny)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549277)

Where can I send my check to fund this buttered toast and cat turbine project of yours?

New page 1 (4, Funny)

StrawberryFrog (67065) | more than 6 years ago | (#23548955)

It's just a bit harder to take it seriously when the HTML title of the page is still set to "New Page 1"

Re:New page 1 (3, Insightful)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549039)

That tells me his web presence isnt up to snuff.

Is he being paid to design a hip-hop web presence, or a fusion design type?

Re:New page 1 (1)

smaddox (928261) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549255)

It's more of the fact that it has a website at all that makes it seem less credible. However, when government organizations focus on funding 5 decade old technology (tokamak), it becomes necessary to explore alternate routes for funding.

Re:New page 1 (2, Insightful)

HungSoLow (809760) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549959)

From experience, this is a good sign, not a negative one. I chose my doctoral supervisor (among many other criteria) based on how little he tried to sell himself, and let his work speak for itself.

Magneto? (2, Funny)

dasheiff (261577) | more than 6 years ago | (#23548989)

I thought it said Eric Lehnsherr for a second.

Re:Magneto? (1)

tedrlord (95173) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549159)

I'd be way more likely to believe Magneto could pull something like that off. Of course, he'd just take the money and use it to destroy us lesser homo sapiens.

Ok, you got your shot (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549007)

Last I heard, Lerner was after about $2 million. $600k to $700k isn't all that, but rather than sulk, give it your best shot.

Developmental Stages. (4, Funny)

Fieryphoenix (1161565) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549043)

Congratulations, Mr. Lerner. You've been promoted from crackpot to fraud. Here's your paycheck.

Re:Developmental Stages. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549655)

uhh yeah, this is science. We only call them frauds and crackpots after they fail... Unless they're in direct competition for funding.

summary (5, Informative)

j1m+5n0w (749199) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549073)

It looks like the tech talk is slashdotted, but if memory serves (and I'm not a physicist, so my understanding is fuzzy at best) the idea is that the device (which has some resemblance to a large spark plug) sits in a chamber of has a large electrical current applied and exploits a sequence of unstable states to produce a small ball of plasma where the fusion takes place. The reaction produces X-rays and a directed stream of charged particles. The X-rays are collected by a sort of multilayer onion-like solar panel that converts them to electricity, and the charged particles also get converted directly to electricity. The device can be relatively simple since there's no need for steam turbines. A steady stream of electricity can be produced by repeating the reaction over and over, and storing the output in big capacitors (and part of the resulting energy is used to initiate the next pulse).

Re:summary (5, Interesting)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549139)

Yeah, that's close enough. Although, personally, I think once you had one working you could make 20 of them and do a 20-to-20 connection with some high power switching (I believe diamond switches are required anyway) so the output of many units is cumulated on the input of one unit, with no capacitor bank in the way. That way you get really fast cycling of pulses.. much like a piston engine.

Re:summary (1)

ZonkerWilliam (953437) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549703)

The reaction produces X-rays and a directed stream of charged particles. The X-rays are collected by a sort of multilayer onion-like solar panel that converts them to electricity, and the charged particles also get converted directly to electricity

Well yes and no, the Helium nuclei can be used to produce electricity directly, although with all of the natural alpha emitter's you would think someone would have made a prototype device to convert them (alpha particles ie. helium Nuclei)to electricity. But I do not know anything yet that can efficiently change the X-Ray radiation to electricity, it's just not easy to stop.

not really new but it's interesting (3, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549101)

the p+B11 reaction [the one described here] forms 3 He nuclei [p+B11=C12 which splits into 3 He4] all the products are charged opening up an extra route of power generation that isn't solely thermal to electrical conversion however the reaction produces about half the energy per reaction of deuterium/tritium reaction and much higher energies to cause significant fusion.

Re:not really new but it's interesting (1)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549195)

And unlike the sun, all of our boron reserves are tied up in Turkey (well, ~70%). At least, I think the sun's not getting its boron there.

Re:not really new but it's interesting (3, Interesting)

SuperQ (431) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549415)

Both Bussard and Lerner have ideas for H+B11 fusion. They sound a bit like crack-pots conspiracy theorists, but it would be interesting if it were viable.

Here's a couple videos of talks they gave on the subject.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1996321846673788606 [google.com]

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1518007279479871760 [google.com]

pln2bz? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549125)

*checks name* *checks ignore list*

Yeah, that's what I thought. Uh, by the way, boron's not a commodity you can just extract from "sea salt" in decent amounts, as claimed. Turkey controls the vast majority (over 70%) of the available reserves. It's a serious concern for those of us in legitimate energy research - it makes ammonia borane fuel cells more challenging than we'd like.

Re:pln2bz? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549175)

Fuel cells? Fuel tanks, I should say.

minus 2, Troll) (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549229)

NIGGER VASSOCIATION Little-known networking test. poor dead last

Good technology, bad researcher (5, Interesting)

neomalkin (1010865) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549241)

What is Slashdot's fascination with this guy? Seems like an article pops up every 3 months. As an undergraduate, I had the pleasure *cough* of working with Mr. Lerner when he came to use our plasma focus to do a p-B11 study for JPL. To get the required diborane gas, a nasty toxin, we had to evaporate decaborane, another nasty toxin. In the end, we had a mess to clean up in our chamber and an academic mess when Mr. Lerner embellished (or flatly misrepresented) the results of the experiment in publication. We had to lobby to get our names off the paper, but there's still a few copies of it floating around out there. Plasma focus technology has been around since the 60s (see the works of Mather and Filipov). They make cute neutron and x-ray sources, but not much more practical for fusion power production than these "bubble fusion" designs. I believe there's still a lot to be learned from the plasma focus, and I'm glad that someone is willing to pay for further research. And if we get p-B11 fusion working, that would be a great step forward too. But I wouldn't give this guy a nickel if his head were on fire, let alone $600,000.

Re:Good technology, bad researcher (1)

wdavies (163941) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549591)

if only I had mod points today. Up up up!

when will they stop (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549299)

when will these scientists give up and let me ruin the planet.

remember kids, if you stop using oil the terrorists win.

Re:when will they stop (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549815)

when will these scientists give up and let me ruin the planet.

You have to get elected first.

Electric Universe?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549387)

Oh God, are there still people who believe in that?!

Re:Electric Universe?! (1)

Teilo (91279) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549585)

Burn them! Burn them!

Ford Focus Fusion (5, Funny)

chdig (1050302) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549391)

Sounds interesting, but I wish they'd named it after something other than a couple of Ford car models. Ford Fusion, Ford Focus, Focus Fusion?

If they'd wanted credibility, they shoulda gone for something like the Yaris Matrix or maybe the Fit Element.

good, good o good yes good very good (0)

azazrael (809236) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549399)

YAHOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! nice very ice extremly good

hard to take it seriously (1)

Khashishi (775369) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549521)

that damned website reads like an advertisement. I'd like to see a serious proposal.

Tokamak seemed backwards anyways (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23549831)

The tokamak could be considered a cousin to this, it's just a matter of switching around where the current and magnetic fields go.

Tokamaks put the magnetic field around the donut and try to compress the plasma containing the current in the donut tighter, never seemed common sense to me to do it that way... The more you put in it, the more the forces involved would fight each other.

I'm glad to see someone put the magnetic field in the donut, and wrap the plasma around it. You've got the natural pinch point in the hole where fusion should occur, and the more current you dump into the plasma - instead of fighting the magnetic field it should make it stronger. Thus it makes the donut tighter, etc. and should behave as a positive feedback system. At least someone's now giving it a good shot, and it shouldn't hurt to try doing it this way around.

Not sure why it'd need the boron in there... Or is the intent to have that absorb any zoomies caused by fusion so it doesn't turn radioactive?

Also if the thing works to some degree and with enough efficiency, not only could it be a power supply - the DOD might be interested in modifying it into the basis of of a directed energy weapon.

This seems far more interesting. . . (1)

Fantastic Lad (198284) | more than 6 years ago | (#23549849)

Robert Bussard seems like a more reputable fellow with equally cool ideas, which sound closer to being able to work. Google tech talk here. [google.com]


-FL

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