back to article New inside out hover-magnet fusion reactor debuts at MIT

MIT boffins this week have taken the wraps off a new kind of nuclear fusion reactor, different from the humdrum tokamaks and laser-ignition chambers which have thus far offered such disappointing results. The new kit is called the Levitated Dipole Experiment (LDX), and features a half-ton magnetic doughnut suspended in midair …


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  1. E 2

    What is the glow?

    About halfway thru the vid, there is a glow around the toroid. What is that? Is it the dimensional gate trying to open?

    1. npupp 1

      re: What is the glow?

      (un)fortunately not a dimensional gate opening, the glow is just visible light emitted from the plasma, the plasma is very hot dontchaknow

  2. Cameron Colley

    Won't solve a thing.

    Fusion power won't solve any energy crisis -- the reaction chamber will be found to give off "ill waves" and so the only place reactors will be legal is in space, where they will attract "space tax" from the government of any territory they fly over.

    The governments of the world would never allow anything which threatened to solve such a major problem as this -- people might talking about freedom if they did.

    1. spider from mars

      man what

      I think you're an "ill wave"

  3. El Richard Thomas

    Endless cheap power...

    Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fusion fan and have been since a Physics A Level school trip to JET in the mid-80s, but I can't help thinking that in a couple of centuries people will point and laugh at people trying to build fusion reactors that generate power the way we point and laugh at historical alchemists and inventors of perpetual motion machines today.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


      Alchemists and perpetual motion are pseudo scientific (except that part of alchemy that turned out to be nuclear physics) and are based on misconceptions and/or erroneous principles.

      On the other hand, there is nothing pseudo-scientific about fusion - in fact we can see that it works on every sunny day . Building a reactor is "just" a technological hurdle. It may take another couple of hundred years to overcome but it will be done one day.

      1. El Richard Thomas

        That's kind of my point...

        What if fusion is based on a huge misconception that we just haven't discovered yet? We seem to have been at the same stage for about 20 years with no more progress beyond the "contain the plasma for a couple of milliseconds" stage. It just feels like there's something big missing ;-)

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Remember me on this computer

          >>What if fusion is based on a huge misconception that we just haven't discovered yet?

          What if, What if.... Mother Nature doesn't owe you anything and will watch you slowly croak in the lowest sewer level without batting an eye, so expecting to do hard work and quite possibly fail abysmally is very wise.

          And the evidence that there is "something we haven't discovered yet" is not exactly overwhelming.

        2. phoenix

          @El Richard Thomas

          Nope nothing is missing it's just very difficult to create the pressures and temperatures on Earth that matcth those of a massive body (tremendous gravitation field) like our Sun. Lots of fiddling with magnetic fields to stablise a squiggly ball like a plasma field.

          Twenty years is hardly a long time for what is fundamently more important physics than trying to smash your way to an answer about the begining of time itself. I wish the fusion guys had half the funding the particle physists have for colliders.

  4. JWS
    Thumb Up


    Rather nice toy, this is where all the greenies should be looking not bloody wind or such pointless and very expensive power alternatives!

  5. Scott 19


    According to SIM city its 2050 we get a working fussion reactor?

    1. transientcylon
      Thumb Up


      So Armageddon will come around 2100 or 2150? I always forget if the power plants lasted 50 or 100 years. I am however disappointed we don't have more of the LHC tinfoil hat crowd in here claiming this will rip a hole in the space time continuum and destroy the earth. It is entertaining to listen to their misinformed rants.

  6. Ian McNee

    Flight of the Conchords are *SO* 2009...

    ...rock-on Flight of the Levitated Dipoles!

  7. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


    Seems a bit difficult to cool a superconducting coil *inside* a plasma bubble especially if it is to run continuously for any reasonable period.

  8. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

    @ Richard

    I'm hoping that they'll be laughing at our current energy generation approach instead:

    "now, back in the 20th century they used to burn oil for electricity! Yes, oil. No Tommy, don't laugh, they'd only split the atom a few years before that, and then like most children they spent the next 70 years blowing stuff up with it instead of doing something constructive...".

    Anyway, unlike alchemy we know that Fusion works - we just need to do is recreate the temperature at the heart of the sun to get it going. Simples!

  9. breakfast
    Thumb Up

    Come along now!

    Come on, boffins, we really need this one to work!

  10. John Murgatroyd

    The only reason

    they're funding the other systems is because there is not-a-lot of hope of them working !

    The whole idea of "green" is that we need LESS PEOPLE not ENOUGH POWER FOR MORE.

    1. Alan Esworthy

      You know what to do, then.

      Somebody's got to be first. Go on, life isn't for everybody.

  11. Matthew Smith

    @Anonymous coward

    "Anyway, unlike alchemy we know that Fusion works - we just need to do is recreate the temperature at the heart of the sun to get it going. Simples!"

    As the saying goes, fusion power is all about putting the sun in a box. Making the sun is easy. Its the box thats hard.

    1. Annihilator Silver badge


      "Making the sun is easy. Its the box thats hard."

      I've got an old shoe box sitting under the bed if it'll help? I mean I'll have to find somewhere else to put the photographs, but I'm sure I can do that. Will probably just buy new shoes.

      You bring the sun, I'll bring the box, we'll meet tomorrow at 12.

  12. Paul Shirley

    should have spent it on solar

    I'm left wondering if throwing the money at harvesting the output of our existing, working, fusion reactor would have been more effective. If only because we'd have been actually collecting energy for the last 50 years instead of pumping it into experimental reactors.

    Earthbound fusion isn't clean, isn't working and will get undercut on price by solar if they ever do make it viable. A technological dead end.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      You really think we've spent more on fusion than solar? Fusion at best has received a couple of billion dollars, and that is because it has a high entry barrier. On the other hand, solar cells have been around for 50+ years, and are still < 20% efficient. At best we'd have to cover most of the planet with them to generate our energy from pure solar.

      Fusion, depending on the cost to contain it, has the potential to be far more efficient.

    2. phoenix

      @Paul Shirley

      I wish we hadn't spent the last 50 years producing monsterously costly nuclear power derived leccy, just to provide the material to blow each other up based on a disagrement as to politcal views - but hay whatever.

      The answer is to reduce energy consumption at one end and seek non / little damaging renewable sources on the other. Fission fits neither of these criteria, even if you include fast breeder plutonium burners.

  13. Sir Runcible Spoon


    Why can't we just bring the Sun here?

    And who said Alchemy doesn't work? There's a reason Newton went from being an Alchemist to UK Treasurer you know :)

  14. Anonymous Coward

    fusion = alchemy

    Well you can turn Lead in to Gold with fusion too...

    1. mr.K

      @fusion = alchemy

      How exactly?

  15. Martin Nicholls

    Giant fail in the sky.

    "different from the humdrum tokamaks and laser-ignition chambers which have thus far offered such disappointing results"

    Uhm what? Dissapointing to whom?

    "The governments of the world would never allow anything which threatened to solve such a major problem as this -- people might talking about freedom if they did"

    And by governments you mean the lizzard people who put explosives in the twin towers right?

    "What if fusion is based on a huge misconception that we just haven't discovered yet? We seem to have been at the same stage for about 20 years with no more progress"

    That's because you're not paying attention, the values of Q are going up all the time, we're just finding new ways to do it - and after the ITER which builds on JET is finished DEMO (DEMOnstration Power Plant) is planned, which if the name doesn't give it away is intended to be a demonstration commercial reactor which will actually produce electricity and continuiosly run.

    The trouble of course is this stuff is crazy expensive and takes a long time, because it's exceptionally hard to do science and engineering which is only just becomming possible to do.

    It's not a big leap to say projects like the ITER are more complex that the likes of the LHC or the ISS, just the LHC is a giant (scientific) leap into the unknown JET and ITER and other such projects like HIPER are actually incremental science we basically know works - just like I said, they're huge financial and engineering tasks.

    Most of the technology in the LHC didn't exist when the building started, so lets not get ahead of ourselves assuming solid science doesn't work when it provably does.

  16. Robert Hill
    Thumb Up

    I noticed this...

    I saw this same effect whilst observing my Bussard ramjet during the last flight - it must be the central magnetic cone that generates similar flux pintch effects...a very nice light show indeed! It's especially nice when the surrounding suns blue shift.

  17. Stevie Silver badge


    Next time I complete zero deliverables on a project I must remember to refer to "disappointing results" instead of "abject failure to deliver in any way, shape or form". This should turn around the evaluations I've been getting of late, and no mistake.

  18. Fluffykins

    Not so safe, actually.

    ".... And the hysterical levels of security which surround fissionable fuels would be unnecessary, as fusion juice can't be made into an atomic bomb"

    Can't help but think there will need to be much the same hysterical levels of security. The waste is (relatively) short lived and (Relatively) less radioactive than fuel or plutonium etc. It would, however, still be an attractive proposition for some psychotic ne'er do well to use to demonstrate the calm logic of his argument, by chucking a kilo or so into somewhere very public and very vital for business.

    That all reminds me someone within the nuke power industry telling me that, if the coal tips at Eggborough coal power station were actually on a nuclear site, they'd be categorised a low, possibly intermediate, level waste because of the natural radioacivity in the coal.

    Anyone fancy a nutty slack bomb?

    PS Is it the way I read it, or does starting that sentence in the article with "And" look wrong?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      And how much money...

      have the US and UK spent trying to "defend" the resources necessary to power our current system? Iraq alone looks like several trillion US dollars to me. Are you saying we can take 1/10 of 1% of that and use it on R&D to come up with a better solution, that would, instead of *killing* the eastern portion of humanity, bring them up to western levels?

  19. Paul 70

    It's the best chance we have got - PLEASE invest some money

    Of course it works - it is based on pure science which has been proved (and demonstrated) beyond all doubt. What we are trying to do now is to get the right box to put it in - and get the energy out.

    OK, it's not perfectly clean - the neutrons etc flying out at whatever rate of knots are going to irradiate the surroundings and turn them radioactive; the fusion products won't be stable but they all will have significantly shorter halflives than plutonium for example (10's of years rather than thousands). And no-one can make an atom bomb out of slightly radioactive steel (or whatever is chosen to make the box.

    The advantage over solar energy is that if we want more energy, we make more or bigger reactors. Once we've covered the world in solar cells, that is it. What is wrong with wanting more energy?

    We are incredibly close, and the road map is clearly defined. Let's get the political guys to invest some money into this rather than the latest flim-flam thing like ID cards!

    Come on World - do something right for a change!

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Agree, but...

      "And no-one can make an atom bomb out of slightly radioactive steel (or whatever is chosen to make the box."

      No. But you can put a bucket of U238 inside and breed as much Pu239 as you want - you need fast neutrons for this and fast neutrons is what fusion produces AFAIK.

      Having said this - so what? Fusion still seems as the only viable long-term solution to ever increasing energy demands and should be pursued regardless of capital required today. So, yes, please do invest. :-)

    2. Ben Raynes

      That's all well and good, but...

      Paul 70 - What is wrong with wanting more energy?

      Vladimir Plouzhnikov - Fusion still seems as the only viable long-term solution to ever increasing energy demands and should be pursued regardless of capital required today. So, yes, please do invest. :-)

      While I agree fusion is probably the way forward for the world, the bigger problem with your points I quoted above are that the increased availability of cheap clean energy means that we can basically carry on as we are doing now - the planet is already overpopulated and the trend is increasing exponentially. Also, saving a bit of energy now might give us a bit more time to sort out this fusion lark before the fossil fuels run out.

      Once we sort out power generation, and can stop making this ridiculous whining utterances about 'carbon footprints' because of fusion-powered everything, a whole new set of problems arise as a result of the overpopulation - overcrowding, housing shortages, food supply etc. These are less easy to solve.

      Sadly, we need to start thinking of ways to limit the population growth worldwide, and to keep it at a more sustainable level for the future.

      And no - I'm not some wild-eyed environmentalist veg-head. I drive a V6 and pay the ridiculous, pointless, petrol and road tax increment. I don't recycle as much as I could, 'cos I can't be arsed. I quite happily leave the hot water tap on when I could turn it off, and my heating has been on since October.

      My point is that just because you ndon't agree fully with the nut-job environmentalist clap-trap doesn't mean you should carry on wasting energy just for the sake. If nothing else, it'll save you a bit of money.

  20. John B 1

    Unforeseen consequences

    There's one small problem associated with a working fusion reactor, delivering industrial scale power.

    Can you guess what it is? Clue: It has nothing whatever to do with the technology.

  21. Jim Noeth 1

    I think we have other problems with fusion

    The real problem with fusion is the energy it takes to contain and compress the plasma to allow fusion to begin (and be sustained). Stars do this with their intense gravity (it's also the gravity that produces the energy to 'ignite' the fusion). Currently, it takes more energy to contain/compress the plasma than we get out of it. Increasing the amount of fuel fused will only increase this demand to contain/compress the plasma. I believe we'll need to find some other means than magnetic fields for this purpose.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Mr Fusion

    So... when do I get my Mr Fusion in order to power my flux capacitor?!

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Physicist Bruce DePalma and his N-Machine

    Physicist Bruce DePalma has a 100 kilowatt generator, (N-Machine) which he invented, sitting in his garage. Educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard,

    he claims that his electrical generator can provide a cheap, inexhaustible,

    self sustaining and non- polluting source of energy, using principles that flout conventional physics and are still not fully understood. His N machine, as it is called,

    is said to release the “free energy” latent in the space all around us.

    DePalma views his device as an innovation that could help to end the world’s dangerous dependence on supplies of oil, gas, and other polluting fuels.

    The DePalma generator is essentially a simple magnetized flywheel. His astonishing claim is that the present version of the N machine can generate up to five times more power than it consumes. This, of course, defies the basic law of the conservation of energy, which says that the output of energy cannot be more than the input. Most physicists simply refuse to look at DePalma’s findings and dismiss his theories out of hand.

    And why not, as good as anything we haven't got now.

    Nuff said

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      How come is it...

      That all the nutters can't create their own comment, in response to the article, but merely cut and paste, or use schizophrenic grammar.. (I'm looking at you amanfromMars).

    2. Anonymous Coward

      N-Machine - At least the web site is bunk

      Getting more power out than you put in is possible. Getting more ENERGY out than you put in is not.

      If I use 1 Volt at 1 Ampere for 5 seconds to charge up a device, I've put 5 Joules of energy into it.

      The power used to charge it was 1 Watt for 5 seconds.

      I could then discharge that device at 1 Volt and 5 Amperes and get 5 Watts out of it for one second. That is still 5 Joules of energy, but I got 5 Watts of power output. More power, the same energy.

      The website that you mention refers to POWER output only. There is not mention that it produces more energy than it consumes, only that it produces more power. I see no hint on that site that they know the difference.

    3. TeeCee Gold badge

      Oh yeah?

      He hasn't got a simple carburettor swap that'll make your car do 100mpg fueled only on water as well has he?

      I'm not sure who's the greatest pillock here though. Him, or you for putting the "boffin" icon on that load of wingnuttery.

    4. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

      Physicist Bruce DePalma and his N-Machine

      Can I suggest someone pop over to Dr DePalma's house and see if he get's power from the local electricity company - and enquire why...

  24. RW

    @ Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    "we can see that [fusion] works on every sunny day"

    Well, no, actually we can't see fusion working, at least not directly. Fusion processes occur at the center of the sun, not in the outer (visible) layers. What we see is the resultant heat that's made its way up to the surface.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Yeah, that's what I was saying

      We see the light coming out of a big fusion reactor. In fact, that we can see every day. On sunny days we can actually see the reactor itself and it definitely is working.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Completely safe eh?

    Well if mobile phones and power cables can cause cancer (according to some) I hate to think what they'll say when you try and build a fusion reactor within 50 miles of anybody.

    1. Mike Green 1

      @Completely safe eh?

      'Will I get a nice tan all year round?'

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Anonymous Coward


      Funnily that question was never posed over fission reactors, most of whom are within 50 miles of people

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Can't be bothered with only the rest of the comments...

    Only read the first few, so forgive me if I restate a point.

    But Alchemy worked based on faith. There was no scientific reason behind it. They were asking "prove that is doesn't work" and nobody could. Fusion is the opposite... the principle is constructed from scientific theorems that we know(1) to be true. That is the difference. And if you've missed that, then I hereby peg you as religious(2).

    1. "know" = have lots of evidence to back up.. can still be proven wrong

    2. "religious" = When in the decision making process, gives more wait to preconceived ideas than current observed data.

  27. Steve Brooks

    nonsense science!

    "is said to release the “free energy” latent in the space all around us."

    Well yes, plenty indeed, vacuum energy, however its calculated that to release vacuum energy in any usable quantity it will require the sum total of energy in the universe. The N-Machine may simply be harnessing the power of the earth rotation to create energy, which will of course slow that rotation, making the days longer, causing run away climate change and super-cyclonic storms due to the heat differential between the light and dark side of the earth, and eventually cause the moon to crash into the earth due to tidal forces. Hmm, its amazing what you can pick up from Stargate innit!

  28. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    "For now, the dipole must draw its million-amp current from external sources"

    I can see why it soesn't work. I've been to Homebase, B&Q and every electrical trade supply house in town, and I can't find million amp fuses in stock anywhere.

  29. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    Is it just me...

    ...or (especially as it starts to rotate) does it look worryingly like the things Ed Straker used to deploy SHADO interceptors to shoot down?

    1. markp 1
      Thumb Up


      when I was clicking the comment link, I was thinking... it's a UFO... or the makings of one anyway.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Hydrogen atoms with additional neutrons

    "*Admittedly fusion fuel is one ingredient for building an H-bomb, but you can only make one of those if you already have a working fission nuke to use as the trigger."

    Yes but hydrogen is also a component of....water and you could electrolysise that to extract the hydrogen if you really wanted some.

    If you somehow managed to get a working fission nuke the chances are that you'd get a hydrogen bomb (they're quite common doncherknow?). If you don't have the H-bomb, you're unlikely to be able to convert an A-bomb to an H-bomb in your garage, doesn't matter how much hydrogen you've got...

  31. Andrew James

    Come see our latest creation

    Apple will be wowing us all with their very own fusion powered iFusion generator today. It will be the size of a regular battery and will power your iPod, iPhone, iPad, iSpeak and iSpell for all of time and beyond.

    If you connect your iFusion powered device to the mains via the bundled charger it will then automatically (following a few swooshes of your index finger over the device screen) take over the power requirements for your home ... taking the load off the national grid and thus saving the environment as less fossil fuel is burned to manage supply.

    I know this for a fact because my uncle knows a guy who drove past a sign for Heathrow Airport, which has flights to San Francisco, which is where Apple are based, and someone there is working on it.

  32. Anonymous Coward


    magnetic doughnuts....uhahuhahuha....

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Alternative Concept

    I think a less radioactive and more efficient way to harness fusion power is the aneutronic reactor, it has an improved concept to a sustainable fusion reaction, that can provide a source of neutron-free electrical energy.

  34. Michael Dunn

    @Ben Raynes

    Ben wrote

    Sadly, we need to start thinking of ways to limit the population growth worldwide, and to keep it at a more sustainable level for the future.

    It is interesting to observe that as access to goods and energy has increased in the western world, the rate of population has tended to decline. Perhaps the same will be true for the rest of the world?

  35. markp 1

    cool - i can see just one problem

    how long can it run with the magnet surrounded by 10 million degree plasma before said magnet both starts to melt and loses its

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