Disqualified from Intenational science fair

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Richard Hull
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Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Richard Hull » Thu Jun 06, 2013 7:21 pm

Sad story for all the effort expended. Conrad Farnsworth not allowed to compete in top fair.

http://trib.com/news/state-and-regional ... f850f.html

Farnsworth fusor built by Conrad Farnsworth can't go to the fair because it is unfair.

Richard Hull
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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Mike Beauford » Thu Jun 06, 2013 7:28 pm

Yeah, I saw that story. I think the person who ratted on him had an ulterior motive from the sounds of it. I would just like to say to Conrad not all adults are jerks like that person.

My 2 cents!
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Jim Kovalchick
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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Jim Kovalchick » Thu Jun 06, 2013 8:26 pm

Okay, I have been watching this story since it happened for a bunch of different reasons, and I have come to some strong opinions that aren't going to be popular with all. I do however feel compelled to share them because this story potentially affects this community.

1. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair is a big deal. Getting into the fair and being successful while you are there can mean a lot to students especially for juniors in high school and younger. It can open doors to a whole range of opportunities including the Science Talent Search (STS), college admission, research opportunities, etc. Because there is so much at stake, the organization that manages the fair has to have a good set of rules and hold to them strictly. The fusor project in question violated a rule by the contestant's own admission. The contestant's issues with how the violation was revealed shouldn't matter. It is inappropriate to claim righteousness for your project just because you question the motives of the person revealing the infraction. Without a doubt there is no honor in proceeding with a rule infraction; it is unfair to other contestants who follow the rules. By the way, these rules are available to all contestants and sponsoring fairs. My son went through the rules himself and received two different screenings; one by his high school fair, and a very in depth screening by the final fair before ISEF. Making it to ISEF with an infraction is the fault of the contestant and the sponsoring fair officials. It is not the fault of the ISEF people and it is not the fault of the person reporting the infraction no matter how popular the contestant may be to some. The rule is the rule.

2. I am disappointed how this whole mess has made it into the press. I have no idea how it got there, but it certainly appears one sided. It is coming across that a budding genius is being targeted by an unfair establishment. There is little to know mention that a rule was actually violated. I think this is just another sign of the increasing poor attitude of Americans that anything is okay to do as long as you can get away with it. Cheating on taxes is okay as long as you are not caught and the person that turns in the infraction is demonized. This is very sad.

3. Some of the stories in the media have gone into some detail about the project and the contestant, and frankly some of what I have read makes it sound like there is some recklessness and bravado that isn't necessarily complimentary. For example one article described the contestant as having made "acid bombs" in a previous project. Here we have a cigar chomping teen who likes high power rifles, home made explosives, fusors, and a distaste for people who insist that rules are to be followed. This does not paint a good picture for those of us who want to maintain a good relationships with our communities who still let us proceed with our hobby. This story has already potentially affected my son. Yesterday at my son's graduation, a speech given the class president was edited to remove mention of Mike's project. Further, his principal acknowledged Mike's work as one of the superlatives of his classes accomplishments, but instead of saying it was a fusion device, the speech mentioned the ASME material science prize he won for it. We believe this was related to a growing concern and caution about these types of projects. I cant find the link, but recently a web page about college admissions quoted an IVY admissions officer as saying they recently rejected admissions to an otherwise qualified applicant who claimed to have built a fusor in his basement. They stated that they thought the candidate should have gone to MIT anyway, but they worried what the student would then do in the dorms. The school mentioned and its circumstances seemed uncannily similar to a rejection my son received this spring.

4. I will close by saying that my opinions on this story should not be interpreted as an opinion about the contestant. I have never met the person and only know of him from what he has shared here and in other web based settings. I can tell that he must be very bright, have a great deal of initiative and energy, and that he is well liked by a number of people including friends, peers, family, and teachers. He has many dimensions that the media didn't mention including his participation in sports and music. From all indications he is an amazing young person, but I still maintain my honest opinions about this unfortunate event.

Call me a "jerk" if you like, but I think some have missed some important points here.
Jim K

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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Carl Willis » Thu Jun 06, 2013 10:10 pm

I can understand the frustration of Conrad's predicament, but I think Jim has the best analysis of the situation.

If politics or interpersonal issues are interfering with the equitable implementation of ISEF qualifying rules in Conrad's regional and state fairs, I hope this controversy helps clean house and avoids screwing future participants.

I also think Conrad has been a great participant at Fusor.net. I hope he continues to contribute here.

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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Richard Hull » Fri Jun 07, 2013 5:42 pm

My post was my only source and I did not know of any back story on this and thank Jim for his rational expression of a much larger issue which seems to be part of this story.

I fear that the fusor is becoming the "Tesla Coil and Van deGraff" of the modern science fair. It may become common enough to the point that it might not be considered as viable without some sort of unusual usage or fresh investigation.

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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Carl Willis » Fri Jun 07, 2013 7:28 pm

It's a fact that the novelty of fusors in the science fair circuit is wearing off.

Over the history of this forum, a community formula has essentially arisen for a basic neutron-generating fusor with increasingly-predictable performance, to the point now that following established tradition pretty much guarantees a functional system of a few tens to a few hundred thousand neutrons per second. Risks are reduced to the vicissitudes of funding and scrounging, and to the modest--but steadily decreasing--demand on individual skill development and engineering ingenuity required to fill in the gaps. Frankly speaking, these circumstances have been a gravy train for a decade's worth of science fair contestants whose projects centered on building fusors, as judges unfamiliar with the fusion hobby tended to implicitly credit individual projects with much progress actually seated in the wider community. But the next generation of winning contestants is going to have to venture beyond that build-a-fusor formula, I suspect. For the next generation, the formulaic fusor will be relegated to a tool, a platform, or a starting point, and what follows will have to be strong and innovative in its own right. All this is a good thing: a formulaic fusor makes it so much easier to do projects involving neutron physics, or advanced plasma diagnostics, or many other worthy areas of inquiry that would have been beyond anyone's reach before the amateur fusor existed.

Winning or losing or being DQ'd at the science fair is not everything. I've harped before about how science fair contestants have minimal incentive to collaborate, to accurately represent their project's context and antecedents, and to take engineering risks...as important as these are to practical science, they run contrary to the pop-cultural tropes of the wunderkind and the lone genius that really drive the science fair narrative. We've noted before how few of our conspicuous science fair winners actually stick around to grow the community's understanding (and their own). And we all know about the difficulties with judges whose backgrounds are weak in the areas they are judging. This thread particularly highlights the role the rules and their enforcers play in determining science fair awards. So I embrace the science fair phenomenon with considerable caution, and maintain that the single best reason to get involved with hobby fusion is for the enjoyment.

-Carl
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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Jim Kovalchick » Fri Jun 07, 2013 9:46 pm

Well said Carl. Another dimension to how "successful" kids are in these fairs with the fusors is their relative ability to self-promote. Hype and celebrity have followed some of the teen fusors but not all, and the defining difference seems to be how much crowing goes on either by the kids or their sponsors. I think a certain amount of back-patting is well deserved by these kids, because even though the fusor is somewhat templated now, it is a massive undertaking especially when compared to the effort required for typical top-class science fair projects. There is almost no comparison. The concern I have about the crowing is when the quotes attribute too much to the kids versus how much was copied and when the fusors are sensationalized for more than what they are in terms of danger, radiation, or even power output. On that subject, I recently read and article that resulted from an interview with Conrad Farnsworth that made it very clear to me that Conrad was trying valiantly to make sure that the interviewer understood what the fusor was and was not. Good job to him.

I don't think the 'permanent' members of the forum should despair if the teen fusioneers take off without returning after their first neutrons. I suspect most of them will go on to further education and careers in related science and education. It is a wonderful contribution.

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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Chris Bradley » Fri Jun 07, 2013 9:58 pm

There are, clearly, several ways of looking at this story and one can sympathise with 'both sides' of the outcome.

I won't belabour any of those points already discussed, but simply to say this: In the 'real' world you don't get any gold stars on your report card if you do a good bit of work but don't comply with rules. On the contrary, you may well end up with expensive contract liabilities, unenforceable patent applications, losing out to your competitors, health and safety prosecutions (or worse, personal injury outcomes), and/or Court cases and fines, or worse still. You don't need 'mens rea' to find yourself at the wrong end of a legal issue, all you need to do is fail to realise there is some rule you were supposed to follow that you didn't know about. These school fairs are to do with learning - so the way I see this is that there is some good learning worth taking to heart in this episode, yet still within the 'safety net', so to speak, of an educational environment that will not be seeking punitive measures for the rule error.

I hope Conrad is satisfied and comfortable with his efforts, and I trust that he had already found his own rewards from his work.

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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by krfkeith » Tue Aug 27, 2013 11:50 pm

For starters, I've never been a fan of science fairs to begin with. As Carl said, the way they "work" is counter to how the scientific community operates. Science is a wholly collaborative enterprise. Whereas, science fairs, by comparison, are ordeals which essentially, in my opinion, award self-aggrandizement.

But more to the point: while I don't know the specifics of the even in question, honestly, does a fusor really have a place at a science fair to begin with? I don't think so. To be frank, how exactly is replicating an experiment (and I don't mean to denigrate the difficulty here) an example of science? At best, it could be construed as engineering, but I think that would be tenuous at best. What hypothesis are you testing? As a hobby, it's one thing, but as an attempt to garner favor, I will say I am not a fan of them. People here have mentioned the misunderstanding over the danger of them, and while I agree that is there to a degree, I think a larger problem is actually the reverse.

My biggest problem to begin with, is that they "cheat," in a sense, by wowing people with loaded, or at least, mysterious (to those unfamiliar with the subject) words like "nuclear," "fusion," "reactor," "deuterium," etc. This already gives the contestant an upper hand. Because, when someone unacquainted with the subject first hears of it, I guarantee, they're going to be thinking the kid built a nuclear power plant in their backyard. And yes, obviously judges will (in theory) know better, but they, as all humans, are not immune to the inertia such projects acquire when the media or just other laymen get a hold of it. For example, I mentioned elsewhere that I'm trying to build a sputter deposition machine. Now, in my opinion, from the perspective of a hobbyist this is roughly an equivalent undertaking. Well, perhaps not quite, as I'm only trying to do "simple" DC sputtering, but with things like reactive sputtering it can get quite complicated. Even more so if you want to move on to chemical vapor deposition. In any case, it's a non-trivial task and certainly nothing to scoff at. I'm 20, so I'm not going to be entering any high school science fairs, but let's say I were entering a science fair. Take two people off the street, and ask them whether they think building a "nuclear fusor" or a "sputter deposition machine" is more impressive. For that matter, show them the devices operating. Do you really need to ask which one will come out ahead?

That brings me back to the point I already reiterated earlier, about misrepresenting science. While the idea of the aforementioned lone genius is an unrealistic one to say the least, there is of course nothing to say a lone genius is incapable of executing valid scientific experiments. Fusors, however, I don't really qualify in this regard either. I'm not denying they aren't extremely interesting, but there's not really a whole lot of questions to answer with respect to their operation is there? The mechanism of inertial electrical confinement is well understood, and I don't really think it's up for debate that IEC fusion (at the very least, in the Farnsworth-Hirsch variety) is not going to net energy. In short, building a fusor, even if it's a slight variation, isn't doing anything new. I mean, if some of these people were building polywells then we might be talking! By comparison, sputtering is awash with variables to test. You could look at the effects of voltage, distance between the target and substrate, substrate temperature, pressure of the argon gas in the chamber, and a host of other things that escape me. Again, I'm not trying to make it out like building a fusor is easy, it most certainly isn't, but just because something is hard doesn't make it an example of a scientific experiment.

While this is perhaps somewhat tangent to the issue, a gripe I have with them, in science fairs, is that it's just not really fair to the economically disadvantaged. How many kids are there out there who are perfectly capable of building one, but simply don't have the money, or space to house it? By far, the biggest threshold to entry is the cost. There are plenty of equally challenging and intellectually rigorous projects without the same extensive cost someone could do for a science fair project, but I can't think of any that have the same kind of hold on people's imaginations. Even aesthetically, fusors are nearly unparalleled. When people see the purple glow of the plasma the details don't even really matter anymore to them. I'm not trying to say people are stupid. What I mean is that, people who aren't trained in science, equate things which appear exotic and unusual (for example, the plasma in the fusor) as being the most complicated or conceptually advanced.

Lastly, and I might be showing more of my cynical side here, I really take exception to how people want to paint these kids who built them out as child prodigies or geniuses for having built them. Note however, that I'm not saying they're stupid, or for that matter, aren't geniuses, but rather that it doesn't take a genius to make one. Some people may disagree with me, but I don't think that the way they work is complicated at all, and I don't think having a basic understanding of how they work is beyond the capabilities of most people with a basic physics education. The details of constructing one are definitely non-trivial. However, many of the things that make that difficult aren't at all specific to fusors! I dare say a lot of the complications arise from having to figure out how to do things without tens of thousands of dollars of grant money. And that, itself, isn't something to forget about! That being said, I somehow doubt that when these kids are being with showered with praise, the people doing so are thinking about how amazing it was that they managed to completely refurbish a non-working turbomolecular pump and build a controller for it (or whatever). I would hazard to guess the vast majority of these kids have had mentors of some sort, which is fine, but this is a detail consistently absent from articles and news segments. Again, this all goes back to the child prodigy narrative. Many of you have mentioned, here and elsewhere, about how far too many have basically used the forum and promptly left after their use for it was over. And even more absurd, is when the nature of what building a fusor means is blown way out of proportion. When Taylor Wilson built his, well, I suppose he was one of the first. And I can understand why people find the whole story fascinating. What I don't understand is why he's receiving $100,000 grants, and meetings with the President, and whatever else with respect to developing and discussing viable means of nuclear energy. I'm personally of the opinion that fusion energy is the greatest scam of the century, but even if you don't, the fact is that for the foreseeable future we're stuck with fission. What exactly qualifies Mr. Wilson to talk about nuclear energy, other than the fact that "nuclear fission" and "nuclear fusion" both contain the word nuclear? In terms of energy source, the farnsworth fusor is a dead end. This isn't going to change. There's a reason why fusion which nets energy is difficult, and in fact, net energy producing fusors already exist, they're called stars. Essentially it's a question of how you build a star on Earth. And I guarantee that won't be solved by one person, even if he or she has $100,000 or $100 million dollars.

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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Richard Hull » Wed Aug 28, 2013 3:51 pm

You sound like me after these many years. I have been expounding in the exact manner. Fusion, at least over unity net energy fusion, is a scam for me as well.

The fusor doesn't define genius, as you note, but it can define a type of individual. This would be a "hands-on" individual with the capability of displaying multi-talented effort in a venture that requires some funding and a good deal of effort not common to the youth of today. Regardless of this site and its informational content reducing the fusor to an engineering endeavor, it remains a tough one and in the doing, separates some wheat from the chaff.

As I noted above, in a science fair, it would only win now if it was used in some novel experimental fashion. I would not think ill of anyone with a fusor in any sort of scientific competition.

There is always some pride, at any age, in being able to say, "I have personally done fusion with my own hands and using my own treasure, effort and skills".

Too many arrive here thinking that with a tweak or a new artifice, the fusor can gain 3 orders of magnitude improvment. It is not going to happen using D-D fuel.

As for power ready fusion............Fusion is the energy of the future and it always will be.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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