FAQ - The History of the Amateur Fusor Effort.

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Richard Hull
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FAQ - The History of the Amateur Fusor Effort.

Post by Richard Hull »

There is no coherent history of the amateur fusion effort using the "Farnsworth/Hirsch fusor". I will attempt to pull one together with the help of Paul and Tom on certain points.

The electrostatic spherical diode dates back to the work of Langmuir and Blodgett in the 1920's. The concept of electrostatic confinement fusion dates to limited work and a paper by Elmore, Tuck and Watson in the 50's as part of Project Sherwood and was part of a post war effort to expand on fusion concepts.

Philo Farnsworth was the father of the true fusor concept and the first fusor fusion occurred in the early 1960's at the ITT labs in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This was an ill funded, but interestingly successful effort that had its earliest beginnings in 1958 and went on until mid 1968.

ITT wished to turn the Fusor research over to the AEC, but they refused to get involved. Bob Hirsch and Gene Meeks, as part of a late ITT effort, created a simple, dual grided fusor. It was made to carry to the AEC in 1967 for a demonstration. All modern amateur and academic fusors owe their origin to this device. The device was ultimately patented (patent #723,825, Hirsch, Meeks, assigned to ITT, April, 1968). This patent covered both spherical and cylindrical grided devices. To see a copy of this key patent go to ...

The first university work with fusors began in 1969 at Brigham Young University under the auspices of Dr. Andrew Gardner with a remnant fusor donated from the shutdown Farnsworth effort. It was maintained and operated by ex-Farnsworth team member, Gene Meeks who moved to Utah and was employed there to operate and oversee the technical aspects of introducing BYU students to fusion under Gardner. The BYU fusor operation ended in 1972.

At some point in the mid to late 1990's Robert Bussard re-introduced the idea of the Hirsch-Meeks type fusor to, the University of Illinois, Urbana Champagne and the University of Wisconsin. Both universities now have very strong and vibrant fusor efforts underway. Discussions with George Miley of the Univ. of Illinois and John Santarius of the Univ. of Wisconsin, indicated that Miley's effort at U of I only slightly preceded U of W's fusor efforts. The startup dates seemed unclear and varied from 1995 to 1997. Both universities have sought uses for smaller IEC fusion devices as opposed to looking into scale ups into the fusion power realm.

It must be noted that the UIUC had always had an active interest and study of IECF, but the simple fusor was never part of it until the early 1990s.

******************* Academic Fusor update*********************

The following is an update of the University of Wisconsin's effort sent to me by Lou Wainwright 8/28/08.....His words....

I had a few comments to make on your history of the non-amateur Fusor activity in the 90s, as many of the dates you were provided were a bit late.

Bussard contacted Miley and Kulcinski in the early 90s. The UI and the Wisconsin fusor programs were started in 93, in September to be exact for the Madison one. I know because I built it (I also visited and saw the Illinois system in ’94, and I think it was build in early-93). The first data from the Wisconsin fusor was presented at the APS Plasma meeting in Minnesota in ’94 confirming these dates (here’s the poster session link):


You’ll see many familiar names listed.

"In early-mid 95, Kulcinski took possession of the remnants of the first version of the Polywell. Bussard had been funded by DARPA, but the funding ran out and Wisconsin agreed to store the system and make use of some of the components. So that Polywell was in operation in at least 94, and maybe 93. EMC2 was definitely around at that point.

In the period from 95-97 Tim Thorson published a couple of papers and his thesis on the operation of the Wisconsin fusor. They showed that the fusion events were dominantly coming from ion-neutral collisions, meaning that scaling was linear with power, and his theory work confirmed the conclusions from Todd Rider, both statements indicating that the fusor concept didn’t scale for power production.

That wasn’t really a surprise. The focus of the Wisconsin work had been on seeing if it could scale to high enough fluxes 10^10 to 10^12 n/s to be a useful industrial tool for small scale neutron production. Illinois had been focusing on this area as well, with some optimism, but to the best of my knowledge the engineering challenges (largely the heat deposition into the grid, not to mention the power requirements) have prevented any industrial applications from being developed.

Still, at the 10^4-6 range, it is a very practical and beautiful experiment with simple D-D fusion. It’s also an excellent teaching tool about plasmas, space charge, Langmuir probes, and of course fusion, and I’m delighted to learn that there is a thriving amateur community and appreciate your efforts in nurturing it. I’ll keep an eye on Fusor.net now that I know it exists.

Lou Wainwright

Wisconsin NEEP 93-95

Many thanks for this update of the academic effort with fusors....RH

Such academic efforts have had some funding at the college level. This has kept the fusor alive, over these recent years. The universities have done a good deal of first class research into the IECF concept and are still hard at it.

It seems the thrifty fusor has nothing but advantages to recommend it to any academic institution. It is incredibly cheap, even by under funded college standards, to assemble and operate. It provides for a lot of student "hands-on" activity as well as experiments and operational considerations. This helps keep undergrads engaged and post grads working on higher degrees within IECF research efforts.

There had never been any recorded amateur activity around this simple device due to its very limited public exposure. This was especially true for the ITT years where its work was regarded as "company confidential".

************ The Stage is set for Amateur Fusor Construction ****************

Some time in the mid 1990's, Doctor Robert Bussard, who was famous for his work in nuclear space propulsion research, (KIWI project), decided to construct and research an ungrided fusor design within his company EMC Squared. (Energy Matter Conversion Corp) Bussard dubbed his newly patented device as being a "polywell fusor"

Bussard, in an effort to stir up public awareness of the fusor and IEC concept, directed his multi-talented engineering guy who worked on his systems, Tom Ligon, to write an article to attract high school science project hopefuls. It was hoped that this effort would see the fusor in science fairs all over the land and "grease the ways" for Bussard's efforts and pleas for public and government funding. Bussard, for his part, also paralleled this amateur effort on Tom's part with a push to the world of academia by personally contacting the universities of Illinois and Wisconsin. Both universities, as mentioned above, did start active IECF fusor programs somewhat earlier in the 1990's.

Tom Ligon was a talented science fiction writer whose stories had been published in the premier sci-fi magazine, "Analog". After assembling a detailed article on the fusor, as Bussard had directed, Tom proposed it to the Analog editors who mulled it over a bit. The article was on hold as the editors weren't used to publishing scientific fact.

In 1996, Tom Ligon contacted Richard Hull about his Tesla coil activities and to inquire about purchasing one of Hull's Keithley electrometers. Tom made a visit to Richard's Richmond, Virginia lab in May of 1996. The two bonded immediately as kindred spirits of sorts.

Tom gave Richard a copy of his proposed article after hearing about Richard's life long interest in nuclear physics. Hull read the article and was interested, but as he was actively in pursuit of the "Tesla magnifier", the article was set aside.

While waiting for the Analog publishers to get off the dime, Tom was invited to Hull's annual Teslathon held in October, 1996 where as many as 55 amateur scientists would assemble for a full day of show and tell activities. Tom reported to Bussard the opportunity to inoculate many amateurs to the fusor concept. Bussard ordered Tom to quickly assemble a little demo fusor device of the sort an amateur could construct.

As late as the night before the event, Tom struggled to pull a crude, but workable vacuum in his makeshift Nalgene plastic desiccation chamber. He used two grids, an outer and an inner grid and a lashed up 15kv neon sign transformer based power supply and variac.

Tom arrived on the day of the event and set up what was the most curious and jury-rigged looking of all the demos. About mid-day his turn to demo came up. About 30 people packed in around the curious device. As the lab's lights were turned off, the bluish glow within the central grid drew oohs and ahhs from all assembled. Hull, seeing vast possibilities in the fusor that Tom's Analog article failed to impress upon him, video taped the entire demo for his series of publicly released VHS video tapes of TCBOR activities.

The word spread quickly during the daylong gathering and more folks jammed in to see the amazing device. Magnets were produced by the assembled crowd and the ever-lengthening bugle jet was steered around by curious, adept hands. Tom was, effectively, lashed to his device for the rest of the day with many requests to re-run it for smaller groups. The vacuum deepened over time, as Tom left the pump running. Each time the device was run, thereafter, the display was different and this haunted a few of those assembled, but Hull was an instant convert to the system.

*************************** What is a demo fusor? *******************

The term demo fusor is a term first coined by Tom Ligon and propagated forward by Hull into the amateur community. A demo fusor is a Hirsch-Meeks, dual grid device that uses air or another type of non-fusible gas and operated in the 4-10kv range to create the look and feel of operation as found in a real Farnsworth fusor fusion device. The difference in most demo fusors is strictly that no deuterium is used and the voltages remain below fusion or x-ray levels. Such a device gives the characteristic glow and star mode rays and is designed to show the concept of the fusor, looking and acting exactly the same without the radiation issues and elevated voltages found in doing real fusion.

Demo fusors are used by the aspiring amateur fusioneer to study ionization and operational considerations without danger or wasting expensive deuterium fuel. Most current amateurs tend to build a very robust demo fusor, such that all they need to do in order to move to the level of real fusion is just obtain deuterium gas with appropriate gas handling gear and get a higher voltage supply with radiation detection and safety gear.

Amateurs are urged to make a demo fusor first as the cost is low and familiarity with system design, handling and operational characteristics can be studied. One can then decide whether to proceed to the next level where costs can get quite steep, especially for a younger amateur Scientist in high school or college.

************************* The Stage is set for the First Amateur Fusion in a "Fusor" ************************

Tom's demo had totally infected Hull. He immediately set out to replicate what he saw so that he might investigate the device further on his own. Within a short 30 days, Hull had made a demo fusor, (fusor I), that was a bit more functional and less kludge-like than Tom's quickly thrown together system. Hull video taped the process all along the way. Hull got Tom to return and talk privately on tape about the history of the fusor and the Farnsworth effort in November of 96. In 1997 Hull had done a search on the Internet under Farnsworth and found the 'Farnsworth Chronicles on Paul Schatskin's "Songs.com" website.

Hull released his first two-hour videotape in 1998 on the basics of the Farnsworth fusor demo construction coupled with a bit of history of the fusor and the original ITT effort. This followed his first visit to Fort Wayne to interview surviving members of the ITT team in person.

Paul Schatzkin, (aka Th' Perfesser), had long been interested in, and was researching, the Farnsworth electronic television saga. He was actually preparing a book on the subject. The unusual, late life venture into fusion by Farnsworth was intriguing to Paul and he created a discussion forum within the online, "Farnsworth Chronicles" related to this subject at just the moment Hull needed it. The fusor discussion site was inaugurated and Hull stumbled onto it in January 1998. From here, the fusor fusion effort spread far beyond the simple forced "Johnny Appleseed" efforts of Tom Ligon. Even Bussard could not have asked for more from Tom's "first contact".
Check out this early "Songs" forum at https://fusor.net/old-boards/songs.com/

Within days of Hull's first posting, the board lit up with several other poster's. The very first poster on "Songs" was a Tesla coiling buddy of Hull's, Bert Pool, of Texas, expressing his appreciation for the forum's creation. - Bert never posted again after the first couple of weeks. Within a few weeks there were 20 or more active posters. The number steadily grew, but only Hull had a demo fusor. Tom's original demo fusor, ultimately, collapsed under atmospheric pressure in early 1997 due to overheating, crushing the grids and freezing into a distorted pancake. Tom would ultimately assemble a second, quite spectacular demo fusor in 1999 or 2000 for a trip to a science fiction convention.

As the "Songs" fusor discussion forum grew in 1999, Hull prepared a second 2-hour fusor videotape designed to help the amateur work up a formal fusing fusor device.

In 1997, Hull also interested Steve Hansen in the fusor. Steve published the "Bell Jar", a quarterly amateur vacuum publication. Hull rapidly prepared a short, 4 page, basic "how to" article for publication in Steve's Journal. This article, published in the summer/autumn 1997 issue of the "Bell Jar", would "scoop" Tom and become the first ever article on the construction of an amateur fusor. Analog would ultimately publish Tom's much larger and more extensive article in December of 1998. Hull's article would be read by only a very select and limited readership; Tom's article would go national to tens of thousands of Sci-Fi buffs.

Hull's 1997 "Bell Jar" article can be found at http://www.belljar.net/634fusor.pdf
Ligon's 1998 "Analog" article can be found at https://fusor.net/newbie/files/Ligon-QED-IE.pdf

The Bell Jar article was well received and bolstered amateur fusion efforts introducing amateur fusion to a cadre of folks already doing vacuum experiments and who were hungry for more vacuum applications at the amateur level.

Hull built his glass, bell jar, demo "fusor II" in mid-1997. Hull and Ligon spent much of 1997 in conference about fusors.

Once the Songs Farnsworth fusor forum was up, we see that in 1998 a number of fusor forum posters actually did assemble demo fusor systems of their own. The first demo fusors on “songs” were built by Joshua Resnick, Ed Wingate and Marcus Kolb.

There were many illustrious early posters who spent a lot of time posting and assisted others in understanding fusion for the first few years of the forum. Among the best were Jim Lux, Tom Dressel, Bruce Perreault, Scott Stephens and others, all have since departed.

During November 1998, Hull began manufacturing his first real, all metal, fusion device. It was an all stainless steel spherical vacuum chamber with the normal spherical, central wire grid.

In January 1999 Richard Hull was the first to do fusion in an amateur fusor with his Fusor III. He was working in tandem with Scott Little of Austin Texas on creating the first fusion. Scott achieved his first fusion a few weeks later in early March 1999. About three years would pass before the gifted and talented Joe Zambelli would produce the third amateur fusor that really fused in December of 2001. Both Hull and Zambelli would hit isotropic neutron numbers of 100,000 and then 250,000 n/s. Joe would ultimately achieve over 700,000n/s

Between Early 1998 and late 2001 there were a lot of demo fusors built, but these were either high school science projects that ended there or genuine attempts to do fusion that, once demo'd, never were carried higher to do real fusion.

With the collapse of the Dot Com revolution, the songs site went away and we moved to the "Intranets" in 2001 for a period of almost a year. We then moved to the current fusor.net site. Edit Note** we are currently in a new formatted site, (April, 2013). Th' perfesser has been a most gracious enabler and booster of amateur fusion and has supplied the bandwidth on the Internet over all these last 15 years. His part in this is not to be forgotten. Edit Note #2 Our site has recently moved to a new provider (Aug 2019) and is still in a state of assembly and working out bugs, but fully usable and enabled.

To view the old, archived intranets postings go to https://fusor.net/old-boards/intranets.com/index.html

The first science fair award of significance came when Michael Li won the Intel $75,000 scholarship with his neutron producing fusor in 2002. A couple of years later, Adam Parker would win a $10,000 Scholarship with his fusor.

Jon Rosenstiel would be the first person to hit the million neutron per second mark with his superb fusor in November of 2002 and start the earliest activation experiments.

Carl Willis, using his fusor, did some very advanced activation work in 2002 and both he and Jon continue doing this and reporting superlative results to this day.

The Neutron Club has really grown from 2 members in 1999 to 3 members in 2001 and, with a sudden burst of activity, accumulated an impressive number of "fusioneers" since 2003.

The reconstituted New -2022 Plasma club (demo devices) has a membership that constantly grows.

A read of the Fusioneer list in the 'Announcements' forum will give the order, if not the date that significant milestones were reached by many others.

The earliest fusioneers that still post regularly are Richard Hull (grand old man here and resident curmudgeon), Jon Rosenstiel (Most active fusioneer/experimenter), Carl Willis (most knowledgeable person on the list in all nuclear matters), Frank Sanns (resident chemist) One long time poster stands out in a class by himself and that would be Dave Cooper, whose sage advice and posts of tempered moderation litter the forums with wisdom and calm demeanor. The creative posts by Richard Hester featured numerous circuits he had designed for construction of nuclear detection systems. Richard kept things pretty simple and "off the shelf parts" were used.

The amateur fusion effort has been in the news and on TV as selected people are located and interviewed. It is a given that following each media blitz, we pick up a significant number of newbies to these forums. One of the most recent occurred when Thiago Olsen's fusor was featured in Popular Science magazine.

We have had a father-daughter team and at least two father-son teams, work on fusors. This shows that fusion can be a family activity shepherded by involved and engaged parents.

Significantly, for this author, he has seen several of the posters here show up as kids or young men, still in high school, in the mid 90's at his "Teslathons" who are, today, graduated scientists and engineers with their BS and MS degrees. Soon, there will be 2 or 3 PhDs from this group! I am very proud to have provided some small measure of inspiration to these young "go getters".

Among those youngsters that now tower above me are Carl Willis, Joe Zambelli, both in professional teaching endeavors - 2022.

There are so many fine contributors to this effort that a further listing would be futile.

Amazingly, and in summary, all of the fusor based academic and amateur fusion started because Dr. Robert Bussard wanted the fusor to go public! Bussard personally instigated and sought to push academic efforts at two universities and tasked his employee, Tom Ligon, to write a paper on the fusor in the 1996-1997 time frame. Tom lit a fire under Richard Hull who, once infected, would drop his work in Tesla Magnifiers and press forward into amateur fusion.

Concurrent to the above amateur activity, Paul Schatzkin, independently, added a small, arm-like, extension forum to his Internet website's "Farnsworth Chronicles" that allowed specific discussions revolving around the bizarre Farnsworth fusor. This enabled Hull and the earliest amateur fusion poster folks to bring in other amateurs, each with their own special slant and talent. This fortuitous chain of events has resulted in what you see before you here, today.

There is an active and always morphing community of amateur scientists, some of whom are true, amateur fusioneers. These folks can say, "I have done fusion.".... "I have done it with my own hands, my own time and my own money.".... "I have expanded my skills and knowledge base because of this effort.".... And finally,.... "I am more than I was before".

For those who would like to see some historical images, you might start in a group of clustered, archived posts in the Images Du Jour Forum starting at.


Richard Hull


Follow up August 2013...............................

Five years have now past since this original history effort on my part. We now have ~50 amateur fusioneers in the neutron club.

Doc Bussard, who started it all has, sadly, passed away. EMC2 is still around in some limited form, but for all the money spent on this effort, (a few million dollars?), the somewhat secretive polywell concept has not yet equaled the continuous fusion numbers that the best amateur fusors on this site have achieved with the researchers having spent only ~$1,000-$2,000 at most!

At least one lone wolf inventor has tried to develop a polywell outside of EMC2, but is now shut down and selling off his equipment inventory, having failed to do any real fusion based on the full polywell concept. No other amateur fusion effort has come along to displace the fusor in the price/performance arena. Of course, fusion claims abound on the internet for any number of devices, including cold fusion, but proof that is acceptable to the trained fusioneer/physicist just is not there and such claims often appear as what amounts to "junk science" on many "personal" websites.

A minor and marginally budding effort is being made in the amateur cyclotron arena. This quest might yield significant fusion results using beam-on-target fusion in amateur hands. However, a cyclotron, even a small model, is a vastly more expensive and complex undertaking. No significant, purely amateur result in fusion in this area has been published as of this date.

April 2023. I have tried to correct my error by replacing all of the Ss I have used in the perfesser's name. His real name is Paul Schatzkin.

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
The more complex the idea put forward by the poor amateur, the more likely it will never see embodiment
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Richard Hull
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Real name: Richard Hull

Re: The History of the Amateur Fusor Effort.

Post by Richard Hull »

Updated 4/3/08

To include new information regarding Robert Bussard's pivotal role re-introducing the fusor at the same point in time to both academia and Amateur Science!
(ref. Discussions with George Miley, UIUC and John Santarius, U of Wisconsin.)

To add URL's in the text body to include the Hirsh-Meeks patent and links to historical images.

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
The more complex the idea put forward by the poor amateur, the more likely it will never see embodiment
User avatar
Richard Hull
Posts: 14949
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 9:44 am
Real name: Richard Hull

Re: FAQ - The History of the Amateur Fusor Effort.

Post by Richard Hull »

I have updated this history with a postscript of sorts to keep it current as five years have passed since I originally posted it in an effort to inform where all this effort came from and where it is currently.

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
The more complex the idea put forward by the poor amateur, the more likely it will never see embodiment
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