Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Reflections on fusion history, current events, and predictions for the 'fusion powered future.
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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by krfkeith » Wed Aug 28, 2013 6:16 pm


You summed up my thoughts exactly. Going slightly off-topic, I should mention I by no means doubt fusion energy is possible. If it weren't, we wouldn't be here talking about it! Okay, all kidding aside, what I really mean is that I have no doubt artificial fusion reactors made by we humans are possible. However, the problem with it is that it does not, and cannot scale down. To get net energy out of fusion, you necessarily need something like an ITER. As I mentioned, fusion energy is basically akin to building a star on earth. To be precise, despite popular belief, net-energy fusion reactors actually already exist. They're called thermonuclear weapons, otherwise known as the hydrogen bomb. The question then, is not how we get energy out of the process of fusion, but rather, how we do it without doing it all at once, and, in the process, flattening everything in a 20-mile radius.

There are many criticisms of nuclear fission energy. There are few of these, however, which are not directed at specific designs, such as the RBMK (the most (in)famous example being Chernobyl), which I think are valid. That being said, there is one drawback to nuclear energy, which I do think there is something to. By its very nature nuclear plants have to be large, and so, by extension, exarcerbate the problem of dependance by the many on the few. Despite the promise of energy "too cheap to meter," as trite as it may sound, where there's a will, there's a way. In theory, you can always build a smaller solar cell, a smaller windmill, dam a smaller river, or for that matter, burn a few lumps of coal. You can't really do that with nuclear fission. And while there are some designs, for example, the SNAP reactor which was used to power satellites, realistically speaking, it just wouldn't be safe or realistic to have a garden shed sized nuclear reactor for every 10,000 people.

Now, you think that's bad, well try fusion. The up front costs are at least two or three orders of magntitude higher than for fission, and despite what some have said, I would posit that can never go down because it is intrinsic to the nature of fusion energy. ITER, for example, has basically taken the entire EU and a good deal of money from other countries thrown in to get built. Are we going to have a few single power plants for the entire world? What happens if one went down, or had to be turned off for maintenance? This is why I think fusion energy is a bunch of claptrap, because it can't be scaled, and it isn't going to be cheap. Things like ITER don't run themselves! You need hundreds of highly trained professionals monitoring it all the time, and that isn't free. Som even if you get to the point where the fuel costs are negligible, the costs of training and paying people to actually run the thing won't be.

Ross Moffett
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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Ross Moffett » Wed Aug 28, 2013 6:51 pm

Having worked in coal-powered and natural gas-powered electric plants, I'd like to point out that staffs of highly trained professionals are required to maintain those as well. My field is instrumentation engineering (that is, the automation equipment monitoring, controlling and alarming on process variables). I was told it takes 8 years to master my field in the application of coal-fired steam plants. That's 26% of a 30 year career, not including a bachelors degree, just to master one of the arts of power generation.

Nuclear fission requires the same, in triplicate, in case anything should go wrong (and that's still not enough in at least three cases).

However, comparing the ITER reactor to a for-profit power reactor isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, because after the research is done and the power production method a known factor, lots of the highly trained staff and huge budget problems go away. For starters, a very small amount of the workforce would have a PhD or Masters level of education for sure. Of course it's going to be a huge budget hog.. probably one very similar to the gigawatt scale nuclear fission reactors of today. My guess is that if it ever becomes possible someone is going to muster the funds just to say they've got one.

Despite the cynicism of small-scale fusion reactors, I still hold out hope that one day, someone will figure something out. I'll piddle away and experiment for fun, not expecting anything groundbreaking to happen. Regardless, I'll tell you the same thing I tell people who call me with tech support problems, claiming that their equipment is fine because it was working fine before. "It always works fine, until it doesn't." Similarly, before a breakthrough can be made, it always doesn't work, until the right circumstances occur and it does.

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Carl Willis
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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Carl Willis » Wed Aug 28, 2013 8:00 pm

This thread is wandering distant from the original topic, which was a particular news item about one of our members and his ISEF experience. General perorations on the old warhorse of fusion power plants (which are not the focus of fusor.net anyway) should be put in a new thread in the appropriate forum.
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Rich Feldman
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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Rich Feldman » Thu Aug 29, 2013 12:44 am

krfkeith wrote:... 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? ...
Our regional science fair has a separate entry category for Engineering projects.
That typically gets a few projects per grade, and would be ideal for a starter fusor.
The judging criteria for Engineering are different from those for Science projects (Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc.)
You can read the details starting 2/3 of the way down in this document, as of August 2013.
https://sites.google.com/site/synopsysc ... dgingguide

A plain old neutron-producing fusor, if entered under Physics project, might not score well for Scientific Thought (which ideally represents only 30% of the total available points).
What's the hypothesis being tested? The variables? The control?

At times I've had to argue with other judges about a project that looked like the obvious #1.
It could have lots of Wow, lots of skill and knowledge, lots of personal charm.
But needs to be knocked down a notch if creativity and science are lacking.
It helps to be able to recognize hardware from kits, or made from online instructions, so that factor can fairly be taken into account.
All models are wrong; some models are useful. -- George Box

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Jim Kovalchick
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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by Jim Kovalchick » Thu Aug 29, 2013 12:12 pm

A lot of baloney being thrown around here. ISEF stands for International Science and Engineering Fair. Also, before one goes throwing stones at the projects, maybe one should take the time to go look at them first. All the fusor projects I have examine had some kind of unique science or engineering premise, maybe not Nobel worthy, but good projects nonetheless. They have not been simple repeats of other people's projects.

You have to admire the high school fusor projects if even just for the commitment and passion the kids have shown for science and engineering. Just go ask their competing peers. When my son competed at the 2012 ISEF with several other fusioneers, an MIT bound competitor in the physics category told me that he was impressed by the fusor group for just how deeply they all seemed to have explored the science behind their work. The fusioneers there were no more geniuses than that MIT bound non-fusioneer, but by his own admission they certainly earned the admiration of their peers.

Finally, the Nobel prize winning astro-physicist who spoke with my son directly about his project didn't have a cynical impression of the project at all. I think that says enough.

John Futter
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Re: Disqualified from Intenational science fair

Post by John Futter » Mon Sep 09, 2013 9:21 am

From my point of view it is unfortunate that Conrad's team infringed the rules.
This may have been bought on by "tall poppy syndrome" people finding a flaw to rid themselves of a threat
Rules are rules
I'm presently watching the Americas cup and The Oracle team have been caught cheating and are now paying the penalty.
I am not saying that anyone knowingly cheated here but the outcome is the same.
take heart the mistake was not yours but in the team, and in this case your project takes the can.

Jim I agree with all you have said
Keith I think you might be right but do you not have the all encompassing knowledge to dismiss the fusor.

Finally Conrad what you have done so far will already open doors for you.
don't grumble but look at the positive side --and say "I did that"

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