Trailhead: [ treyl-hed ] noun: the point where a trail starts.
Waterstar: [ waw-ter + stahr ] noun: a miniature, synthetic star produced by the fusing of atomic parrticles distilled from water.
A couple of days ago, Richard Hull, the True Guardian of All Things Fusor, inquired about creating a new space where he can begin curating the Vast Quantities of information he gathered starting in the late 1990s in interviews with the various principals in the ITT/Farnsworth fusion project who were still living at the time. That discussion started here:
Richard's initiative comes in concert with the effort that started in Los Angeles in January, when several of us gathered with Philo Farnsworth's great-grandson Jonathan Moulton to begin assessing the family archives that have been shipped to LA from the Farnsworth's previous home in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. The primary purpose of that gathering, "The Waterstar Summit," was to begin to get a grip on the fusion-related material in those archives, as reported here:
Since Jonathan first contacted me last summer, we have talked about resurrecting an initiative that was first considered in the early aughts with Jonathan's father Tim Moulton and his grandfather, Kent Farnsworth (Philo T. Farnsworth's youngest son –1949-2017).
At the time we started calling it "The Waterstar Project" – "Waterstar" being an expression my first ex-wife and I came up with in the 1970s, about the same time I first coined the expression "star in a jar" (I'm nothing if not a master of the obvious).
Jonathan and I have repeatedly used the expression "finding the trailhead" to express our preoccupation with whatever it was that inspired Philo T. Farnsworth to begin his experiments with nuclear fusion in the late 1950s.
There is no question that Phil (as he was more commonly known) Farnsworth had more insight into the quantum mechanics that are possible within a vacuum tube than anybody before or since his time (especially 'since' – who even messes with vacuum tubes any more in the age of silicon?).
This is, after all, the man who turned Einstein's ideas (in particular the photoelectric effect, for which Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1921) into television, the single most ubiquitous appliance in all of human history. That singular point of entry – and the relentless need to improve on the initial conception throughout the 1930s – afforded Farnsworth a unique perspective on the inner workings of quantum forces and particles.
Fast forward to this scene in the summer of 1953, as described by Philo Farnsworth III (Phil and Pem's oldest son) in my Farnsworth bio, The Boy Who Invented Television. The Farnsworth family is driving to Utah for a testimonial dinner in Salt Lake City...
And here we are sixty years later... still trying to find the answer to that riddle.Rolling over the hot, endless plains in an “unrefrigerated car,” [Philo III] shared the backseat with his new wife, Ruth, his younger brother Skee, and a fifth of white wine, which they shared “in the clutch of our own ennui, hoping the day will end as soon as possible.” Pem was driving, with four-year-old Kent asleep with his head in her lap. Phil was slumped in the front seat, his head down, his fedora pulled down over his eyes.
All of a sudden, “Dad practically jumped out of his seat in one fluid movement and punched his fist forward, saying ‘I’ve got it.’ It was very uncharacteristic of him to grab you like that and say ‘hey, I’ve got it’ to a car full of people. And I knew instantly ...my brother Skee and I had heard a lot of Dad’s talk [about fusion] ...we looked at each other and knew instantly that he’d had a large conception.”
As the concept of electronic television had arrived on a potato field in the summer of 1921, a practical approach to fusion energy arrived in a ’49 Cadillac on a Great Plains highway, somewhere between Indiana and Utah, in the summer of 1953. Farnsworth’s math, his  conversation with Einstein, his years of experience, his observations in the [spherical] Multipactor—and most of all “the daring of this boy’s mind”—suddenly converged to deliver the concept for a device and a process that could unleash the power of the atom cleanly and safely, with a fuel source as abundant as water.
As his son concluded, in that moment in the car somewhere between Indiana and Utah, Philo T. Farnsworth had discovered “the answer to the riddle of the sphinx.”
As described in my book and Pem Farnsworth's memoir Distant Vision: Romance and Discovery on an Invisible Frontier – that moment set Phil Farnsworth on a path of discovery that ended - for reasons surrounded in mystery – roughly fifteen years later. He died in 1971 – at the age of 64 – after an abortive attempt to resurrect the work in Salt Lake City.
The written record of that path wanders through as much myth as fact.
And here, at fusor.net, for the past 20+ years, we have kept that path open.
After decades of costly failure with other approaches to the conundrums of fusion energy (i.e. 'how do you bottle a star?') our challenge now is to return to the source, to "recreate the trailhead" and see if we can find the original path that Philo Farnsworth embarked on from the front seat of a '49 Cadillac, when the fusor showed up in his mind's eye.
Which brings us back to "The Waterstar Project" – thanks mostly to Jonathan Moulton's finding some papers with that title in the boxes and files in his grandfather's garage.
We are in the early stages of planning and launching or crowd-funding campaign to conduct a feasibility study to determine what it would take to 'find the trailhead' and see if we can follow Farnsworth's own path.
One of the primary purposes of the project will be to assemble a searchable, digital archive of not only the Farnsworth archives, but all the notebooks and journals stowed away in the stacks of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah. That effort has already begun.
So it is with some excitement that we look forward to providing a new space here where Richard Hull can begin curating the precious, priceless material that he has amassed over the years.
We've decided to put it under the umbrella of a new section of the Fusor.net forums dedicated to that fresh effort: "The Waterstar Project: Finding The Trailhead" – in order to begin providing some branding for that initiative, the rhetorical details of which are articulated here:
http://waterstarproject.com/read-the-wa ... manifesto/
It's a daunting project. There is a shit-ton of stuff to sift through, to organize, to digitize, to store and serve. We don't know yet what all it will entail or what it will cost.
But we are driven by the possibility that if, indeed, we can find the trailhead, if we can recreate the path, then there is at least the possibility that we can rediscover the secret that Philo Farnsworth's family insists he "the took with him to his grave."