Is It A Farnsworth... or a Hirsch (redux)

This section contains files, photos, and commentary by Philo or those who have worked with, known him, or are related to him.
User avatar
Frank Sanns
Site Admin
Posts: 1798
Joined: Fri Jun 14, 2002 6:26 pm
Real name: Frank Sanns
Location: Pittsburgh, PA USA

Re: Is It A Farnsworth... or a Hirsch (redux)

Post by Frank Sanns » Thu Dec 24, 2020 4:59 pm

No argument here on the historical data. It is what it is.

With that said though, I think there are other aspects to the story. Thanks to Jonathan Moulton (Philo's grandson), Phil Savernick for hosting and Paul Schatzkin for fanning the embers, I had the opportunity to examine some pieces of that history.

Having personally examined boxes of pieces of the earliest Farnsworth from the private family collection, up through some of the later, I can say there was an evolution in place. Opening an old box with something totally foreign to me, and experienced Fusor builder, was informative.

The science of how to do controlled laboratory fusion was in its infancy. The first Ivy Mike fusion weapon was only detonated a few years earlier. A laboratory race was also started to create controlled fusion for energy. Just about all of the approaches that you hear about today had their infancy in those years of the 1950s and 1960s. People were trying many approaches to make fusion viable. Much of what was learned was now difficult to do things but equally important, what would not work.

I view the Farnsworth contribution to this. It was his conception of a new idea to throw on the table and see what might come of it. Having held the precursor to even the one in the famous picture of Philo looking into bell jar, it was clear that much thinking was going on in the vacuum of knowledge of the entire world when it came to laboratory fusion. Even today, 50 years later, laboratory fusion is not yet working.

The days of Philo were full of dreaming of the solutions and not stopping to try to achieve those. In his personal notes are visions of what he personally believed a small fusor could do for the populations of the world. He dreamed of fantastical uses of fusion power in everyday life. Things that are the stuff of science fiction that might have been reality had he or others succeeded. Farnsworth did not want a device a mile long. He wanted something that could fit in the trunk of a car and power it or could make it fly with its endless power supply. I really admire his vision and his work in those days.

It is easy for us today so say that he was going down an unproductive route but then again we have 2020 vision in 2020. When I unpacked a piece of copper and some sparkles came off, I realized how little knowledge was available at that time. The sparkles were mica broken off from larger pieces that thinly insulated a multi circle template out of a copper sphere. It was the electrical insulation that was probably only good for a couple thousand volts at best. Or was it simply a capacitor for RF feeding of that inner template. To me it was visionary and left an impact on me. Not because it ever was successful but it gets and A+ from me as a novel approach from everything else out there. This continued in other designs and especially when people with other ideas and knowledge came to the party.

While the Hirsch Meeks design is what some of us have built as fusor, it is the direct result of the inspiration and vision of somebody driven for a SOLUTION. Will the new cube Fusor of HM design crossed with an Einsel lens be the new unit called a Fusor? Only time will tell but the initial seed and vision all started back with those earliest designs.

With that said, most of us would agree that metrology early on would have been appropriate but in the end, would it have really changed any results? I personally spent the majority of my work with various configurations studying the plasma itself before ever putting deuterium in to see if that was a little or a lot better than the previous design. We are making minor adjustments to a lossy system. Farnsworth was not looking minuscule changes. He was looking for the home run. Had he found the fusion sweet spot, gamma, activation, heat and other indicators including illnesses and death would have made it obvious even without proper neutron detection. Real fusion at useful rates is not subtle.

And then we had the funding issue then as we have it now. Progress and inflated reports have always been a problem when you are trying to get funding from the scientifically illiterate pencil pushers.

I just wanted to add this to the record to frame this and what is written in Richard's Attic. Perspective is everything. Hindsight is easy for us but stand in those shoes, with those dreams, and those purse strings and see how you would have aimed for the moon.

User avatar
Richard Hull
Moderator
Posts: 13076
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

Re: Is It A Farnsworth... or a Hirsch (redux)

Post by Richard Hull » Thu Dec 24, 2020 10:29 pm

Thanks for that perspective Frank. It is sobering in hindsight to wonder how anyone with any grasp of fusion might have thought it was possible in any simple or exceeding complex device in a laboratory space or even a gymnasium sized space. Nature and the physics militates strongly and rightfully against any form of fusion, save on the grandest scale that our feeble minds can comprehend. Even totally out of control fusion as done on earth in 1952 with the hydrogen bomb demanded a minimum of the power of a 20 kiloton atomic fission bomb to begin to create the instantaneous temperatures needed to burn the liquid deuterium and later liquid tritium in the fusion part of the bomb.

Again fission is internally stored nuclear energy and easily released as nuclear energy at a totally controlled rate! Like coal burning, you can easily and simply control the release of the nuclear energy. It is extant there stored internally. It is a totally mechanically controlled release of nuclear energy held in U235 at room temperature in the lab to create a mere warming due to a mechanical process. This warming process is smoothly controllable through a huge range from that of a summer day to far beyond the core temperature of the hottest stars. (A bomb)

This is not the case at all with fusion. There is no stored energy in any neutral light atom lest it fuse with a like atom. Therein lay the rub. "lest they fuse"! Not a single fusion is possible unless a huge amount of input energy force the two fusible atoms together against their coulombic will. Even then, where visible and measurable fusion takes place, the fusion energy is too weak to be harvested and not equal to the input energy. The entire endeavor, in addition, is probabilistic in nature. The fusion process is soiled at every turn "on the small", on "the laboratory scale". Will we ever learn that while bigger is, indeed, better in fusion, we can't make it "pay", even if we make it work in the humongous for billions in the treasure spent?! Fission and fusion are two different animals. One is ready to use nuclear coal and the other a mere nuclear physics dream and a seeming bridge too far.

The 2020 hindsight in 2020 might be good in pitying the work of the past wide-eyed experimenters, but it turns out it is not a learning experience for those of today. All that work from 1952 and Lyman Spitzer on to 2020 and beyond has taught us one thing. Bigger must be better. The pity is they are right!! The question is how big and how expensive will any successful, distributable fusion watt-hour be?

Regarding the name of the fusor. To my way of thinking, we might call any iteration of a non-linear, acceleratory, mechanical AMATEUR fusion system doing fusion, partially or totally, in velocity space, a fusor, regardless of innovations related to its internals. I do believe due to progress in amateur fusion, we have and can expect future improvements to varying degrees. the key is "amateur efforts" needed to determine the fusor concept.

In the end, is there a possible fusion, "lucky donkey"?

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.

Joao_P
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu Jan 14, 2021 11:12 pm
Real name: João Paulo

Re: Is It A Farnsworth... or a Hirsch (redux)

Post by Joao_P » Tue Jan 26, 2021 3:57 am

Thank for the information about the history of the Farnsworth fuser. The information and photos were very valuable. I made a lot of notes on technical terms to search in more detail. Thanks to mr. Paul_Schatzkin, Richard Hull, Frank Sanns for information, stories and photos.

Post Reply

Return to “Philo T Farnsworth Archive”