Historical reflection on an early fusioneer

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Richard Hull
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Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

Historical reflection on an early fusioneer

Post by Richard Hull » Sat Dec 03, 2016 9:29 am

Joe Zambelli was in his second or third year of college when he built his first fusor. Joe was only the third amateur to do fusion, but he did it with a flare! For two years after the first two amateur fusors made neutrons, The Songs.com forum grew slowly in postings but far slower in actual mechanical, hands-on effort. In early November of 2001 Joe's father called me and told me his son had a working fusor based on his reading the songs board postings. His dad said Joe was too shy to contact or talk with me directly, but that He and Joe would love to have me come visit them in Phillipi, West Virginia and stay a couple of days, work with Joe and his fusor and share their family's thanksgiving dinner with them.

I plotted the journey back then on map quest and noted that I could get 3/4 of the way there in about 3.5 hours. However due to the terrible mountian roads with limited speeds on hairpin curves, another full 90 minutes were needed. I agreed to come and made the trip safely. The roads were, indeed, nasty.

Upon arrival, I found Joe's dad was working on his car. He went in the house with me and introduced me to Joe. Joe was relatively shy and actually a bit overly modest at first, but as we talked, he loosened up a lot! Soon he was an ebulant chatterbox. He was taking nuclear physics in college and was a 4.0 student. Bright boy! He knew his stuff on the fusor and fusion in great detail. I realized that I had nothing to teach him in the physics of fusion.

Upon seeing his fusor, my eyes got bigger than golfballs! What a stunning masterpiece! I thought my fusor III was a winner in general construction, though I had cut corners in some areas. Joe, however, had pulled out all the stops! I thought he had chrome plated everything! By this time, his dad had silently slipped half way down the basement steps, sitting and listening to us and my un-relenting praise for what I was looking at. His dad was super proud. Joe used a sapphire leak to hyper control his gas flow. (about $2000 new) His e-bay buy at $150.00. Joe had also followed my early lead in the songs forums of not using a secondary pump, but using a Lesker micro-maze after the mechanical forepump to achieve sub-micron, 10e-4 torr levels. It worked great for both of us. later, 2004, I would be sure to have a diff pump on the new fusor IV to conserve the ever more costly, deuterium.

Joe and I chatted and fusor'd the rest of the day. I had brought my PNC-1 Eberline neutron counter, as Joe was using a stock PMT and plastic scintillator detector but had carefully shielded the plastic with lead, based on his own calcs. He then had set the threshold and upper and lower limits on his system electronics so that it did count neutrons and high energy gammas only, but it still had a background due to Phillipi being at a significant elevation. We operated his system and my counter indicated he was doing great fusion....about 250k n/s. At that time this was about double what I was getting with fusorIII!

The next day, Thanksgiving, we were operating again and he got up to 320k n/s. He, like myself, was limited in his input voltage back then, (25-30kv). As we worked, the smells of his mom's cooking for the fabulous dinner drifted down into the basement. This was making us hungry and our stomachs rumbled until dinner. The next morning, as I drove home, listening to my arteries harden from the meal last night, I realized that I would probably never see another fusor as well done as his. I have seen better fusors, yes. I have also seen far more capable fusors, but never the stunning masterpiece that Joe built with his own hands.

I learned he manufactured his own TIG welder and did his own machining and welded of all compnents. Before welding, each component of 304 SS was compounded and buffed to a mirror finish. Once welded up, the blue and yellow heat marks were again buffed out to mirror grade. His homemade PMT shell and all external hardware also suffered under the buffing wheel.

The images below will give the final word on his fusor.

After graduation, Joe went to Princeton of a free ride to study fusion specifically. His dad would later call and tell me the Zambelli fusor was sold with all gear for $10,000 to some start-up company, somewhere. Alas, Joe, at Princeton, was cubicaled into theoretical modeling. (Princeton's tokamak was preparing to be dismantled much to Joe's chagrin). With no hands on and no real fusion in his tenure there, he just dropped out in disappointment and the senseless, repetitive modeling of fusion. The last I heard, he was teaching 12th grade advanced physics in Phillipi.

Joe had the right stuff and packed the gear and backing of his dad and mom. I later found out that his grease-monkey dad, that I found under the hood of the car upon arrival, has his Phd in geology and worked for the West Virginia highway department! Cool!

Enjoy the images taken by me during that long ago visit to the third person to ever do amateur fusion in a fusor. (click to enlarge.)
This one of the most beautiful fusors ever built, albeit an early one
salepix3.jpg (44.14 KiB) Viewed 393 times
A fabulous image of the Zambelli fusion star
salepix5.jpg (10.65 KiB) Viewed 393 times
The setup in 2001 on my thanksgiving visit with the PNC-1. Lots of stuff to see and guess at.
Joe and I pose at his system.... True, table-top fusion
Here, Joe and I work his system to its highest level on Thanksgiving day.
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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