The first Fusor?

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Frank Sanns
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The first Fusor?

Post by Frank Sanns »

At our WaterStar summit near Los Angeles, we had a chance to see many files and unique items from the Farnsworth estate. Thanks to Jonathan Moulton, great grandson of Philo, we saw things that had not been seen by knowing eyes for decades.

I had the privilege of sorting through boxes and files, many in the hand of Philo Farnsworth himself. There were also a few boxes of unknown items. One box in particular had much old padding in it. On the padding were small sparkling pieces of what looked like fine broken glass. I put on some lint free archival gloves to protect myself as well as anything that might be in box. Some people chuckled at the site of the white gloves but being around archival items and items that should not be touched was natural for me. I was hunting treasure but did not know what I might find.

Seeing the sparkles, I was sad fearing that a treasure was in pieces in this box but I continued to unwrap the contents. The first item in the box was a copper hemisphere with a large circular cookie cutter type inside shell. Then the other hemisphere with a similar pattern on the interior surface. I was still waiting for the sad moment of what was broken but further inspection of the sparkles looked like mica. There was nothing else related in the box so the mica was coming from the hemispheres. Sure enough, the flat cookie cutout pattern on the inside of the shell was actually electrically insulated from the main shell with a thin layer of mica.

The picture shows the shells compete with vacuum and gas inlets, a viewport, and electrical feed throughs. The inner grid and the drawing were not yet brought together as we were playing a puzzle game to figure things out. Then the exclamation by Johnathan that he had seen a drawing that might be similar. Sure enough, there was the drawing and in a previously opened box, was the inner cone grid. The photo is of all of the existing pieces of the perhaps earliest of all of the fusors.

This design is interesting because the voltage potential could not be very high with only tens of thousandths of an inch on insulation. It appears that this design would have been running in an opposite polarity than we normal run. The design seems to suggest that ions were pushed to the center and funneled like particles into the interior of the cone inner grid. I find this interesting as the cone would make no sense electrically do get the job done but would make sense if it were a funnel to usher grains of sand into close proximity. This of course cannot work but is an interesting initial concept that after many years, men, and iterations became the fusor that we know today.

It is easy to look at the combined drawing, inner grid, and outer grid and make sense of it but things were no so clear when he first hemisphere was pulled from its storage box.
Achiever's madness; when enough is still not enough. ---FS
We have to stop looking at the world through our physical eyes. The universe is NOT what we see. It is the quantum world that is real. The rest is just an electron illusion. ---FS
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Richard Hull
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Re: The first Fusor?

Post by Richard Hull »

The art work is fabulous! The device seems to have copper chloride corrosion stains from long term storage resulting in the outgassing from the acid core solder over the years. All the years in storage have made it look rather shabby.

In my posts in the "Attic" I note that George Bain said that mica was used in the earliest devices. Gene noted that what little work was done in 57/58 at State street had so much mica in some of the devices that you could not get a good vacuum due to its outgassing. It is to be remembered that ITT in
Fort Wayne was a vacuum tube manufacturing and design setup. Mica is a great insulator used extensively in vacuum tubes as the basis for holding cathodes and grids in place. That mindset was certainly used in this device. Mica is great for voltages up to 1kv in most any vacuum tube.

Fort Wayne would soon be in the biz of large vacuum systems of a size that would see the "Tube lab" no longer used. Wayne Frame in charge of the model shop would, in future, be the the prime source for all fusor construction guided by a tiny team of folks not use to big nuclear based devices where glass and mica would never do. The Tube Lab's role was relegated just to get the early vacuum systems up and running and adapting it to the early experimental fusion effort. The team brought down, from the tube lab, their permanent vacuum expert, Fred Haak in late 61 or early 62.

I wonder if this was never meant to have super high voltage on it, but have maybe 1kv of high frequency RF on the grid to work a form of multipactor concept. Obviously it failed, whatever their imagined outcome would be.

Too bad Gene is no longer here. I bet he could tell us all about this device and when and just how the heck was it used. I am sure he would say it was a device that went no where and was at best a teachable moment in failure mode. No body had ever attempted this so we must not be to harsh or overly judgmental. Ya' gotta' start somewhere.

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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Re: The first Fusor?

Post by Paul_Schatzkin »

A closer look at the artwork:
Note the initials, EGF. That's "Elma Gardner Farnsworth," aka "Pem."

She started drafting diagrams and schematics for Phil in 1926 when they first set up shop on New Hampshire Ave in Los Angeles. Like her brother Cliff Gardner who became the lab's glass blower, everybody was learning everything on the fly.

Paul Schatzkin, aka "The Perfesser" – Founder and Host of
Author of The Boy Who Invented Television: 2023 Edition –
"Fusion is not 20 years in the future; it is 60 years in the past and we missed it."
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