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

It may be difficult to separate "theory" from "application," but let''s see if this helps facilitate the discussion.
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Is It A Farnsworth... or a Hirsch (redux)

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Tue Jan 07, 2020 4:51 am

This is gonna look familiar.

[As regular users of this site are aware, we had a bit of hiccup back in mid-December when we tried to upgrade our server capacity. Long story short, there was a SNAFU over the IP address; for a few days there were two versions of the site, and new posts were going onto an "old" version of the site. Unfortunately, that site got deleted right about the time we discovered what was going on, and we have been unable to recover the content that was posted between December 15 and 19. That included this post. I had created this post in my word processor before I drafted it here so it is easy for me to recover and re-post. Unfortunately that is not the case with Richard Hull's very detailed and erudite recounting of the research that was conducted at the ITT/Farnsworth lab in Fort Wayne, Indiana in the 1950s and 60s. It's really a lot to ask, but I do hope that Richard will recreate that post. In the meantime, here is my post that got disappeared in the SNAFU:]

- - - -

It it a Farnsworth – or a Hirsch?

This is a bit of a shaggy dog story, so bear with me.

My interest in all this has been percolating again, as it has from time to time over the course of the past 45 or so years. Remember, I was first introduced to this subject in 1973; I met the Farnsworth family in 1975, and the story has woven in-and-out of my life ever since. That origin story can be found here: ... cruz-1973/

A couple of months ago, I just got the idea to search the podcast universe to see if there was anything on the subject of fusion available. I was not really surprised to find "The Fusion Podcast" which was created and produced by Dr. Matthew Moynihan, a fusion (and former polywell) advocate with whom I have had a bit of contact over the years.

Among the listings I was pleased to find an episode featuring Carl Greninger... ... 0412182299

...who has been a contributor to these forums and operates the very successful Northwest Nuclear Laboratories in Seattle:

One thing that Carl said I'm that interview piqued my interest. He describes the fusor as...

".... a technology that was actually developed back in the 1950s. A man named Philo Farnsworth, who is also credited with inventing the first television set (sic) developed this machine. At the time telemetry and instrumentation was primitive compared to what it is today, and he fabricated the machine based on assumptions about the behavior of particles and energies as he knew them at that time and it is apparent from our studies that he didn't fully principles of the operation of the machine simply because he didn't have the instrumentation to fully measure all of the forces that are at work as he went about working with it and consequently drew some conclusions that weren't entirely accurate..."

I wondered what exactly he meant by that, so I wrote to Carl and he replied:

"Attached you will find the work of Jake Hecla, one of my early students, who figured out that the majority of the fusion events attributed to the Farnsworth fusor were in fact occurring anistropically and not isotropically.  That is to say, that the fusion was predominantly occurring in the walls of the reactor vessel, and not the negative potential well as Farnsworth had reported." 

The paper Carl referenced is here:
(4.1 MiB) Downloaded 10 times
Now, I know that I'm a complete dilettante when it comes to the actual science embodied in these devices. Nevertheless, when I scrolled through this document, this is the thing that got my attention:

HMV patent illustration.jpg
HMV patent illustration.jpg (135.33 KiB) Viewed 336 times

You see what it says at the bottom there? It says this is a "Schematic of a Farnsworth IEC Fusor."

Well, if I've learned anything from all this discussion over the past 20 years it is this: that is NOT a Farnsworth fusor. It is what I like to call the "Hirsch/Meeks Meeks Variation" of the Farnsworth fusor.

Robert Hirsch has a long and curious history with fusion research. After earning his PhD in nuclear physics with an emphasis in fusion, ITT – which had acquired Farnsworth, the company, the man and his work, in 1949 – hired Hirsch so that the fusion lab in Fort Wayne would have a credentialed executive on board to give the program... well, credibility. Hirsch was brought on as the guy who could convince the Atomic Energy Commission to fund ITTs fusion research so that ITT wouldn't have to spend its own funds on such a pie-in-the-sky undertaking as Philo Farnsworth's fusion bong.

But Hirsch had ideas of his own, not the least of which included an ambitious career trajectory that would ultimately propel him to the top spot in the Department of Energy's fusion program, where - despite his experience with Farnsworth and IEC – he funneled billions of dollars into hot whirling donuts.

While he was with Farnsworth in the mid-60s, Hirsch built fusors of his own design. He knew that he needed to persuade the AEC to siphon funds from other more entrenched institutional research. Working with a skilled engineer named Eugene Meeks ("the best hands in the business"), Hirsch developed the scaled down model of the fusor that we are all familiar with. There is one great photo of young Robert Hirsch and another ITT/Farnsworth engineer, Steve Blaising, getting ready to roll the first incarnation of the Hirsch/Meeks Variation into an AEC meeting. That's the infamous gathering where the officer in charge settled back in his chair, arms folded defiantly across his chest, and asked of the others present, "OK, whose budget is this going to come out of?"

45_portable_hirsch_blaising1.jpg (192.25 KiB) Viewed 336 times

The Hirsch Meeks Variation (let's call it the "HMV") is what we are all experimenting with here at - and what Carl Greninger and his students like Jake Hecla are working with at the very fine Northwest Nuclear Laboratories. Don't get me wrong. I think the HMV is a marvelous device and it daily proves the principle – that a star can be bottled using the principles and properties of the actual particles that are being confined. They don't need to be pressed together by massively brute, external forces.

But it is my contention that as useful as the HMV has been, despite the body of knowledge that has been accumulated here and elsewhere about its construction and operation, it has been more than 50 years since anybody has built an Actual Farnsworth Fusor (which I'm going to henceforth refer to as "AFF").

What's the difference? Well, let's start with this illustration from Farnsworth's patent:

Farnsworth Fusor Illustration.jpg
Farnsworth Fusor Illustration.jpg (123.2 KiB) Viewed 336 times

Remember, this is the patent that was described to me, when I first met the Farnsworth family in 1975, as "incomplete." The process of the patent's creation is recounted in both my biography of Farnsworth and Pem Farnsworth's memoir. By the time the patent was being prepared, Farnsworth himself had become sufficiently frustrated with the entire process (and concerned about the possible impact) that he'd slipped into the long, slow process of self-destruction that resulted in his untimely demise in 1971 at the age of 64.

What is most obvious about this illustration is the construction of the cathode at its center. I have actually seen one of these cathodes, and this is what it looks like:

It should be very obvious that this cathode is VERY different from the sort of wire grid that we (yes, I use the term loosely) are building into the fusors we are experimenting with at

I showed this photo of an AFF cathode to Frank Sanns recently, and his immediate observation on seeing it was that the large openings are Einzel lenses, as described here:

So right away, we know that the Farnsworth approach to this process was very different from the Hirsch approach.

At the very least, the presence of an electrostatic focusing feature in the cathode suggests a result very different from the "weren't entirely accurate" conclusions that Jake Hecla and Carl Greninger report from their work with the HMV.

Here my actual understanding of these things starts to go off the cliff. I don't know what else that cathode can do.

And so the questions:

Though both work on the same essential principles, what are the real differences between an AFF and and HMV? Obviously the design and construction of the cathode/grid is a big difference. And obviously the AFF illustration includes ion guns.

In conversations with Kent Farnsworth many years ago, he inferred that the large openings also gave whatever protons the reaction produced a way to reach the anode, where they could "work" toward the direct conversion of electrical output from the fusor. I guess that's one possibility.

What about the ion guns? Taken in combination with that remarkable cathode/grid, what do they add to the equation?

Despite all the work that has been done over the past two decades with the Hirsch/Meeks Variation, it has been more than FIFTY YEARS since anybody has attempted to build or experiment with an Actual Farnsworth Fusor.

Which begs the question: has the time come?
Paul Schatzkin, aka "The Perfesser" – Founder and Host of
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Re: Is It A Farnsworth... or a Hirsch (redux)

Post by ian_krase » Tue Jan 07, 2020 8:56 am

Now this is super interesting.

(one feels a little quantum of the legend akin to what Doug Coulter has been working on).

If those rings are einzel lenses, what make up the start and end elements? Are they insulated from the center somehow?

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

Post by Maciek Szymanski » Tue Jan 07, 2020 10:33 am

The design of this cathode is quite well explained in both - the Hirsch's paper form 1967 in Journal of Applied Physics and in the Farnsworth's patent:

Robert L. Hirsch Inertial‐Electrostatic Confinement of Ionized Fusion Gases

The purpose of applying the separate biasing potential to cathode ports was to compensate for electron leak current, not for beam focusing.

There are also some photos of the cathodes in J. Willard Marriott Library collection:



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

Post by Richard Hull » Wed Jan 08, 2020 8:54 am

Oh God....All my good deeds wasted. I had posted a long history of the fusor related to Paul's original post that he has now reposted. All of this was lost in that famous dead zone week.

Here goes a second pass attempt.

Farnsworth's original fusor, as built in the little bell jar, was first run up in 1960-61 time frame. It used electrons as the active element along the lines of his original multipactor. It failed to do fusion! Not so much as one fusion event was ever captured. So all the early years were a bust.

Finally, Farnsworth was convinced to make a slightly larger bell jar fusor that accelerated deuterons rather than electrons. This worked, but not well at all.

In late summer of 1963 Robert Hirsch was in the final year of his doctoral work and arrived at ITT as a guest worker. Hirsch told me that they were still just piddling with the bell jar systems!! I just re-listened to his taped sit-down, face-to-face interview that I recorded in 1999. So, for about 3 years the much vaunted Farnsworth team was still, more of less spinning their wheels with all glass fusors with all glass plumbing and mercury diff pumps!! Bob made some suggestions that others on the team had been making on and off and got them on the modern all metal systems. He then left to finish his doctorate. His suggestions were so well received that the Admiral, (Furth), got Hirsch to come to work full time at the ITT fusor effort. Bob was now the titular head of team's physics and George Bain remained the head of the engineering effort. Farnsworth was never a full time player in the lab, but would still oversee the overall effort from his office on the second floor.

Formal ion Gunned systems were introduced and the team were doing much better by late 1964 due to both Bain and Hirsch pushing for real results. The effort by the team was focused on a fusor in what was called the "pit" area. A large sunken pit in the ground floor into which an automobile hydraulic lift was mounted allowed the fusor to be worked on at ground level and lowered for testing to avoid neutron exposure at the floor level where all the instrumentation was located. Both Hirsch and Meeks confirmed that the levels did not warrant all this hoopla as the neutron levels were not dangerous at that stage of their work.

Farnsworth was convinced that the fusor would suddenly "take-off" and become a dangerous source of radiation, thus all the precautions. There were personality issues all along between George Bain and Gene Meeks. Meeks was a sharp technician, but rather sure of himself. (Hirsch noted to me that of all the workers on his arrival only Gene had a good comprehensive understanding about fusion and what they were about.) Hirsch and Meeks hit it off right away. Hirsch suggested that if he could have his own effort with Meeks as his "practical engineer" he would like to work on a second stream of parallel research.

George Bain noted to me in my face-to-face interview with him in 2000 that he was delighted to separate Gene from the purely Farnsworth "pit" effort and persuaded both the Admiral and Farnsworth that the parallel effort would be ideal. This expansion demanded a second "safe area" for the Hirsch-Meeks effort. A special borated, cinder block area was created that went all the way to the ceiling with a right angled entrance alley of borated block. In this sealed off 12X12 area called "the cave", a large tall mirror looked down the alley way to give a reflected image of fusor within the cave. (No cheap TV cameras back then).

All people involved repeated the same tale of how Farnsworth was almost never in the lab, but up in his office dreaming up new ideas which he forced or rather recommended to the Bain-Haak Team working the pit fusor. The only time Phil was in the lab was for major runs, tests and group discussions. Days would often pass without Farnsworth visiting the lab. The days of Farnsworth as an active laboratory participant, as in the early days of the TV work, were over. Fred Haak was pulled from the "Tube Lab" upstairs to come to work with the Farnsworth team in 1963. Fred was very familiar with the modern all metal vacuum systems and got the team out of glass plumbing and mercury vapor diff pumping.

In 1964 another technician was added to the team. Steve Blaising would be the final member of the "working team". By 2002, I had interviewed via multiple phone interviews and face-to-face interviews every living member of the Farnsworth fusion effort! To my knowledge I am the only person who has ever interviewed them all. Today, all are dead save Robert Hirsch. I also interviewed Pem Farnsworth, (Phil's wife - also now deceased). I feel I must now tell and list in order, from the most credible and useful to the least useful of the interviewed folks.

Gene Meeks and Steve Blaising (technicians) about 90% of all I know regarding the technical effort was the work product given me by these two guys who were there and hands-on everyday. I cannot over stress the value of these two people in the telling of this story. Gene obtuse, opinionated, complicated, yet brilliant and multi-talented reminded me of myself. We formed a close bond and Gene is a very hard man to bond to. Steve Blaising, seemed kind, generous and very knowledgeable. He would provide many images and reports that he had retained over the years. When these guys lived they represented the bulk of the technical and personal oral history of the effort.

George Bain (Lead and Head Engineer) Sober, circumspect and cautious all during my 7 hour face-to-face taped interview gave me great insights to the relationships and engineering difficulties he faced in what he referred to as having to herd a bunch of often sophomoric group of smart, but often, recalcitrant people. Of all the folks I interviewed, I felt he did hold back things he worried might get back to other living members of the Farnsworth family or team members. George was very careful about questions related to Farnsworth. I will note that everyone I interviewed felt warmth towards Farnsworth and mentioned that "Phil was always coming up with stuff to do which they were hard pressed to bring to fruition." George was in a precarious position, he noted, as he had to directly interact with Farnsworth whom he respected and the Admiral who all feared and respected. George would then have to go herd "cats" to turn Phil and the Admiral's orders and desires into a working effort that functioned at some level. In addition, George was the budget master as Phil was somewhat aloof to the nitty-gritty of submitting yearly budgets. This is where the Admiral really shone! Fritz Furth, ("The Admiral") worked hard and always came through with money to keep the effort fully funded, especially after the "lean years" of 59-63. Admiral Furth was the former head director of the highly respected U.S. Naval Laboratory in Washington, DC. He retired and came to work for ITT as a vice president of research in the New York corporate headquarters. He would make several visits to the Fort Wayne, Farnsworth fusion operation each year.

Fred, ("freddy"), Haak (vacuum engineer, specialist) Freddy was a short little power house, quick of wit and very outgoing. Unfortunately, he had a totally debilitating stroke about two years prior to my meeting he and Gene in 2000. What a recovery! He was fully functional and playing golf regularly and full of life! He and Gene smoked like chimneys. Fred admitted that he was a bit fuzzy on details after his stroke, but some of his memories were coming back out of the fog. For over two days, Fred and Gene and I talked about the time of the fusion effort they were involved with. All three of us actually got into the now abandoned Pontiac Street lab building and they took me on a tour. We actually went to the old lab area and many tales were told.

Robert Hirsch ( head of physics in the effort) Bob struck me as a "mover and a shaker", full of energy and with a natural and immediate "winning way" . He was congenial and as sharp as a tack. Bob has been the head of the U.S. DOE fusion effort in the late 60's and early 70's, A V.P. at Exxon, A V.P. at ARCO petroleum, the CEO of his own corporate "Think Tank", and would become a Senior Analyst at Rand Corporation. To say he was very successful is an understatement. He knows Washington and government and they know him. I have lost touch with him in the last decade.

My interview was straight forward and was about two hours in the morning, then we lunched, and another 2 hours afterward. I taped much of it. Bob was very cautious in many ways but would give immediate answers to scientific questions. His history took up half the interview as I was most curious about his forming and ultimately running the controversial "HARP project. Bob supplied a tremendous amount of information about his cave efforts that added to and confirmed much of Gene Meeks testimony of that effort.

Pem Farnsworth - (wife of Philo) I interviewed her in the old Farnsworth, Fort Wayne, State Street home. She gave me a lot of insight into the family and some of Farnsworth's foibles. Most interesting was the tale of how Phil hired Gene Meeks who worked at ITT for some part time work at the State Street home. This was in late 1958 after ITT had refused to fund the fusor fusion effort. Geek would leave work with Phil and Pem would fix them supper. They were going to build and install a full fusor system in Farnsworth's basement. Pem noted that they would work so late that she would often fix a late night snack and on a few occasions, breakfast before they had to go immediately back to work. This explains the close bond between Farnsworth and Meeks.

Now back to the fusor - "what is it?" issue

All, that is 100% of the latter-day fusors, both pit and cave types, were ion gunned fusors. None had simple wire grids. Bob Hirsch noted that many different grid structure were used and constant reworkings of the grids was common. The upshot is that the original, "as first built, Bell jar", Farnsworth fusor was the only true Farnsworth fusor! The later ion gunned fusors were "team developed" designs of numerous variants.

One significant advance came when Bob casually mentioned that 100 times more fusion was possible with Deuterium-Tritium fusion, (D-T fusion). Bob noted that to get a license would be a nightmare. Fred Haak broke in on hearing this and said that one of the tube lab chemists has an AEC tritium site license! So, by late 1965, all fusors were using the D-T mix and were doing good fusion in the 10e8 range. Ultimately Bob's cave fusor would top out at 10e11 neutrons/sec.

Gene, according to Bob, had "some the best hands he had ever seen at work" Gene was having his own ideas after working and learning from Bob, and asked Phil if he could develop a third system. Phil who had a long and close, pre-existing, personal history with Gene, agreed with Bob's blessing. Bob noted that this was Gene's time to shine and "I was not going to be the one to hold him back". Gene went to work on what he called his "Mark II Prime" in a separate room off at the end of the lab. Steve Blaising was now assigned to Bob's work in the Cave.

ITT was was getting concerned that the fusion effort was not going anywhere and questioning their involvement in the nuclear business. In 1966 they had Bob write out a report and send it to a lot of other scientists with the team's results asking for those scientists written comments on the effort at ITT. They would be paid by ITT to participate and submit their own papers. The budget for 1967 was approved, but ITT really wanted to hand the whole effort over to a university or, better still, have the AEC fund it. Bob was granted a hearing by the AEC fusion division. Bob knew that seeing a device might make all the difference. Bob and Gene put their heads together and designed what we now know as the "Hirsch-Meeks" fusor. (Image in Pauls original post above.) The design did away with the complex ion guns and replaced them with a heated, biased filament to allow for ionization of the the D-T mix between a spherical "ionizer grid" and the spherical vessel's shell. A central wire grid formed a reaction zone. The entire thing could be mounted on a cafeteria serving cart and carried to Washington for the hearing. In this manner it could be seen to produce fusion right in front of the audience.

Meeks went back to work on his fusor and Hirsch and Blaising would make the system up on the cart. (They are pictured above in Paul's post) The effort impressed all at the hearing but the AEC declined to fund it and once all the requested reports were in, the scientists were rather negative on this form of fusion. ITT had decided to limit funding for 1968. Farnsworth saw the handwriting on the wall and would leave to start up his own company, "Farnsworth and Associates", in Utah. He would drag George Bain and Gene Meeks with him as partners. Fred Haak actually went out to Utah to see if he wanted to come in with them. Freddy told me that the whole thing looked rather "put up" and "jack legged", he quickly returned to ITT and to his old secure job in the tube lab. He ultimately retired from ITT with a good pension.

Bob Hirsch had so impressed the AEC that he went to work for them. By June of 1968, Steve Blaising was the last person in the lab and said goodbye to Bob Hirsch. For a couple of weeks Steve came to work and just sat around in the empty lab. He went to his old boss in charge of the vacuum coatings lab and asked if he could return to his old job. He was told absolutely, he would be welcomed back. Thinking that he would wait at his fusor lab until his old boss put in the transfer papers, he again sat around in the lab, reporting to his assigned work space every day for a couple of more weeks. One day, the Admiral poked his head in the door and said, "Steve!, what are you doing here. this project is shut down!" Steve told him that his old boss was going to take him back to the coatings lab and he was awaiting his transfer back.

The Admiral told Steve to follow him. They went into the Pontiac street facility manager's office. The Admiral also got the secretary to summon the coatings lab director to the office. The Admiral was hot under the collar and dressed both directors down in front of Steve. He wanted to know why the facility director had not done as he directed in a memo to return the fusion lab goods to the storage area and re-purpose the space. Furth also asked the coatings lab director why he had not transferred Steve over as he agreed. The Admiral said do not bother with any excuses. "I want the lab cleared and Steve will direct the removal and storage of all ITT assets from the lab at his current pay." When done, Steve was to report to the tube coatings lab, again at his fusor team salary. A report would be submitted to the Admiral confirming all of this to him and indicating to what use the cleared space would be assigned.

Farnsworth Associates would collapse within a year in 1970, George Bain would return to Indiana and open a photo camera shop. Gene Meeks would stay in Utah and work with professor Andy Gartner at the University of Utah operating his Mark II Prime fusor in a student physics training program. In 1973 the U of U program ended and Gene moved back to Fort Wayne, went to work in a TV repair shop for a few years and in the end, became a projectionist in a local movie theater until retirement.

Sometime in the 1980's, both the University of Wisconsin and the University of Illinois would create a student fusor lab based on the true Hirsch Meeks design. These are still active today.

Tom Ligon working under Doctor Bussard as his system's engineer was directed in the mid 1990's to sell the idea of the IEC fusion device to science fair kids in high school. Ligon, realized the issues with a complex dual grid system with a filament heater would be too complex. He did away with the heated filament and ionizer grid and created the simple demo fusor with a metal or glass bell jar shell and single central wire grid. It was never supposed to fuse at the science fair level. Once Richard Hull befriended Tom Ligon and saw the demo fusor that Tom had cobbled together, both he and Tom realize nothing would stop this simplified device from doing fusion if placed in a proper stainless steel chamber and supplied with a deuterium atmosphere and a much more elevated voltage......And here we are today....


We are not building a true Farnsworth fusor.
We are not building the fusors of the ITT fusion effort.
We are not building a true Hirsch-Meeks fusor.
One might say we are building the Ligon fusor.
However, more to the point, we are truly building a simplified variant of the Hirsch Meeks fusor.

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.

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

Post by Frank Sanns » Wed Jan 08, 2020 3:21 pm

Richard, thank you very much for taking the time to rewrite your post. I have been doing daily backups and have just backed up the site again with your post with it. We should be good.

You summary should read: We are really building the Ligon-Hull variant of the Meeks Hirsch fusor.

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

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Wed Jan 08, 2020 4:05 pm

Just checking in after seeing Richard's post to echo Frank's sentiments: Thank you Richard for posting this again. I am going to save the post to my local drive and hope you will do the same.

Also, Maciek Szymanski, thank you for posting those images of the cathode from the UofU archives, they're rather dazzling.

The actual cathode, as seen in my photo, lives at the Farnsworth/TV museum in Rigby, Idaho. I assume it was a gift from the Farnsworth family. I spoke with the curator there a couple of weeks ago to ask if they would loan it to us to inspect more carefully (and perhaps replicate?) and the answer was a rather firm - and I dare say uncharitable – "no."

He did extend an invitation to visit Rigby to inspect it.

Maybe when it stops snowing in Idaho.

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