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This Time Fusion Works

Scientists have long tried to create fusion, the energy source of the sun. Claims have been made over the years, but they have always been refuted. Now researchers have done it, using a device the size of three stacked coffee cups. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Rennsselaer Polytechnic Institute zapped tiny dissolved bubbles with sound waves, triggering a flash of light and super-high temperatures. They call their experiment ?bubble fusion.?

Harnessing nuclear fusion has been a long-time goal of researchers who view it as the ultimate energy source. Most researchers have concentrated on huge machines that mimic the sun by compressing hydrogen plasma and heating it to millions of degrees to force atoms to fuse. This reaction gives off heat and an isotope of helium, along with some subatomic particles.

But R. P. Taleyarkhan of Oak Ridge and Richard T. Lahey Jr. of Rennsselaer used simple equipment to create a brief flash and burst of heat that may be fusion. They call it ?tabletop physics.? They?re not sure if their technique can be used as an energy source.

In the study, the researchers used deuterated acetone. Normal acetone is a colorless, volatile liquid often used as a paint remover or chemical solvent. In deuterated acetone, the chemical?s normal hydrogen atoms have been replaced with deuterium, a hydrogen isotope that is heavier than ordinary hydrogen and is capable fusion reactions. When combined with oxygen, deuterium is sometimes called ?heavy water.?

They then introduced tiny bubbles, no bigger than the period at the end of a sentence, into the acetone, then they zapped the bubbles with sound waves. The bubbles rapidly expanded and then collapsed. The bubble collapse causes a momentary shock wave that creates high pressures, high temperatures and a flash of light.

This fusion announcement comes in sharp contrast to the fusion experiment announced at a news conference in 1989 by researchers at the University of Utah. The Utah experiment used electrodes placed inside a vat of heavy water, or deuterium. Their results were rejected by many other physicists.

So far, this new fusion has scientific acceptance, although F. D. Becchetti, of the University of Michigan, says it needs to be confirmed by other researchers. ?If the results are confirmed, this new compact apparatus will be a unique tool for studying nuclear fusion reactions,? he says. ?The results are credible until proven otherwise.?

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