Fusion: past and future of an energy source

07.06.2023 15:15 - 16:15

Uriel Frisch (CNRS)

Abstract: In December 2018, Patrick Diamond, Uriel Frisch and Yves Pomeau published in "European Physical Journal (History)" a history of plasma physics in the 20th century of more than 300 pages. The articles were written by key players in plasma physics. Since the bulk of the plasma studies were born after 1950, most of the players are still alive and contributed eagerly. Nevertheless, the aforementioned editors had the feeling that the "prehistory of plasma physics" in the first half of the 20th century was certainly worth commenting on. In Section 3 "The birth of nuclear fusion", [1] they concluded "Sustained energy production by plasma fusion seems significantly more complex but, given enough international brain-power, time and money (in that order), it will be achieved, hopefully."

This week at the Wolfgang Pauli Institute we are running a workshop where we try to assess how much a recent breakthrough in laser fusion at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California [2] bring us to sustained energy production.

Curiously, fusion did not at all start in the early fifties. In the 19th century William Prout and Charles Darwin made key observations. In the early 20th century, Paul Langevin and Jean Perrin observed that Einstein's equivalence between mass and energy has important consequences for fusion energy.

This was before Arthur Edington well-known observations on the Solar energy "If indeed, the sub-atomic energy in the stars is being freely used to maintain their great furnaces, it seems to bring a little nearer to fulfilment our dream of controlling this latent power of the well-being of the human race - of for its suicide."

[1] P. Diamond, U. Frisch, Y. Pomeau, Editorial introduction to the special issue “Plasma physics in the 20th century as told by players”, The European Physical Journal H, 43 (4-5) (2018) 337-353 sec 3
[2] "National Ignition Facility achieves fusion ignition". Lawrence Livermore National Lab. Retrieved 2022-12-13.
[3] W. Prout, 1815. On the relation between the specific gravities of bodies in their gaseous state and the weights of their atoms", Ann. Philos. 6: 321-330 (at first, published anonymously).
[4] C. Darwin, 1859. On the Origin of Species, John Murray
[5] P. Langevin, 1913. L'inertie de l'énergie et ses conséquences", J. Phys. Theor. Appl. 3: 553-591.
[6] J. Perrin, J., 1919. Matière et lumière. Essai de synthèse de la mécanique chimique", Ann.Phys. 9: 5-108.
[7] A.S.  Eddington, 1926. The internal constitution of the stars. Cambridge University Press

R. I. Bot (U Vienna), N. Mauser (U Vienna, WPI)

Sky Lounge, 12. OG, OMP 1