“A crate of oranges hastily filled at the orchard can be more efficiently packed if vigorously shaken a few times to eliminate waste space. In a similar way, atoms loosely collected or disordered in space can become more energetically stable by bonding together into an ordered crystal structure.”—Introduction to Crystal Chemistry, by Howard W. Jaffe
Okay, okay, okay, okay, guys. Scientists at the National Ignition Facility have taken the first itty bitty baby steps towards fusion and I’m having trouble containing my excitement.
First of all, they’re using 192 laser beams, which are pointed at a gold chamber that converts the lasers into X-ray pulses, which then squeeze a small fuel pellet and make it implode and undergo fusion. That anyone ever figured out even how to do this is completely nutso.
Secondly, the lead researcher is named Omar Hurricane. I have never in my life heard a better name. He sounds like a comic book character. Please someone write a comic starring Omar Hurricane and his band of laser-wielding scientists.
And then there’s what it actually means. So far, they’ve been able to get 15 kilojoules of energy out of a fuel pellet that was blasted with 10 kilojoules. But, as The Guardian points out, much more energy is delivered by the lasers (and lost in the conversion to X-rays): “The lasers unleash nearly two megajoules of energy on their target, the equivalent, roughly, of two standard sticks of dynamite.”
Even so, this is a hugely significant tiny step forward toward recreating the clean energy production that happens in the heart of stars.
Due to a peculiarity of nuclear physics, you can release energy either by 1) breaking apart heavy atoms, or 2) forcing together light atoms. Breaking apart is called fission and forcing together is called fusion. We already know how to generate energy by man-made fission, but generating energy by man-made fusion remains an aspiration. (Of course, we know how to build bombs both ways. Nuclear and thermonuclear bombs respectively.)
Essentially, solar power is fusion, though. Because the sun is a fusion reactor, and its light lands on our planet and makes everything happen.
I saw your response to anonymous in regards to osmium and iridium. "We're big fans" you say. I'm curious. What makes you favor these elements over others? I could imagine that it would have to do with their physical properties or their history even. Perhaps their chemical reactivity. Well what makes osmium and iridium important or most fascinating?
The Director of the Clear Science Staff wrote a PhD thesis about osmium compounds. Osmium (and ruthenium, which is similar) are useful as electron transfer agents, and that was what the thesis was about. Now you know our secret.
Hi there, I am currently doing an issue report on MS and the medicinal use of Cannabis and I came across your article on how THC impairs memory.. I clicked on the embedded link -'A recent paper by researchers at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center' however, I was not able to access it.. I was wondering if you could possibly send me another link, as I think it would be really useful for my research. Many Thanks
Hi username: brideyshawyer. The Clear Science staff has fixed the link to the paper, which is here. The paper is copyrighted, so only the abstract is available at the website unless you have a subscription.
All of you clear scientists can access scientific papers like this, but it takes a little effort to figure out the best way. Often a library can get you a copy by interlibrary loan (ILL). Another way is through a university library with a subscription.
regarding viewsofalien's question: you wrote that "Visible light tends to get scattered and blocked by crystallinity, i.e. regularly repeating atoms" -- what about diamonds, quartz... all kinds of jewels/gems? they are all crystalline and highly transparent.
Excellent point username: constantrandomness (and totally non-random!).
What makes different things transparent, translucent and opaque?
Well, username: viewsofalien, it all has to do with visible light since that’s what our eyes “see.” Does an object block visible light, smear it, or let it straight through? That will determine it. Visible light tends to get scattered and blocked by crystallinity, i.e. regularly repeating atoms. “Amorphous” materials like glass tend to let light go right through!
What makes a Gold atom different from an Sodium atom?
Hey anonymous, if that really is your name. When you get down to it, the number of protons in an atom’s nucleus determine what kind of element it is. (Then you have to have an equal number of electrons to make it neutral.)
Keen eye username: scientificsurfer. Yes the oxygen gas originates with the oxygen atoms in the water. (We’re going to break photosynthesis down into its individual mechanisms in a little bit, and that particular aspect is accomplished by the photosystem II structure. As you probably know!)
However, for the benefit of the less technical readers, photosynthesis removes C-O-O from the air and puts O-O back in. So in a “net effect” sense, it’s like taking away carbon from the air.