The idea of the power of fusion began towards the beginning of the 20th century and research into it is continuing up until today. On earth it is modelled on the method in which stars obtain their energy, from the fusing of nuclei. As these reactions occur a little mass is lost and this is released as heat. This reaction follows Einstein's most famous formula E = MC2. As the value of mass is multiplied by the speed of light squared, a tiny change in mass results in a massive amount of energy being produced. So far the most effective methods of recreating fusion on earth have been by using large chambers surrounded by electromagnets and by heating the reaction mixture generally hydrogen
We live in a society in which energy, in all its forms, is at a premium. The cost of household electricity does not only hurt your back pocket more every year, but with each kilowatt-hour that is used we are damaging the environment that until now has sustained us. In this modern world it is becoming increasingly important that we find a practical and sustainable new form of energy and soon.
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One possibility is that we harness the source of energy that has been powering the stars over the aeons, the energy locked away inside hydrogen atoms, the energy known as Fusion Power. Fusion often known as nuclear fusion is defined as "the union of atomic nuclei to form a heavier nucleus with the release of energy1". The important part of this definition is the fact that these unions release energy. The other important facts about fusion are that it uses hydrogen, the most abundant element in our universe and produces the harmless element helium. Therefore no pollution is produced during the process of fusion.
You could say that the history of Nuclear Fusion began with the big bang as in its aftermath matter began to form clumps due to gravitational attraction forming the very first stars the matter of which then began to undergo fusion. However on earth, the history of fusion began in with a number of scientific discoveries near the beginning of the twentieth century. In these years, scientists began to learn more and more about the structure of the atom. This was also the time in which the theory of relativity and the formula E=MC2 was proposed by one Albert Einstein. These discoveries and the war with Germany lead to scientists developing the first Nuclear Fission bombs and later the Hydrogen or Nuclear Fusion bomb. With these scientists began to realise the theoretically massive amounts of energy contained within atoms and began to realise that with proper control these could be harnessed and made to deliver power that could be used to generate electricity ( a good excuse, while also providing a source of radioactive matter for bombing far away nations)2. Before it is possible to explain how fusion works is, it is necessary to take a closer look at the atom.
The Atom and Matter
Before it is possible to explain the mechanism of nuclear fusion, it is necessary to explain the background. The atom as you probably know consists of a nucleus, with a cloud of electrons surrounding it. The nucleus further consists of protons and neutrons.
Matter can usually be found in three forms with which people are familiar, these being Solid, Liquid and Gas. However there is a forth form of matter, known to scientists as plasma. Plasma is formed when gases are heated to extremely high temperatures, like those found in the cores of stars. The electrons separate from the protons and neutrons in the gas atoms and the mixture of charged particles move around separately at high speeds forming the plasma. This plasma cannot be maintained by normal chemical reactions, as the amounts of energy they produce are not sufficient instead, the process of fusion occurs.
In layman's terms what occurs during fusion is that the nuclei of two hydrogen nuclei are accelerated together with sufficient speed or kinetic energy to overcome the repulsion between the positively charged particles. When the two nuclei touch, the force of gravity takes over and holds them together forming a new nucleolus containing two protons. This means that the nucleus is no longer that of hydrogen but is instead that of helium. During this process a little of the mass of the two hydrogen nuclei will be lost.
The great physicist Albert Einstein was mentioned earlier in this document as was his most famous formula E = MC2. The E in this formula stands for energy, while the M stands for mass and the C stands for the speed of light or 3ï¿½108.This formula shows that there is a direct correlation between energy and mass. As I stated earlier during the fusion of the two hydrogen nuclei a little mass is lost, this is because it is converted into energy. As the formula, shows the amount of mass is multiplied by the speed of light squared or 9ï¿½1016 a massive number. This means that if a tiny amount of mass is lost a massive amount of energy is released, enough to maintain the massive temperatures inside the core of stars. It is this energy that scientists are trying to bring down to earth, in the hope that this will provide a clean energy for future generations.
How Fusion is carried out on Earth
As you may realise heating hydrogen to temperatures equivalent to those of the core of the sun on earth is a little bit tricky. This is because there are no materials that we have capable of withstanding these temperatures and containing the plasma that would be formed. One way to do this is to surround the hydrogen or lithium hydride with fissionable material and carry out nuclear fission in order to generate heat for the nuclear fusion as is done in Hydrogen bombs. This is however unpractical for the generation of electricity as the power station and the surrounding country would probably no longer exist. So instead physicists have attempted to generate the plasma and use a strong magnetic field to hold it. The plasma itself is heated by a number of powerful lasers, which are able to heat it to near the required temperatures. To date it has however been impossible to sustain this generation of plasma and contain the heat. It has also not been possible to actually generate any energy from the fusion of the hydrogen atoms.
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