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Physicists discover how to safely create star power on Earth

Princeton scientists find a new way to control nuclear fusion reactions.

Fusion reactions on the sun.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. (Courtesy: NASA/SDO)
  • A new study from Princeton physicists successfully uses boron powder to control nuclear reactions in plasma.
  • Creating plasma can lead to an unlimited supply of energy.
  • The new method is cheaper and less dangerous than previous approaches.


Humanity's huge appetite for energy has led scientists to attempt harnessing nuclear fusion, the power inherent to the sun and other stars. Now, a new study from Princeton physicists found a method that can aid the safe creation of fusion on Earth, potentially leading to a limitless supply of electricity.

Fusion reactors work by combining light elements like hydrogen into plasma – a superhot and charged state of matter. During the fusion process, two lighter atomic nuclei are combined into a heavier nucleus, releasing energy.

The resulting plasma can be employed into generating a tremendous amount of energy but the fusion facilities, called tokamaks, face the hard task of trying to keep impurities out of reactions. These can lower the efficiency of the fusion, while the goal of the scientists is to keep the plasma as hot as it can be, actually ten times hotter than the sun's core. This maximizes fusion reactions and leads to the creation of the greatest amount of electricity.

What scientists from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) discovered is a way to inject boron powder into plasma, allowing for greater control, lowering greenhouse gases, and getting rid of long-term radioactive waste.

PPPL physicist Robert Lunsford was the lead author of the paper, published in Nuclear Fusion, that outlined the accomplishment.

"The main goal of the experiment was to see if we could lay down a layer of boron using a powder injector," said Lunsford in a press release. "So far, the experiment appears to have been successful."

Michio Kaku: Energies of the Future

By 2030 the physicist expects that we will have hot fusion reactors.

The method devised by Lunsford and his team uses boron to prevent tungsten in tokamak walls from interacting with the plasma. The tungsten can cause the plasma particles to cool, lowering reaction efficiency. The so-called boronization of surfaces that face the plasma is easier to accomplish with the powder, as it's something that can be done while the machine is already running. This can allow the fusion device to be an uninterrupted source of energy. "This is one way to get to a steady-state fusion machine," remarked Lunsford.

The powder method is also cheaper and less dangerous than the current practice of injecting potentially explosive diborane gas into the plasma.

The scientists envision further investigating the uses of boron powder, optimistic that this approach can allow them to understand the behavior of plasma in unprecedented depth.

Check out their new paper here.

PPPL physicist Robert Lunsford.

CREDIT: Elle Starkman / PPPL Office of Communications

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Jupiter's moon Europa has a huge ocean beneath its sheets of ice.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

White dwarfs.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Juan Carlos Correa (L) , a prospective home buyer is shown a short sale home by Denise Madan, a Real Estate agent with Re/Max, as he shops for a house on April 22, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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