In May, three Missouri S&T physics seniors achieved nuclear fusion of deuterium into helium as part of the final project in their senior research laboratory class. This nuclear fusion reaction is the same process as the one that powers the sun.
Brock Ebert, Sheldon Harper and Jaykob Maser constructed an inertial electrostatic confinement where two deuterium, a type of hydrogen that has an extra neutron attached to the nucleus, were heated to the point that their nuclei overcame electrical repulsion, collided and fused. The collision bound them together to form a new nucleus of helium and a stray neutron.
Working under the supervision of Greg Story, associate professor of physics, the students confirmed that they had achieved fusion by detecting the production of the neutrons. Their work followed a semester-long research project in collaboration with the nuclear engineering department and the Missouri S&T Nuclear Reactor.
“I never thought it would happen because the experiment is so complicated,” says Story. “It is an incredible accomplishment for undergraduate students who built their apparatus entirely on their own. Their next goal is to try to optimize the process by adjusting things like the pressure of the gas in the plasma.”