This week’s fusion story is taken from one of many emails I’ve exchanged during the past year with a person who was close enough to the fusion project on Pontiac Street that he had access to Philo’s personal notes. This person has chosen to remain anonymous and the below story is from one of the early emails that we exchanged in response to a photograph The Waynedale News ran at the beginning of this story. The photograph was taken by Richard Hull PhD, and it was of his own spherical plasma from inside his fusion device that he constructed after coming to Fort Wayne and consulting with some of Farnsworth’s original fusion team members, Steve Blaising, Fred Haak, Gene Meeks, and the anonymous person who sent this email. Richard Hull told The Waynedale News that the core temperature of his spherical plasma’s was 330 million degrees Kelvin, and after we ran that information I received the following email from our “very knowledgeable,” inside anonymous source…
I have a problem here: As far as I can tell, when we energize an atom, it begins to vibrate in some manner, a nervous, frustrated dance I suppose. The level of this agitation is referred to by laypeople, (like most college grads), as heat. The more agitation, the more temperature it is said to have. Temperature as laypeople think of it would be the reading of the thermometer their mom used to take their “temperature,” whenever they had a fever. If, we begin an experiment with two pieces of matter, one of wood and the other copper, and let them sit next to each other at room temperature for a day, when we later touched them the wood would feel like it was room temperature while the copper would feel decidedly colder, as if it had been left outside on a cold day, but both will measure the same temperature with a thermometer! Furthermore, it will take a lot more energy to heat up the copper by one degree than it will for the wood because the copper has more mass and it requires more energy to change its temperature. Two items of equal size can feel like different temperatures when they are not, and the answer does not immediately offer itself. It takes more energy to heat copper a single degree than wood, but the copper always feels colder especially at room temperature. If the wood and copper are raised to 110 degrees F, the wood feels warm, but the copper feels hot, and as the temperature in our experiment is advanced one-degree-at-a-time, the copper will become dangerous to touch before the wood. The answer to this dilemma is not only in mass, but also in the speed heat energy travels through different molecules with different shapes.
The speed “heat energy,” is conducted through any given substance is the unique property of each atom on the periodic table. We can also take a tile like one used on the space shuttle, put it in a furnace and heat it up to two thousand degrees F, remove it from the furnace with tongs, and allow it to cool for a few seconds and then handle it with our bare hands without getting burned, but yet, a tiny fraction of a millimeter beneath its surface the tile still measures 2,000 degrees F. and this is because heat energy is conducted very slowly through ceramic tile; which is why heat shields are made of tiles on our space shuttles for their re-entry.
What always works here is the term “energy” and it will always serve those who remember that (much) better than using the term “heat.” Speed is another term that in plasma physics and fusion research simply goes out the window. The number of times the term speed is used in a conversation about atomic fusion is small. Here again, energy is the key, and in fusion, speed is energy. Where the mass of a particle is known, the speed will tell us how much energy that particle posses.