Boil a kettle with fusion energy. Diamonds in your phone. Mining for dark matter.

Fusion energy

The US fusion news is amazing. But it’s a long way from endless clean power. The researchers probably generated enough excess energy to boil a kettle.

Interviews available with Australian nuclear physicists at the Australian Institute of Physics Congress in Adelaide

“Achieving ignition is an essential milestone that apparently now has been reached. Practical fusion power is a step closer to reality,” says Professor Andrew Stuchbery from ANU.

“This is a breakthrough worthy of celebration. However, there is a long way to go. From the nature of the facility where the experiment was performed, I’d say this energy came in a single pulse or ‘flash’.

“For a viable power source it would be necessary to have sustained repeated pulses, and to be able to collect the energy released efficiently. There’s still a long way to go.”

“It’s unlikely that fusion power – which generates no greenhouse gases and minimal nuclear waste – will save us from climate change,” says Professor Ken Baldwin, also from ANU.

“The energy apparently released from the Livermore experiments is only enough to boil a kettle,” Ken says.

“All the heavy lifting for the energy transition will be done by renewable energy and nuclear fission (existing nuclear power) – with nuclear fusion at commercial scale unlikely to be available until later this century, well after the 2050 deadline needed to keep global warming below two degrees. But beyond that, fusion might provide limitless energy for centuries to come.”

Note: these comments were made ahead of the announcement.

Also at the Congress

Could diamonds be your phone’s best friend?

Dongchen Qi from QUT says diamond could make phones and computers faster and more energy efficient. He will tell the Congress that silicon chips are getting too small and starting to experience quantum weirdness. He has demonstrated that diamond could enable new electronic devices for future communication and computing. 

Diamonds are good insulators. But he has coated synthetic diamonds with a thin metal oxide and turned them into semi-conductors affording a range of extraordinary properties.

The lab in a gold mine searching for dark matter

There’s much more dark matter in the universe than the regular matter that makes us, our planet and the stars. It’s passing through us all the time as if we’re not here.

The first underground physics laboratory in the Southern Hemisphere plans to change that.

“We know that dark matter exists but detecting it is very difficult. Only one experiment has claimed to have detected it so far, under a mountain in Italy. We’re planning to run the experiment to confirm or reject this claim and solve this mystery,” says Irene Bolognino, a Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Adelaide and member of the SABRE South dark matter direct-detection experiment team.