Monday, June 18, 2007

High School Nuclear Fusion

Anyone have a book suggestion, or two, for a homeschooled senior who loves nuclear fusion? Help!


Gregory said...

Hi Maureen,

I work as a scientist in nuclear fusion. I can't say whether there any "Pop science" books out there, but there are a few basic texts I can point out. However, most students don't actually begin studies in plasma physics until they are college seniors or even grad students, so the level of the books may be too high. Still, they may be worth a try.

Also, I'm not sure which of these books are still in print; they may be available from college libraries or via interlibrary loan.

- Stacey, "Fusion", John WIley (Wiley Interscience), 1984

- Wesson, "Tokamaks", Oxford University Press, 2004

- Chen, "Introduction to Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion, Volume 1: Plasma Physics", Plenum Press, 1988. (No volume 2 exists.)

Also, there are good online resources available. One is maintained by General Atomics:

Another is maintained by the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab:

One by the new international ITER program:

There are many more of these if you search around.

I'd be happy to get more information to you. If you like, you can email me at Good luck!

Joe said...

I can't think of a book on fusion in general, but he might be interested in a book by Dr. Harrison Schmitt, one of the last two Apollo astronauts to walk on the Moon. He explains how Helium 3 can be extracted from the lunar soil and exported to Earth to be used as a clean fuel for future fusion reators.

All the best and God Bless.

mwal said...

Hi. I saw your blog entry mentioned on Mark Shea's blog (CAEI). My background is that I'm a physics Ph.D. student. It has been a while since I was in high school, and I have no personal experience with homeschooling, but I'll see what books I can think of...

*** 1 ***

As mentioned by a commenter at CAEI, the Feynman Lectures on Physics (ISBN 0201500647 or 0805390456) can be excellent for an advanced or ambitious high school senior. I don't think the lectures really say anything about fusion, but it is a great exposition of physics treated in a way that is both sophisticated and clear.

Caveats: To benefit from it, the reader should probably know calculus (at least differential calculus) and 3-dimensional vectors. Also, it really is basically a set of transcribed lectures with figures, so there are no exercises for a student to do. If a student or teacher wanted to use it as the basis of a class, it would have to be supplemented by exercises from somewhere else. But you could actually do that with another textbook, or perhaps with MIT's OpenCourseWare or other free web materials intended for freshman physics at the college level.

*** 2 ***

Regarding nuclear fusion in general: To really do fusion, you need to know about (1) nuclear physics and (2) plasma physics. You don't really need to know much nuclear physics. But you do need to know plasma physics, which is hard, and which is perhaps why we're still not very good at coming up with good designs to maintain controlled fusion.

Anyway, a good introduction to the necessary physics is F. F. Chen's Introduction to Plasma Physics. (ISBN 0306413329)

(amazon link)

This is a text that a professor could use for a first-year graduate course or a somewhat advanced undergraduate course. It's actually not that difficult to get a lot out of it if you know differential equations and electrodynamics. I wouldn't really recommend it for a high school student unless the student has been doing college-level physics for at least a year, preferably two... but it is really interesting stuff.

(Of course, even if a student doesn't have much preparation for it, if you don't mind paying over $60 for a book without necessarily understanding too much of it, then it could still be worth getting.)

*** OCW ***

You can get some materials of a similar level of sophistication for free online at MIT OpenCourseWare:

22.611J / 6.651J / 8.613J Introduction To Plasma Physics I, Fall 2002

22.611J / 6.651J / 8.613J Introduction to Plasma Physics I, Fall 2003

22.012 / 22.S27 Seminar: Fusion and Plasma Physics, Spring 2006

If you're wondering, the wacky numbers are just MIT's course numbering system.

Of these, the seminar looks like it could be really good for this purpose. There are lecture notes and student presentations that look interesting to me, anyway. Some are more self-explanatory than others, of course.

The lecture notes from the Fall 2003 course by Ian Hutchinson are also quite good. Now, to really understand these notes probably does require similar mathematical sophistication to what I outlined above for F. F. Chen's book... but there is the advantage that these notes can be freely downloaded, printed, etc.


There are three books, though not really pertaining to fusion, that I would recommend to any high school student interested in physics. Two of them have few if any equations, but they are all interesting and hopefully enlarge the mind, so to speak:

*** 3 ***

The Evolution of Physics, by Einstein and Infield. (ISBN 0671201565)

(amazon link)

This is an overview of the history of physics, up to and including relativity and quantum physics. Written by a guy who would know a thing or two about it.

*** 4 ***

Two New Sciences, by Galileo. (ISBN 0641830599) link

This is about falling bodies and rigid bodies. The work is a historical foundation of physics, and it's interesting to see the geometrical and philosophical way that Galileo does things.

Plus, it's available on clearance for only $4 at! Evidently the publisher of this edition erroneously thought this work was Galileo's discussion of the Ptolemaic vs. Copernican systems, and so published the wrong cover picture, introduction, etc.

(If for some reason it's no longer on clearance, the Dover edition would probably be a better value.)

*** 5 ***

QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, by Richard Feynman. (ISBN 0691125759)

(amazon link)

This is a very thin book that explains the interaction of light and matter from the point of view of particle physics. It's quite remarkable in that Feynman explains the underlying mathematical theory without using any equations.


Okay... anyway, I hope one or more of those ideas might be helpful. Good luck with school, etc.!

Maureen Wittmann said...

WOW!!! Thank you!!!

Maureen Wittmann said...

From the combox over at Mark Shea's blog:

Sorry to be a pill, Maureen, but I just don't WANT a Google account right now. This is what I would have posted:

If you can find it, the Time Life Science Library Energy volume. It's old, but good. Some of the stuff on weapons is a bit misdirecting, but that's really OK.

This is excellent as well:

Winterberg, Friedwardt. The Physical Principles of Thermonuclear Explosive Devices. New York: Fusion Energy Foundation, 1981. ISBN 0-938460-00-5. It covers the physics quite well, although the emphasis is not on controlled energy production.

I will check for availability of some unclassified Navy pubs as well.
Ed the Roman | 06.19.07 - 12:26 pm | #


Try Hyperphysics, run by Georgia State University.

Jeff | 06.19.07 - 2:19 pm | #


Oops, bad link.

http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu...ase/ hframe.html
Jeff | 06.19.07 - 2:20 pm | #


The Feynman Lectures on Physics 0201021153

The Making of the Atomic Bomb 0684813785

and Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb. 3303157

The Feynman Lectures are Richard Feynman's lectures given to CalTech undergraduate physics majors--some very dedicated and brilliant people.

Amazingly, the lectures are brilliant, extremely readable and comprehensible by high school students who have the math background.
Unapologetic Catholic | 06.19.07 - 2:36 pm | #


"I know that it isn't something that ought to be tried in one's garage."

Why? You can get a merit badge for it.
Unapologetic Catholic | 06.19.07 - 2:43 pm | #


This kid might be able to help.
Anonymous | 06.19.07 - 3:18 pm | #


Another place to start:

They are trying to do it for real.
AB | 06.19.07 - 5:27 pm | #


Nuclear fusion is the process of liberating energy by forcing small, light nuclei to combine into larger, heavier nuclei.

We are closer to fusion power now, than at any time in history. Scientists spent 50 years telling us that practical fusion power was only 25 years away. Then there was that twenty year period when fusion was only ten years away. For the last ten years, scientists have been telling us that fusion has only been five years away
Emily Bell | 06.19.07 - 8:43 pm | #


Of course, its five years away if they do everything properly for five years. So, give 'em twenty.
Hidden One | Homepage | 06.19.07 - 10:36 pm | #


Interesting article also on cold fusion may be found at 8
Marion (Mael Muire) | 06.20.07 - 8:26 am | #


We are closer to fusion power now, than at any time in history.

I think you could have made that statement at anytime in history and been correct. Especially if the sun is expanding.
cricket | Homepage | 06.20.07 - 2:51 pm | #