Is the Polywell a hoax? Carl Sagan once said of hoaxes: "they make us feel good, but are not the way the world really is" . The Polywell is an untested idea for fusing atoms. It offers solve many great problems - so it makes us feel really good - but it may not work. With so much potential, we should be more critical of this. We should be more skeptical. We can't cheat it. We have to test the idea. The science has to be rock solid. If the idea is a flop, we have to accept this.
Arguments for and against:
Right now, the mechanism for Polywell fusion is connected to some established scientific concepts. Concepts like the magnetic mirror - a physical process where particles are reflected by magnetic fields. So it seems reasonable to expect that six ring fields in a box will hold in electrons and ions. Concepts like ion acceleration by voltage drop - a physical process where charged ions accelerate down a voltage drop. Hence, one would expect ions to accelerate to high speeds into a negative electron cloud. Concepts like diamagnetism – a physical process where collections of particles form their own magnetic field in response to an external field. So it seems reasonable that the cloud of electrons in the center go diamagnetic, rejecting the ring fields. We know that one of NIFs stated goal is to get the average particles temperature around 10,000 to 20,000 of electron volts . So it seems reasonable that a single ion could be hot enough to fuse traveling down a 10 or 20 kilovolt drop. Lastly, we have hard evidence that a Fusor - a device of the similar size, cost and concept - can fuse atoms at similar voltages. Is it not reasonable expect, that the Polywell can, at least, fuse atoms?
Not so fast. We also know that the counter argument is connected to real physical processes as well. We know that every time a particle flies by another particle, X-rays are generated. With on the order of 10 billion particles inside the machine - it seems reasonable to expect x-rays will cool off the cloud rapidly. We know that systems with large numbers tend to have a bell curve distribution. It seems reasonable than to expect that the cloud of particles will have a low mean energy, with only a limited number of ions which can fuse. We know that gas clouds do not normally contain any temperature variations. Hence, Rider’s estimation that the cloud can at most have a 5% temperature difference seems reasonable. This implies the cloud must be one temperature and that temperature must probably be hot. If this is true, it may be a huge road block for a working reactor. We also know that neutrons, without moderators, destroy material - so it is reasonable to expect that the machine will cook. Finally, we know that there are plasma instabilities for almost every plasma structure. It seems reasonable to predict that plasma structure will fall apart into a disorganized mess.