Friday, October 17, 2014

Lockheed Blew It

Lockheed Blew It

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard Feynman 

Introduction:

     There have been several fusion announcements this year.  General fusion published work.  Dr. Park showed evidence of cusp confinement.  The University of Washington covered a new spheromak device.  Parks' paper has arguably the most data - and the least speculation.  If cusp confinement is verified, Park could win the Nobel Prize.  

     Then there is Lockheed.  They announced that they have a design for a fusion reactor.  They gave us no verifiable data.  They made a dreamy YouTube movie covering the idea.  Ideas are worthless against real observations. They did an interview and put out three patent applications.  But without numbers, how can we trust them?

     Dr. Steven Cowley said it best: “If it was not Lockheed Martin, you’d say it was probably a bunch of crazies.”  The Lockheed management blew it.  They will be laughed at by the science community.  They need to tell us: what they did, what they saw and why.  That would give us something to verify.   


We Should Be Furious:

       Going to press with no publications is dangerous.  Not just for them - but for this whole community.  We know that from history.  Once upon a time, two guys claimed they could fuse atoms in a jar.  It amounted to nothing.  But it did so much lasting damage to the fusion community:

1. Distortion.  Claims are wildly misinterpreted.  Lockheeds' machine is already being distorted by the media and public.  They should have fixed the details, upfront. 

2. Killing Funding.  Claims leave us only guesses as to the mechanism.  It sets us all up to fail.  Failures in cold fusion killed funding streams for many, many years.  This could do the same thing.

3. Wastes Time.  Claims give us nothing to go on.  It easily leads people down fruitless research paths.  This waste time and resources.

4. Damages Perception.  Claims in cold fusion ruined the public’s image of our community.  This announcement could do the same.   

     Cold fusion set us back a whole generation - 25 years.  Lockheed is running the risk of repeating history.  Making the case for a new technology is hard.  It cannot be rushed.  The polywell community has been meticulously building the case for years.  We are not sure if this will ultimately work; and we are no where near finished.  Jumping ahead could destroy what we worked so hard to build.

8 comments:

  1. The fusion energy revolution will impact society similar to powered aircraft or the internal combustion engine, something that happens once/century.

    Lockheed Martin's Skunkworks is known for their secretive projects. Keeping details as a "need to know" is built into their psyche. At least they're not as quiet as Tri-Alpha, who also burned through $40 Million in VC funding.

    The recent advances in fusion energy research should have Venture Capitalist sit up and take notice. Fusion research takes significant funding, but within the scope of some VCs - and the cost barriers are dropping significantly.

    With great risks comes great rewards, folks!

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    1. This announcement is driving interest. For example, the Wikipedia article on the polywell saw a one day jump of 10X on the 16th of October [1].


      But So What? The general public's attention is fleeting. We're playing the long game here. Long term - publications matter, observable evidence matters, not dreamy videos.


      [1] http://stats.grok.se/en/201410/polywell

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  2. Polywell Guy - You make fine points!
    I am personally a strong advocate of “small fusion” and small inertial confinement fusion in particular. As a fusion proponent, I want to remain cautiously optimistic (but with fusion we’ve been down this road many, many times).

    It seems to be increasingly common these days for nuclear startups to resort to “science by press release”, i.e. there’s a big media hype but the actual researchers don’t release enough technical details to actually evaluate it. The chance exists that as Lockheed scales their device up, there approach will work and form the basis of practical High-Beta fusion power generation. It should also be simultaneously be acknowledged that as Lockheed scales up their experiment they will find that the confinement (a measure of how well the device holds a fusion plasma) unexpectedly drops off due to some new type of plasma instability turning on at higher temperatures / higher pressures… and the Lockheed CFD could then quietly just go away.

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    1. Actually, a number of groups have published. General Fusion put out 4 papers last year. Tri Alpha energy (normally known for its refusal to do any press) has published several papers and conference talks. Even Focus Fusion has a paper or two out. This work alone, is more than what we have seen from Lockheed.

      Also, I do not think you "know" what Lockheed will find. But - whatever it is - it needs to go through the accepted channels.

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  3. What you worried about is already happening. The German Physics Society (DPG) dismissed alternative approaches to fusion other than ITER and NIF based on the Lockheed press stunt.

    Translated from german:
    "Plasma scientists are very skeptical about alternative concepts, which are proposed now and then and promise very compact Systems [6]" - where [6] is a link to http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/news/press-releases/2014/october/141015ae_lockheed-martin-pursuing-compact-nuclear-fusion.html

    Source: http://www.dpg-physik.de/veroeffentlichung/physik_konkret/pix/Physik_Konkret_21.pdf (german)

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    1. The German Physics Society cannot dismiss alternative fusion with any certainity. They do not have the evidence to make that claim - because there is no conclusive evidence.

      What we do know is that ITER will cost tens of billions and will not make net power. How can that become commercial fusion power?

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  4. The LockMart stuff is interesting. I wouldn't mind if they showed up in 5 years with a working machine.

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    1. There is a rumor going around that Lockheed will publish in 2015. We shall see.

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