Open Source Enthusiasts Dreaming Of Energy Solutions
| by Andrew
There’s a point in every man’s life when he says, “nuclear fusion seems like something I could accomplish in my apartment.”
Note: typo above. Should read, “one man’s.” And that one man is Mark Suppes, aka Famulus Fusion.
We posted about Mark’s work a couple weeks ago. He’s the guy in Brooklyn using a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic to make parts for his Bussard fusion reactor (or Polywell). My colleagues and I were so intrigued by this project that we nicely informed Mark we were simply going to have to stop by to see this with our own eyes. Last week, he graciously welcomed us into his work space – no longer housed in his apartment – for some photos and a chat. Here’s what we learned.
As many of you probably know, open source fusion is an active community. Mark, a web developer, found his way into it three years ago, inspired by the fact that the open source projects he was seeing were precursors to the reactor he wanted to build, the polywell.
So much can be said about the ambitiousness of this project: that Mark hopes to achieve “the world’s first superconducting Bussard Reactor”, or that the goal is a “definitive energy solution” via breakeven fusion. I asked Mark how he felt being a one-man show with such lofty hopes, and he explained – awesomely – that he feels more like the coordinator of a collaborative effort. A lot of the direction he pursues comes from the larger community and from the active commenters on his site: Prometheus Fusion Perfection. (As an aside, PFP just hired an intern, supported by the Hodson Trust Internship Program.
But nuclear fusion isn’t the domain of this blog. What wowed me was the way MakerBot was having a meaningful impact on this endeavor, especially by someone who says he has no real 3D design skills. Mark has had his Thing-O-Matic for about five months, and has since used it to prototype several parts that will become permanent parts of the reactor.
For this armature ring, the way the pieces flare at each end to form a joint larger than the rest of the ring had to be just right. As this was a ground up design process, it took Mark five tries to get a successful ring. But being able to iterate and test each version quickly in the lab meant not having to wait weeks to find out it was a dud.
I asked Mark what it was that kept his attention in this project over time and his answer surprised me. It’s not necessarily the end goal that captivates him through all the difficult steps, or at least not only that. Rather the project is the journey itself, which he takes with many people around the globe. He feels a thrill from “going to the edge of what’s known in science.”
We’re glad having a MakerBot can help ambitious guys like Mark keep pushing the envelope! To hold up our end of the bargain, we promise to keep some of that nuclear green plastic in stock.