Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed a
tabletop accelerator that produces nuclear fusion at room temperature,
providing confirmation of an earlier experiment conducted at the
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), while offering
substantial improvements over the original design.

The device, which uses two opposing crystals to generate a powerful
electric field, could potentially lead to a portable, battery-operated
neutron generator for a variety of applications, from non-destructive
testing to detecting explosives and scanning luggage at airports. The
new results are described in the Feb. 10 issue of Physical Review
Letters.

"Our study shows that ‘crystal fusion’ is a mature technology with
considerable commercial potential," says Yaron Danon, associate
professor of mechanical, aerospace, and nuclear engineering at
Rensselaer. "This new device is simpler and less expensive than the
previous version, and it has the potential to produce even more
neutrons."

The device is essentially a tabletop particle accelerator. At its
heart are two opposing "pyroelectric" crystals that create a strong
electric field when heated or cooled. The device is filled with
deuterium gas — a more massive cousin of hydrogen with an extra
neutron in its nucleus. The electric field rips electrons from the gas,
creating deuterium ions and accelerating them into a deuterium target
on one of the crystals. When the particles smash into the target,
neutrons are emitted, which is the telltale sign that nuclear fusion
has occurred, according to Danon.

By Ben Sullivan

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