Maastricht Economic and social Research and  training centre on Innovation and Technology

Levelling Latin America
Mining innovation can bring more sustainable and inclusive growth, especially across the Americas…

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  • A mystery source is producing banned ozone-destroying chemicals
  • Water filter inspired by Alan Turing passes first test
  • Scientists transplant memory from one snail to another
  • In an interplanetary first, NASA to fly a helicopter on Mars
  • Facebook privacy: Europe to press Zuckerberg
  • Israeli researchers abuzz about orgasmic fruit flies
  • Extreme laser bursts may lead to practical nuclear fusion
    Achieving nuclear fusion without needing radioactive fuel or producing radioactive waste is now within reach thanks to a new laser-driven technique, according to researchers.

    Hydrogen-boron fusion produces no neutrons and therefore no radioactivity in its primary reaction. The downside is that it needs temperatures 200 times hotter than the core of the Sun to work properly. Now an international team of scientists has come up with a method for using super-strength laser bursts to generate those kind of temperatures, compressing the hydrogen and boron nuclei together.

    Fusion reactions have long been promising to give us a clean, limitless source of energy by taking the opposite approach to the nuclear fission reactions. Instead of atoms being split, they're combined together, similar to the reactions that power the Sun, as lighter nuclei are fused to build heavier ones with the help of high temperatures and pressures. However, in practice it's proving very difficult to harness.

    But thanks to recent advances in laser technology the researchers think it might be possible to create an 'avalanche' fusion reaction from a laser beam packing a quadrillion watts of power in just a trillionth of a second. If future research doesn't reveal any major engineering hurdles to this approach, the scientists think that a prototype reactor could be built within a decade.

    The latest research also puts the hydrogen-boron approach ahead of other similar technologies, including deuterium-tritium fusion, which is being explored at the National Ignition Facility in the US and has the drawback of producing radioactive waste.

    Science Alert / Laser and Particle Beams    December 16, 2017