Jonathan Strickland, Einstein, Proton discussed on TechStuff
Text up. I'm your host. Jonathan Strickland an executive producer with iheartradio and love things tech. And it's Friday. That means it's time for a classic episode of Tech Stuff and this one originally published on April fifteenth. Two thousand thirteen. It's called tech stuff experiments with fusion. So let's listen in we're talking nuclear fusion and to kind of give you an idea of what nuclear fusion is how we are trying to harness nuclear fusion as a source of energy production really electric production. And it's being touted as one of the technologies of the future that is going to give us unlimited energy. How Far Away is it? Twenty to thirty to fifty years and every year. It seems like we're still fifty years. Yeah Yeah it's I. That's one of those things that scientists will often Riley kind of joke about that. The technology's always twenty years away and And you know it's because the challenges that we need to overcome are quite impressive doesn't mean we won't do it. Because human beings are amazing you know we innovate event but But let's let's first of all talk about the difference between fusion and vision. Vision is kind of a nuclear process that is used in nuclear power plants today right so if you are familiar with a nuclear power plants things like you know. They're of course the famous ones that have suffered catastrophic failures like three mile island or noble But these are the the reactors where they split up larger atoms into smaller atoms and as a result a great deal of energy is given off really in the form of heat which is then harnessed to convert water into steam which turns steam turbines which are connected to electrical generators generating electricity. So really. It's just a a very very efficient way of heating up a lot of water really quickly and making it do work very efficient very radioactive steam generator. Yeah Yeah and that's one of the big issues with With the vision power plants obviously is that it uses nuclear radioactive material. Not just nuclear material radioactive material and that it doesn't the reactivity is still very much a factor once that reaction is finished for thousands and thousands of years right. Yeah you generally speaking only about three percent of the uranium in a uranium rod is used up in a vision reactor before the waste has to be disposed of because it will continue to heat up until it reaches a point. That's too hot and the reactor itself suffer failure. Yeah that's what you have down yeah There are some Some approaches that are suggesting that we take another pass at that nuclear waste and use that in a second round by immersing it in a molten salt the waste annihilating molten salt reactor still. I just can't I can't get over the the annihilated wasted NYLANDER Yeah so This this reactor would it still efficient reactor but it would immerse the the radioactive material the uranium in a molten salt and use that to control the heat in a in a way that would allow you to use that material for longer. So you'd be able to get more use out of the same radioactive material and reduce the life of the actual radioactive elements at the at the final output. I think it would only be radioactive. I it would only be reactive for another three hundred years so still well beyond our lifetimes right now but not something that you would say. Are Generations Generations? Generations are going to have You know programming things that people you know languages that don't exist yet. How do I how do I create a pictographs? That shows exactly. Do not go in here. Touch this female. We stood up really heart ten thousand years. English may not even be thing anymore so So yeah I mean. That's that's one of those possible solutions but fusion is very different vision all about splitting atoms apart fusion. About being buddy buddy bringing together this is. This is the kind of process that we see happening. In stars including the Sun The Sun being star this well just making sure people know that And despite what? My one of my favorite bands has said in a cover of a song actually. The Sun is not really a massive incandescent gas gigantic nuclear but did correct it in a later song say it was asthma of incandescent plasma so they did go back and correct it but they were actually quoting an old song from a science album for kids which was to explain the process of fusion and how the Sun Generates Energy and light and And the way it happens is it takes these hydrogen atoms and because the sun is so massive and dense. There's a huge amount of gravity there and it's creating enormous amount of pressure and heat so the heat is stripping those hydrogen atoms of their electrons. Creating ions that creates ions and in a pure hydrogen atom is just a Proton and an electron so that electron goes away. I've just got a proton. They're sharing and so You have these protons now that are zipping around and and being pressed together really tightly by the amazing force of gravity and at the Sun's core where this is the strongest. These atoms are banging up against each other so fast and so close that one of the other fundamental forces in the universe over acts the electromagnetic force now. The four forces in the universe include gravity. Which is the weakest but is the it is the most effective over huge distances. Right you have electromagnetic force you. And then you have these strong and weak nuclear forces now. The strong force is what holds nucleic particles together. It's like the glue that keeps nucleus together right so if you were able to get to protons close enough to each other The strong nuclear force would be strong enough to counteract the electromagnetic force naturally driving them apart because protons both have a positive charge. And if you've ever taken two magnets and tried to stick the two positive ends together it it resists he doesn't want to do that thing but when you get them to within one trillion of a millimeter of each other then that will that will go away or it will be overcome by the strong force? Exactly yes you have to get them really really close together now at that point when you have fused to hydrogen protons together. You've created a different element. Hydrogen has now become helium at temperature. Millions of degrees so We can't we might be. They might be giants seeing them in a week to Atlanta. By the time he goes here this. I've already seen it in. The show is awesome. I guess so anyway. The the the protons have fused together to form helium. But here's the interesting thing in that process. The mass of that helium atom is slightly less than the combined masses of the two hydrogen atoms. That fused together to make the helium. Why is that Jonathan? Some of that mass gets converted into energy. There's a little equation. You may have heard of called E. EQUALS MC squared. I think I think some some guy named Einstein was talking about here Einstein. Einstein came up with this idea He came up with a theory and and turns out that it. It looks like it's true. energy equals mass times square or the speed of light squared. Rather not the square speed of light but the speed of light squared. So speed of light is a big big big big number and you square it and it's even bigger much bigger and you multiply even bigger and multiply that times. Whatever the mass is you get your energy output and so essentially what this equation tells us? Is that a tiny little. Bit of mass. Once converted into energy will be an enormous amount of energy right same thing that mass and energy never really go away simply converted cannot create or destroy energy but what we can do is convert energy to mass and mass energy. At least in theory now if we were to convert energy to mass we take an awful lot of energy to make just a little bit of mass. Which is why I always go crazy when I read the Harry Potter Books and people conjure stuff of a thin air because I think you just destroyed like three solar systems in order to do that from a parallel dimension or something like that. Yeah so there's just a parallel dimension. There's a really huge room of requirement. Somewhere that's okay. Yeah all right now now. You're talking my language so yeah it it. A little bit of mass creates a low energy so even though we're talking tiny atomic measurements here where we have the helium atom which has got a lower mass than the two combined hydrogen atoms. That's still puts off quite a bit of energy and and the sun is doing this all the time with tons of hydrogen converting into helium. Every day right all right so massive amount of energy that's being that's being omitted. I mean if it weren't being omitted then there'd be no life on this planet right and we know it works. You know so we can serve this. This is this is as far as we can tell real science. Yes so we know it works. We can do it in fact we have done it. We've reproducing here on earth. We'll get into that in a little bit but the question was if don does this. If that's how the sun does could we create energy here on earth using a similar method knowing that on earth the conditions are very different the core of the sun? We don't have that gravity or that heat that is allowing the Sun to overcome the right force. Yeah THE IN. The in the gravity is the really important part because that gravity is what's allowing the this nuclear fusion process to happen at a temperature that would actually be lower than we would need here on earth because we don't have that gravity. We don't have the ability to compress the atoms as tightly together as we would if it if we had the sun's gravity we have to. We have to overcome that with even more heat. The Sun only needs about fifteen million degrees Kelvin. Only measly fifty million Kelvin. Fifteen stories are yeah. Yeah my my bad. I always do that. I did it once. One of our great listeners corrected me and that's the only reason that our listeners are awesome and they know when I've done something silly like that completely ridiculous only reason so thank you listeners. So yeah the sun only needs about fifteen million Kelvin. In order to do this here on earth that would be something like one hundred million so we're talking massive amounts of energy that we would need here on earth to compensate for the fact that we don't have that gravity there to help us with this reaction now in the sun you're talking about the pure hydrogen encountering other pure hydrogen so one Proton one electron the electrons get stripped away. The Protons get fuse together but on earth we've discovered that there's a better combination to go with requires less energy than it would if we were to use pure hydrogen. It's relatively difficult to run into pure hydrogen. Here you'd have to. You'd have to essentially split the hydrogen off of something else on. There's lots of hydrogen on earth. We have no shortage of it. Yeah it was just connected to lots of other stuff. Yeah so the two types of the two isotopes of hydrogen isotope by the way means that you have more or fewer neutrons than whatever the the atom typically has but it's or it's a different number of neutrons than The base version of that atom rate. But it's Same number of protons same number electrons so an isotope is one. Isotope of hydrogen is Do which is also known as heavy hydrogen and it has one proton and one neutron so typically you would not have a neutron with hydrogen deteriorate does have a neutron and then you have tritium which is called also called heavy heavy hydrogen. So it's extra heavy. He's not heavy. He's my tritium And this is a proton the has to neutrons so same still. The same element is just a different isotope now. Duty we've got a lot of that. Here on earth can be extracted from seawater. It's not radioactive or anything Yeah it's not dangerous The but yeah you. Can you can find deteriorate in in Ocean water? You cannot find tritium very easily mostly because it's not completely stable it does tend to decay and It's just it has a half-life of about ten years can you can get it from lithium. Yeah you if you take. Lithium the metal lithium medication the metal lithium and you bombarded with neutrons. Then one of the things you get out of that is tritium so that is one way to get the thirty minute. We found out that tritium and deteriorate if you try to fuse those two together then you get helium and a neutron Out of that reaction and It requires less energy than it than other combinations do. These are the current forms of fusion. That are possible on. Our planet are are deteriorating tritium. Hey guys hope you're enjoying this classic episode of Tech Stuff. We're going to take a quick break to thank our sponsors..