Scientists believe the world will see its first working thermonuclear fusion reactor by the year 2025. That’s a tall order in short form, especially when you consider that fusion has been here for nearly a century.
Fusion reactors are the holiest of Grails when it comes to physics achievements. According to most experts, a successful fusion reactor would function as a near-unlimited source of energy.
TAE, one of the companies working on the fusion problem, says the big difference-maker now is machine learning. According to a report from Forbes, Google’s been helping TAE come up with modern solutions to decades-old math problems by using novel AI systems to facilitate the discovery of new fusion techniques.
Fusion occurs naturally in stars such as our sun, but recreating the sun’s conditions on Earth is simply not possible with our current technology.
The sun is much more massive than the Earth, and that mass comes with the fusion-friendly benefit of increased gravity.
All that extra gravity smashes the sun’s atoms into one another. The combination of pressure and heat force hydrogen atoms to fuse together, thus becoming helium atoms. This results in the expulsion of energy.
Unfortunately all the current terrestrial attempts at fusion have come up short because, though many have been successful at fusing atoms, they always take more energy to produce the temperatures required to fuse atoms on Earth than said atoms produce in the process.
The entry of AI and machine learning has made things interesting. By giving physicists “super human” analysis abilities, they can turn around experiments faster. This enables quicker iterations and more meaningful results.
Nuclear fusion is a reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles (neutrons or protons).
The difference in mass between the reactants and products is manifested as either the release or absorption of energy.
A fusion process that produces nuclei lighter than iron-56 or nickel-62 will generally release energy. These elements have relatively small mass per nucleon and large binding energy per nucleon.
Fusion nuclei lighter than these releases energy (an exothermic process), while fusion of heavier nuclei results in energy retained by the product nucleons, and the resulting reaction is endothermic.