Pyroelectric Crystals Make It Handy

"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 Polytechnic Institute.

At the device’s heart are two opposing "pyroelectric" crystals that create a strong electric field when heated or cooled. The device is filled with deuterium gas from which the electric field rips electrons, 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.

A research team of UCLA reported on a similar apparatus in 2005, but two important features distinguish the new device: "Our device uses two crystals instead of one, which doubles the acceleration potential," says Jeffrey Geuther, a graduate student in nuclear engineering at Rensselaer and lead author of the paper. "And our setup does not require cooling the crystals to cryogenic temperatures – an important step that reduces both the complexity and the cost of the equipment."

The new study also verified the fundamental physics behind the original experiment. This suggests that pyroelectric crystals are in fact a viable means of producing nuclear fusion, and that commercial applications may be closer than originally thought.

"Nuclear fusion has been explored as a potential source of power, but we are not looking at this as an energy source right now," Danon says. Rather, the most immediate application may come in the form of a battery-operated, portable neutron generator. Such a device could be used to detect explosives or to scan luggage at airports, and it could also be an important tool for a wide range of laboratory experiments.; Source: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute