In 1988, engineers began designing the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, now just ITER. Along the way, 35 nations have split the $23.7 billion price tag to construct its 10 million parts. Now, surrounded by vineyards in France's Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, the 25,000-ton machine is set to be flipped on in 2025.
The isotopes butting heads will be deuterium and tritium. To get the atoms whipping around the inner chamber of the Russian-nesting-doll-like machine, a magnet will drive 15 million amperes of electricity through them. They'll also be zapped by 24 microwave generators and three semitruck-sized particle guns, until they reach 270 million degrees F and, avec optimisme, crash into each other, releasing heaps of energy. There's no guarantee ITER will achieve fusion by 2035, as scheduled. But Edward Morse, who teaches nuclear engineering at UC Berkeley, says it's the “only viable” hope we have to secure the energy we'll need over the next millennia: “It's Rosemary's baby. We have to pray for Rosemary's baby.” And if it fails? As Eddington wrote, if man “is not yet destined to reach the sun and solve for all time the riddle of its constitution, yet he may hope to learn from his journey some hints to build a better machine.”
The change in thermal energy of an object depends on three things: the object's mass, the change in temperature, and the specific heat capacity (which depends on the material). In order to calculate the change in thermal energy, I need the specific heat capacity for the two materials (water and copper).
LAURA MALLONEE (@LauraMallonee) writes about photography for WIRED.This article appears in the May issue. Subscribe now .
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