Newly observed phenomenon ‘quite significant’ for nuclear fusion

22 May 2020

Image: © Aliaksandr Marko/

This week in future tech, scientists have observed a new phenomenon for the first time that could improve the stability of large nuclear fusion reactors.

In the race to achieve near-limitless, cheap, clean energy, scientists from the DIII-D National Fusion Facility in the US have made a substantial breakthrough.

Writing in Physical Review Letters, they described the first ever observations of a phenomenon that could improve the stability and performance of large fusion reactors. Furthermore, it could reduce the impact of potentially damaging high heat loads on the surrounding reactor wall.

This phenomenon, referred to as ‘E-cross-B drift’, is a specific particle transport mechanism that removes excess heat and impurity ions without negatively affecting fusion performance in the plasma core.

“This discovery is quite significant, because it represents a key element in understanding particle flow around the edge of the plasma,” said General Atomics researcher Huiqian Wang, who led the study.

“It suggests that we have a pathway toward addressing the challenges of maintaining a stable plasma edge and a high-performance core in future devices like the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.”

Cancelled Dyson electric vehicle cost founder £500m

In an interview with The Sunday Times, James Dyson revealed the prototype for his company’s electric vehicle (EV) that aimed to surpass Tesla and other newcomers to the auto industry.

Dyson admitted the scrapped project cost £500m of his own money. The seven-seater SUV was officially called the N526, and could have allegedly had a range of 1,000km. However, in order to break even, Dyson would have had to sell each car at £150,000.

When asked whether he thought the EV was a vanity project, Dyson denied it completely. “When we started in 2014, we had good technology and a very efficient car with a long range. It was viable,” he said.

“But when, later, other companies started producing electric cars at a loss, it became too risky for us.”

‘Butter-like’ spread could boost solid-state battery capacity

Scientists at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden and Xi’an Jiaotong University in China have found a new way to increase solid-state battery capacity tenfold, while also increasing performance and safety.

Unlike lithium-ion batteries, solid-state batteries have a solid electrolyte and therefore contain no environmentally harmful or flammable liquids.

Writing in Advanced Functional Materials, the researchers described a soft, spreadable, ‘butter-like’ substance, made of nanoparticles of ceramic electrolyte LAGP, mixed with an ionic liquid. The liquid encapsulates the LAGP particles and makes the interlayer soft and protective.

While the potential of solid-state batteries is well known, there has been no way to make them sufficiently stable – especially at high-current densities. It’s hoped the new ‘spread’ will prevent this drawback, helping to bring a solid-state battery on the market within the next five years.

A replaceable, more efficient filter for N95 masks

Researchers writing in ACS Nano have revealed a new membrane that can be attached to a regular N95 mask and replaced when needed.

N95 masks have been in high demand recently as personal protective equipment for healthcare workers treating Covid-19 patients. The new filter has a smaller pore size than normal N95 masks, potentially blocking more virus particles.

To make the membrane, the researchers first developed a silicon-based, porous template using lithography and chemical etching. They placed the template over a polyimide film and used a process called reactive ion etching to make pores in the membrane, with sizes ranging from five to 55 nanometres (nm).

This membrane can be peeled off and attached to a N95 mask. To ensure the membrane was breathable, the researchers measured the airflow rate through the pores. They found that for pores smaller than the coronavirus, the pores needed to be placed a maximum of 330nm from each other to achieve good breathability.

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic