- This student's "nice purple light" could become a nuclear reactor if you add heavy water and silver.
- Most plasma fusion research is getting grander and more ambitious, but you can't buy that on Craigslist.
- The student is the latest in a legacy of young people building nuclear reactors in their backyards or schools.
A college student in New Zealand tried to sell a “potential” nuclear reactor on a local version of Craigslist. The young man says his goal was to raise money for his tuition. He also says the plasma reactor could be brought online by an intrepid amateur scientist.
“The next step is for a very brave person to start a nuclear reaction with the deuterium and some silver,” he wrote in the now-closed listing.
For the low low price of $3,000, a buyer in New Zealand would receive “a beautiful plasma generator” that “has been completed by a qualified electrical engineer.” The student made the generator for a science fair project. “The purpose of the reactor currently is just to make nice purple light, the potential for the reactor is to produce neutrons for other projects,” he says.
It’s not clear how much you could really do with this reactor, but it could really be legitimate, and it wouldn’t be the first homespun nuclear-adjacent neutron source.
The most famous young man to do this was David Hahn, who methodically scrubbed small amounts of radioactive materials out of household devices until he had enough to build a device. Hahn aimed to make a fission reactor, but took his device apart when it began to produce a wild (and in this case uncontained) level of radiation. The EPA declared his mother’s backyard shed a Superfund site. Hahn had a troubled adult life and died of a drug and alcohol overdose at age 39.
More recently, we learned about Taylor Wilson, who in 2015 was “one of only 32 people to build a nuclear fusion reactor themselves,” National Geographic reported. Wilson was just 14, and he was motivated by how costly it is for people to receive nuclear medicine treatments. But Wilson had his parents’s blessing and support, and he worked safely. Wilson, now 25, spent his teen and young adult life designing innovative, low-cost versions of technologies like molten salt reactors and radiation detectors.
So our unnamed Kiwi salesperson is the latest in a legacy of illustrious young nuclear engineers, but he seems to be the first to try to sell the results of his experiment. If he’d made the $3,000 he was asking as a starting bid, that would have paid for well over half of an average New Zealand college education’s tuition cost, which is just over $4,000.
The student included 20 grams of deuterium oxide—heavy water—with the purchase of the plasma generator. This is required to start any potential nuclear reaction, and is also a $50 value, but yours with the price of purchase of the plasma generator. The student also says the setup’s electrical transformer shouldn’t be left on for more than 20 minutes, meaning your window to begin producing neutrons is quite brief. If nothing else, $3,000 could buy you a lifetime supply of “nice purple light.”
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