May 21, 2006
Topic: Muon catalyzed nuclear fusion
About the speaker
Nuclear fusion powers the Sun and has been made to occur by humans but not yet in a controlled way that is efficient enough for energy production. One intriguing possibility involves deuterons, tritons, and muons. A deuteron (proton and neutron) and triton (proton and two neutrons) may react to produce a helium-4 nucleus (two protons and two neutrons) and neutron that move away from each other with 17.6 Million electron-volts of energy. To react, the two heavy isotopes of hydrogen, which repel each other electrostatically, must be brought close together. An electron can hold a deuteron and triton together in the form of a molecular ion, H2+, in which the two nuclei remain at a bond distance of about 105 picometers (pico = 10-12), but this is not close enough. A muon, which is 207 times heavier than an electron, can hold a deuteron and triton together at a bond distance of less than 1 picometer, close enough so that the nuclei react quickly. Whether this "muon catalyzed fusion" can serve as a practical means to generate energy depends on the efficiency with which we can create muon-deuteron-triton molecular ions. At present, this efficiency is a bit too low.
ACA member Mark Loewe is a theoretical physicist and chemist. Mark is the junior coauthor with Professor Arno Bohm of a quantum mechanics textbook that has been used by graduate students and researchers worldwide. Mark was invited by Professor Lawrence C. Biedenharn to participate in theoretical work on muon catalyzed fusion. Mark has taught physics at the University of Texas and Texas State University, including graduate level courses on quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics.