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Sun in a Bottle

The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking

by Charles Seife

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When weapons builders detonated the first hydrogen bomb in 1952, they tapped into the biggest source of energy in our solar system - the phenomenon that makes the sun shine. Nuclear fusion seems a virtually unlimited source of power, but it has been at the center of a tragic and comic pursuit that has left scores of scientists battered and disgraced. Like the eternal quest to build a perpetual motion machine, the dream of harnessing the energy of a miniature star is irresistible. Not only would a fusion energy device give the world endless electrical power, it would give power to its inventors - financial power, the power of fame, even military might.

Right now the world's richest countries are spending billions of dollars trying to build a giant fusion reactor. Yet if history is any guide, the money will not bring the dream of fusion energy within reach. Indeed, the quest for fusion energy has been a failure, generation after generation. Fusion is at the heart of some of the biggest scientific scandals of all time, and Charles Seife traces its story from its beginning into the twenty-first century. Even after fusion scientists face defeat after defeat, they continue trying to put the sun in a bottle, hoping against hope that they will succeed where others have failed. The science of wishful thinking is as strong as ever, and this book is our key to understanding why.

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When weapons builders detonated the first hydrogen bomb in 1952, they tapped into the biggest source of energy in our solar system - the phenomenon that makes the sun shine. Nuclear fusion seems a virtually unlimited source of power, but it has been at the center of a tragic and comic pursuit that has left scores of scientists battered and disgraced. Like the eternal quest to build a perpetual motion machine, the dream of harnessing the energy of a miniature star is irresistible. Not only would a fusion energy device give the world endless electrical power, it would give power to its inventors - financial power, the power of fame, even military might.

Right now the world's richest countries are spending billions of dollars trying to build a giant fusion reactor. Yet if history is any guide, the money will not bring the dream of fusion energy within reach. Indeed, the quest for fusion energy has been a failure, generation after generation. Fusion is at the heart of some of the biggest scientific scandals of all time, and Charles Seife traces its story from its beginning into the twenty-first century. Even after fusion scientists face defeat after defeat, they continue trying to put the sun in a bottle, hoping against hope that they will succeed where others have failed. The science of wishful thinking is as strong as ever, and this book is our key to understanding why.

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