Fusion and Robotics

ITER, the international thermonuclear experimental reactor being built in France, is a shining beacon of hope for scientists and engineers who fear that our reckless burning of coal and oil is destroying the world (plus the fact that we’re going to run out). It’s being built for research purposes by academics around the world. And we’ve talked about how fusion at ITER will work.

Image of the ITER tokomak, the magnetic container for a band of plasma

Here’s a brief recap: basically, you superheat hydrogen, the lightest element, and compress it using magnets until it fuses in the same reaction that constantly goes on in the sun. The fused hydrogen turns into helium and releases neutrons, which heat lithium. That lithium boils water and the steam is used to turn turbines, just like every other common form of power does.

Right now the power the heating and magnet-containing processes take is greater than the power it produces, so it’s not viable. But ITER is expected to get 10 times greater output than is needed as input.

Check out this PeakOil article to read more about why fusion is viable and safe, as well as why it’s the future of energy.

ITER isn’t expected to be complete until 2019, and fusion reactors like DEMO (the commercialized version of ITER) will start running in the 2040s. That’s still a ways out, because fusion research is still a growing field.

Out point is that it’s a promising field and will definitely be high-paying, since the world will come to rely on it for its energy needs.

Part of what makes fusion so great is that it makes power easy to access. Electric cars will be viable for everyone because we’ll have a form of energy which is actually cheaper than oil, and better for the environment to boot.

This means that power cells and batteries will also become more widespread than they already are (hint: they’re already everywhere). And with power cells comes the capacity for mobile technology. Cell phones, laptops, wireless devices.

And robots.

In fact, DARPA (a government agency we like to mention because of their awesome research) just announced a new contest. The first person to build a humanoid robot capable of operating power tools, drive vehicles, climb ladders as well as a few other things will get awarded $2 million. And they’ll probably get a pretty sweet job with DARPA.

An image of humanoid robots, as depicted by DARPA.

This particular contest might be a little short notice for high school students who want to become engineers or computer scientists. It’s a little unrealistic to try and build such a thing so quick. But it’s a testament to the fact that robotics is becoming such a big deal in the engineering world that the government is actually having contests to get people building.

Plus, DARPA has contests like these all the time, so keep an eye out as you get older.

Robotics and fusion are both rapidly growing fields. Both use one’s knowledge of the physical world as well as one’s ability to work with computers and program. And both are extremely lucrative.

So if you like doing awesome work and getting paid a ton for it, we recommend you study computer science and engineering.

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