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Fiction

"Steampunk" fusion machine travels in time

R.A.

Ever since a "Mr Fusion" device appeared on Doc's time-travelling DeLorean in the first opus of the Back to the Future trilogy (1985), fusion energy has exerted a fascination on the film industry. Countless productions, from The Saint (1997) to the 2014 blockbuster Interstellar have featured fusion machines that are either central or accessory to the plot. Travelers, a Netflix series that premiered in December 2016, offers the latest example in this trend—except that an actual, real-life fusion machine plays the part of an antimatter device used to deflect an incoming asteroid.

In the Netflix series ''Travelers,'' the strange-looking machine developped by General Fusion plays the part of an anti-matter device whose energy, fed to a laser, deflects an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. (Click to view larger version...)
In the Netflix series ''Travelers,'' the strange-looking machine developped by General Fusion plays the part of an anti-matter device whose energy, fed to a laser, deflects an asteroid on a collision course with Earth.
Neither a tokamak nor a stellarator nor even a zeta-pinch, the machine developed by General Fusion, a private fusion venture on the outskirts of Vancouver, Canada, is based on an unconventional approach. It uses steam-driven pistons to compress the plasma and heat it to fusion conditions. As a result, the device has a most unusual appearance that is sometimes described as steampunk—19th century technology and aesthetics set in a futuristic context.

Coming across images of General Fusion's machine on the company's website, the series' producers, also based in Vancouver, were immediately inspired: the strange-looking device, with its array of steel pistons jutting from a central sphere wrapped in aluminium foil, could pass perfectly for a fictional antimatter apparatus.

Having developed its ''sub-scale first generation compression technology testbed,'' General Fusion is presently working on the design of a sub-breakeven demonstration plant. (Click to view larger version...)
Having developed its ''sub-scale first generation compression technology testbed,'' General Fusion is presently working on the design of a sub-breakeven demonstration plant.
Having completed their experimental campaign on the "steampunk" device, the General Fusion team made their workshop available to the Travelers production. A few props were added and—for a couple of days—a team of special agents from the post-apocalyptic future engaged in shootouts, personality transfers and other transforming acts that make up the gist of the series.

As for the future, the General Fusion team is presently working on the design of a demonstration plant—"our equivalent of JET"—whose objective is to "show that the technology works and is ready to scale to a power producing pilot plant" ... a giant step from the steampunk device featured in the series.


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