Here we provide a bit more information about us and our motivations for creating this platform.
Who are we?
We are a group of volunteers with doctoral-level backgrounds in various physics and engineering disciplines. We are big advocates of the open source mindset and the benefits it can bring to open science. That’s why we created Project Ida, to bring those benefits to solid-state nuclear science.
What is solid-state nuclear science?
Solid-state nuclear science is the intersection of the fields of quantum dynamics, nanostructured materials and nuclear physics. In other words, solid-state nuclear science is concerned with phenomena that rely on an interplay between the molecular, atomic, and sub-atomic scales.
Why does it matter?
Nuclear energy has enormous potential - the energy density of typical nuclear reactions, whether they be fission or fusion, is millions of times greater than fossil fuels. This means fewer resources for the same energy demand and no CO2 emissions to worry about.
The catch? For conventional nuclear power (typically relying on the fission of a uranium isotope) the reaction products give off harmful radiation for thousands of years and the reaction itself relies on a careful balance of a potentially explosive chain reaction. For fusion power, the reaction rate between hydrogen isotopes is so slow that temperatures 10 times hotter than the centre of the sun are required to achieve energy breakeven - no small feat.
These problems are believed to be fundamental. We have accepted that the nuclear scale is outside our ability to control and engineer. But is it true? In other areas of physics, we are much more confident about the degree of control we can obtain over processes. For instance, we understand today, that in photosynthesis, nature makes use of quantum dynamics to speed up the absorption of light energy; developments in nanosciences now allow us to deliberately alter reaction rates and reaction products at the atomic scale. Is it conceivable that we could increase fusion reaction rates and change fission products using similar ideas? Research as early as the 1930s (Breit 1937) suggests that this may be a possibility. The question then remains, how would we go about systematically developing research in this area of solid-state nuclear science? It’s only recently that we’ve been able to start answering this question.
New fields of study often emerge from the confluence of distinct areas that become increasingly relevant to one another. Integration of ideas then becomes feasible, leading to “cognitive and social unification out of many initially separate efforts” (Bettencourt et al. 2009).
This pattern applies to solid-state nuclear science as well. Here, we observe a confluence between proposed concepts, observed anomalies, theory, and materials design:
- Proposed concepts: A central concept of applied solid-state nuclear science is the notion that nuclear reactions such as fusion might be affected by their solid-state environment. Engineering such environments could then allow control over certain nuclear reactions e.g. their rates and products. A number of engineering approaches have been put forth:
- bulk metals with kinematically changed nanostructures (e.g. through vacancy diffusion) which are electrochemically charged with deuterium (a hydrogen isotope);
- thin film metals with thermodynamically determined nanostructures that are electrochemically charged with deuterium;
- nanoparticles with predetermined nanostructures that are charged with deuterium via gas pressure;
- bulk metals with ion surface treatment which are charged with deuterium via ion implantation.
- Reported anomalies: Over the past century, thousands of papers have accumulated that report anomalous behaviour of hydrogen isotopes in such configurations as introduced in the previous paragraphs. Such claimed anomalies include enhanced reaction rates (e.g. in fusion reactions) and changed reaction products (e.g. charged particles and phonons instead of neutrons and photons).
- Theory: The configurations described above fall into a traditional blindspot of modern physics at the intersection of solid-state physics and nuclear physics. In nuclear physics, nuclei are traditionally assumed to be unaffected by their solid-state environments. This is despite the fact that couplings between nuclei and their surroundings have been identified as early as 1937 (Breit 1937). Today, modern computational tools and open-source codes such as QuTiP allow us to implement the proposed interactions between nuclei in an atomic lattice and simulate their time evolution.
- Materials: Implementing the results of quantum dynamics simulations in experiments requires precise control over sample materials. Fortunately, we benefit from continued progress in materials science and nanotechnology. Modern techniques and computational tools allow for the increasingly deliberate engineering of nanostructures. In particular, the composition of a lattice, the site configuration of interstitial atoms, lattice dynamics, and background electron density are most interesting for us. These are high demands on a designed material — but increasingly feasible ones.
As progress has been achieved in each of the above areas — led by numerous individuals across various fields and geographies — we believe that the time has come for the integration of this diverse knowledge into a single, emerging field of study: solid-state nuclear science.