Friday, October 22, 2010

Penthouse Magazine Founder and Fusion Research

Who knew? I certainly didn't.

With the passing this week of Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse Magazine, we now have various information about him that I didn't know before. For example, he founded the science magazine Omni (not one of my favorite magazines). Still, what was surprising to me was that he was fascinated with fusion and invested quite heavily in a company to develop a workable fusion reactor.

Bussard, who had previously worked on fusion at Los Alamos National Laboratory, had set up a company, International Nuclear Energy Systems Company (Inesco) to develop a compact tokamak design he had devised. His innovation was to equip the device with extremely powerful electromagnets to allow it to heat a small volume of plasma to high enough temperatures so that nuclei would fuse and generate heat. Mainstream tokamaks were getting larger and larger in an effort to reduce heat loss.

According to Robin Herman in her book Fusion: The Search for Endless Energy, Guccione invited Bussard over to dinner and heard about his trouble getting government funding or private investors. In 1980, Guccione decided to back the project with an initial $400,000.

Bussard set up the business in San Diego, California, and soon had a staff of 85. Other investors failed to materialize, and Guccione eventually sank up to $17 million in the project. When a public share issue for Inesco in 1984 flopped, the pair were forced to wind up the project.

Interestingly enough, as pointed out in that Science news article, one of Bussard's said is Bruno Coppi of MIT, who made a news splash recently with his Ignitor project that I mentioned recently as a small-scale alternative to ITER. So Bussard's and Guccione's legacy sort of continues in some form and shape.

Soft porn and fusion? Who knew?


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