If the depth of their passion for scientific inquiry is an indication of the outcome of their work, the nation’s dependence on fossil fuel may be coming to an end sooner rather than later. Eric Thomas and Demitri Hopkins, two 18-year-old first-year STEM students are working on a project that would create clean fusion energy – essentially converting hydrogen molecules found in water into energy.
The two Centralia College students have developed what they believe is a new design that could make this happen.
Before you pooh-pooh this you need to know that they’ve already amazed scientists by building their own reactor and creating a short burst of energy through the fusion process in a lab setting. The two were part of a threesome that, earlier this year, earned the Best of Category Award in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering at the Intel Internal Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. Because of the quality and originality of their work, they were invited to meet with President Barack Obama who commended their work and encouraged them to continue. All this while still in high school in Oregon.
“It’s something that’s not too common,” said Thomas. To say the least.
One of their goals now is to further develop their process that would create clean fusion energy on a larger, economically feasible scale. The energy would come from hydrogen in water, leading the way to that brave new world that, so far, is the stuff of science fiction.
The current popular process is to create energy using thermonuclear fusion, very hot and not very practical for powering an automobile. Thomas and Hopkins are working to create energy at much lower temperatures, thereby using less energy to create energy and do it practically.
“Of course it’s possible,” said Michael Threapleton, Centralia College physics professor who is mentoring the students. “They have great enthusiasm and are engaged in scientific research, designing and building their own equipment. It’s important to support efforts that engage the curiosity of students.” Centralia College has the faculty and resources to provide high quality support for students, provide direction as well as equipment and supplies that will help them. Equipment can be purchased through a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant. The two students will want to have access to nuclear materials and Threapleton will make sure that it is used properly and safely.
So why did these young men choose Centralia College?
“We were so caught up in our research and building our reactor that we flat out missed deadlines for applying to college,” said Thomas. The scientist/mentor they were working with advised the two to check out the STEM program at Centralia College, which has a strong reputation in the sciences, the New Science Center, and the NSF grant.
“Centralia College has a really good reputation and we’ve had good meetings with Professor Threapleton. We talked to him about the project and he is very knowledgeable. He is very involved with his students and that’s good. We’re glad we’re here,” Hopkins and Thomas both agreed.
Their goal is to continue their research, earn transfer degrees and move on to the University of Washington. They have already developed relationships with faculty in the Plasma Science and Innovation Center at the UW and have worked with the university’s nuclear reactor.
Who knows, perhaps sometime in the near future we’ll be filling up our cars at the water fountain knowing that the efforts of these two young men helped make it all possible.