Fusion is the mythical beast of energy technologies—the one that could solve all of our energy problems by providing a nearly limitless source of power, but one that forever seems to be decades away from reality. Yet scientists have made real progress toward using fusion as an energy source, and along the way they’ve built fascinating machines, including the world’s most powerful lasers and sculpture-like magnetic coils capable of confining 100,000,000 ºC plasmas. Here are some of the most interesting projects, ranging from some of the first attempts to today’s cutting-edge efforts.
Devices called mirror magnets for confining the ultrahot plasmas needed for fusion were first built by researchers at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in the 1950s. In the 1960s, they developed mirror magnets shaped like the seams on a baseball. The second version (shown) was built in 1969. The shape of the magnet created a weak magnetic field surrounded by a strong magnetic field to confine the plasma. The magnetic field produced was roughly 1,500 times stronger than a typical refrigerator magnet.