Science is his passion

By on May 21, 2018
Fusion reactor 1:  Paul Beck’s design for his senior project, a fusion reactor. Provided photo

Fusion reactor 1: Paul Beck’s design for his senior project, a fusion reactor. Provided photo

He describes himself as being inquisitive. Paul Beck, a senior at Spencerport High School, admits that his love of science can be traced back to when he was an elementary student.

“When I was in fifth grade, I read a book on nuclear power and nuclear fission. I was fascinated by the fact that one tiny pelt the size of a cubic centimeter could yield the same power as several thousand pounds of coal. That interest has continued throughout my life,” Paul said.

At Spencerport High School, all seniors are required to complete a project that includes the creation of a product, a written research paper and present their project to a panel. Students are encouraged to pursue a project that incorporates their academic strengths with their interests outside of school.

When it came time for Paul to create a senior project, it was almost decided for him. He knew that he wanted to challenge himself with a science project and he began his research during his sophomore and junior years of high school. He decided to build a fusion reactor. He described what this type of reactor is and how it functions.

“A fusion reactor is when you insert fuel such as light nuclei and you superheat it or put it in really low pressure and you force it to one center point so the nuclei can collide and create heavier nuclei which then gives off radiation or energy emission,” Paul said. “Then you harvest the energy which people can use.”

He admits this scope of this project was daunting.

Fusion reactor 2:  Paul Beck with his senior project, a fusion reactor. Provided photo

Fusion reactor 2: Paul Beck with his senior project, a fusion reactor. Provided photo

“Building my fusion reactor was extremely challenging but it was a fulfilling experience. When I first envisioned this idea, I totally rejected it due to its outlandish nature. But after doing all my research and taking a leap of faith, I began this undertaking,” Paul explained.

He watched college lectures on YouTube, gathered information online and even used college textbooks to create his equations. He drafted a schematic, scavenged parts from the Internet and Rochester businesses, and began the building process.

Paul’s project took months of testing, trials, broken parts and even a few failures before the final product to come to fruition. His passion was his motivation to keep trying.

“After finishing all the construction and turning the fusion on, I could see the fruits of my labor. I had created a concentration of plasma in which nuclear fusion was able to occur,” Paul said. “Subsequently because of this breakthrough, I synthesized pages of physics derivations in my notebook and calculated maximum nuclei velocity in the plasma field, which confirmed the validity of my project.”

Paul’s project is large with multiple parts. The reactor includes a bell jar, a steel plate, and has a wooden frame. The project incorporates a transformer that includes a power controller and a rectifier that contains four diodes that convert AC current to DC current. A reactor contains an industrial strength vacuum pump to evacuate the air from the chamber.

Paul added, “This all is plugged into a power strip and then plugged into the wall,” Paul said.

Learning about science has been something that Paul has been passionate about as a high school student.

“My interest in science really blossomed in this environment here at school where I’m constantly learning about new sciences. I took AP Chemistry and AP Physics. These two classes nurtured my true interest in science,” Paul said. “This project gave me the opportunity to explore a topic and find out answers to my questions.”

Sean McCabe is the principal of Spencerport High School. He noted how the senior project gives students the opportunity to broaden their educational experiences.

“We’ve had students create and present on a whole spectrum of topics including community service that included fundraisers to projects like Paul’s. We’ve really focused on giving students these opportunities to do something that focuses on their passion,” McCabe said. “It’s really neat to see the wide range of what kids can come up with.”

Paul’s project is important to him not just because of his interest but because he feels this way of harnessing energy is a benefit to the environment.

“We can expand, make plans bigger which will produce more power. We can innovate to become more efficient and we can power everything with fusion reactors. The fuel can be harvested from water and even seawater can be used. And none of this is harmful,” Paul explained.

To watch Paul Beck’s senior project presentation, visit YouTube and search Paul Beck fusion reactor presentation.

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