Inconclusive Symmetry Test

14 08 2012

The symmetry test was an experiment we ran to determine if our potential well was symmetrical across its x-axis. It featured three langmuir probes, one in the center, on at the extreme left, and one at the extreme right. more details are in this post.

While there were a few interesting results few interesting results, on the whole the experiment was inconclusive, and totaled our electron gun assembly.

The first problem we encountered was the vacuum level. We barely got into the 10^-4 Torr range, and when we turned on the electron beam, the pressure went up into the 10^-3 Torr range. High pressures like these don’t render the experiment impossible, but they certainly don’t help. Ideally, the only particles in the chamber would be electrons, and so everything else just adds to the list of unknown factors.

The e-gun was running normally, giving us readings of about -50VDC on the oscilloscope.

The glow from the hot cathode

For the first shot we did a control. We hooked up one probe to the center langmuir, and one the the shunt resistor on the on power supply, and we got a small well.


So everything was working as expected, despite the unusually high pressure. This is good, but also strange in light of the last test results, in which the charge at charge at the center of the core became less negative when we fired the coils.

Then we switched the oscilloscope probe on the coil power supply to the left langmuir probe, and fired.

Top: Left langmuir probe
Bottom: center langmuir probe

Nothing on the left langmuir. We tried again with more power going into the coils.

Here’s what we got

The charge at the leftmost extreme of the well is about -3VDC, and the charge at the center is about -10VDC. Not surprisingly, electron density has some relationship to distance from the center of the core. We intend to eventually define this relationship precisely, but to do so would require much more data.

Notice how even before the coils were fired, the top line is a slightly below its zero point (indicated by the crosses at the left of the screen). This means that for some reason, the left langmuir is brought to a slightly negative potential by the electron gun, even though it’s not pointed anywhere near the probe

We then switched the oscilloscope probe on the left langmuir to the right langmuir, and fired the core again. The moment we did, we heard a metallic noise from inside the chamber, like a coin dropping onto a metal surface. Can’t be good. This was the readout on the oscilloscope

Not especially meaningful to us.

We rightly assumed that the noise meant our trial was over, so we opened up the chamber.

We found the accelerator anode laying in the bottom of the chamber. The heat from the filament melted the plastic enough for the screw mounted in it to come loose. Everything around it was coated in a thin film of blue plastic, and much of the wire insulation was burnt as well.


Obviously, ABS plastic and rubber insulated wires just aren’t right for this experiment. They can’t take the heat of the cathode, and they out-gas so much that they ruin the vacuum.

Back to the drawing board.

Domenick Bauer

Symmetry Test

27 07 2012

All photos

This project is moving into a new phase. Now that we have a working electron gun/polywell setup, it’s time to begin studying the way they interact. To do this, we need a more comprehensive measurement apparatus.

In light of last week’s murky trial results, It’s apparent that a single langmuir probe in the center of our polywell core does not give us a clear picture of the whole well. I think a good first step would be to try to understand how the differs at different distances from the center.

In other words, how is the well different at different points on the red line?

Before I try to answer this question,  I want to make sure that each of the six coils behaves in more or less the same way. In other words, I want to make sure  If the red line above was pointing in the direction of the left coil instead of the right one, it would made no difference. I’m going to call this a symmetry test, because it will reveal whether or not the well is electromagnetically “symmetrical” about the x, y and z axes.

The symmetry test will work like this: Two more langmuir probes into the core, one on the extreme right of the chamber, and the other at the extreme left.

Right Langmuir

Left Langmuir

If our oscilloscope readings from the two probes are the same, then we may safely assume that the faces are interchangeable.

We’re rapidly running out of feedthrough pins

Core, from the right.

I can’t imagine that the thing’s not symmetrical, because the construction of each coil is identical to that of all others. However, thoroughness never hurt anybody. Also, I’m going to leave the center probe in, so we will be able to compare the center of the well to the edge, which will be interesting in its own right.

Domenick Bauer

Armature Upgrade and More Trials

24 07 2012

All photos(1/2)
All Photos(2/2)

We weren’t satisfied with the layout of the inside of the chamber last time. The alignment between the center of the polywell core, the electron gun and the lagmuir probe wasn’t very good, so I upgraded it.

The main advantage of this version is simplicity. It puts the filament, accelerator, and probe, and polywell core all on one flange, rather than two, which means the whole thing can be assembled on a desk and then put into the chamber Much easier than trying to make electrical connections and get alignment right with the thing half way in — something which, rest assured, is a royal pan in the ass.

Another advantege of this one is strength.

Dosn’t look like it, but that’s actually a very strong connection

A big problem last time was that we were unable to get the whole assembly into the chamber without accidentally bumping it a little, and ruining the alignment. This version is more securely attached to the flange, making it easier to keep all the components in the right place and pointing the right way.

Another flaw in the earlier version: The screw which attached the accelerator to the armature extended pretty far inside the copper sleeve which we were using as the accelerator anode, so it was partially blocking the beam.

In this version, that connection has a much lower profile.  I also switched out the old copper sleeve — which was too big and full of holes — for a new smaller one.

While trivial things like holes in the accelerator probably don’t matter, I’m trying to correct them because at this stage of the game, our goal is to eliminate as many variables as possible before we really start collecting data on a large scale. The cleaner the setup, the better.

We also took Remy Dyer’s advice and grounded the positive side of the DC output going to the hot cathode, in order to maximize the potential difference between the accelerator anode and the cathode.

Then, I pumped down the chamber and tested the electron gun.

If you look closely, it’s clear that all the components are aligned pretty well

The lower line is the voltage picked up by the Langmuir probe. The little cross shaped marker on the left side indicates the zero point. Every box in the y direction is equal to fifty volts, so our electron bean is delivering -50 volts to the Langmuir probe, with almost no AC disturbance! Not bad, and this is with the voltage across the hot cathode at about 60 volts out of a possible 120, so it could get even higher.

With this bigger, badder electron gun, we ran another set of trials.

We pumped down.

Hooked everything up.

And took our first shot.

As before, the lower line indicates the voltage on the Langmuir probe at the center of the Polywell core, where the potential well should be. Instead of a well, we have a hill! The magnetic fields generated by the Polywell are supposed to compress all the electrons within the core into its center, so the voltage detected by the Langmuir probe should go even lower. Instead, it goes up, from about -50 to -25. Very confusing.

We rant it a few more times, increasing the current sent through the coils each time, which translates to stronger containment fields. The results were similar.

Here’s a strange one where the center of the core seemed to become very positive. We suspected an arc.

Sure enough, we couldn’t get the core to discharge after this, so we worried that we fried the coils. When it was safe to do so, we opened the chamber and saw that there was an arc, but thankfully not on the core.

Evidently, there was a bad connection between this din rail connector and the core feed throughs on the inside of the chamber, and so an arc occurred, and broke the connection entirely.

So that was that for our trial.

It’s left me confused. What on earth could be making our well positive instead of negative, whereas in the last trial, we got good, negative wells?

Domenick Bauer

Power Supply Upgrade

17 07 2012

All photos(1/2)
All photos

During the first trial, our langmuir probe told us that our electron beam intensity was fluctuating at 60 Hz.

This is a problem, because one of the main things we are trying to study is the way changes in beam intensity affect potential well depth, so we want a steady intensity. The frequency of the fluctuations suggest that the AC-powered hot cathode is to blame.  I don’t totally understand the details of how a hot cathode running on AC 120v 60Hz translates to this waveform:

data from the langmuir probe displayed on the oscilloscop

The important thing is to prevent it. To do that, I put a full wave bridge rectifier in the power supply. It converts the AC coming from the wall to DC


It has three essential components.

1) The bridge rectifier


This change the AC sine wave into a waveform expressed by the function abs(sin(x)):

Better, but still not steady DC.

2) The filter capacitor


This gets rid of the ripple. you could compare the capacitor to a bucket with a hole in the bottom. Even if I vary the rate at which putting water into the bucket, the rate at which it come out is always going to be more or less the same, provided that it is sufficiently large compared to the volume of water going in.

However, its impossible to get an absolutely perfect DC output with this setup, because the ammount of charge on the capacitor does affect the voltage at which the current comes out.

This 680 uF capacitor takes away enough of the ripple for our purposes:

the output of the power supply when hooked up to a light bulb

3) An isolation transformer


Usually, the diode bridge and the capacitor would be enough, but our AC isn’t coming from the wall, its coming from a grounded auto transformer. this is a problem because the rectifier only works if the AC input is floating. A transformer with an equal number of primary and secondary wingdings accomplishes this without stepping the voltage up or down.

Nest step is to test it in the chamber.

Domenick Bauer

Electron Gun + Polywell Results

8 07 2012

All Photos

Today, we tested the electron gun in tandem with the Polywell core. Right now, our goal is to simply understand effect the e-gun has on the potential well, if it has any effect at all.

We had the pump running since 3AM the night before, and so by about 2PM today, we had a vacuum in the 5 x 10^-5 range.

Not super amazing, but certainly good enough for out purposes.

First, we mounted the power supplies in the rack.

Hooked them up to their proper feed-through pins.

Attached the langmuir probe and the shunt resistor to to the oscilloscope, allowing us to monitor the potential well depth and current going through the coils simultaneously and in real time.

Then we began testing. The coils in the core worked great.

The spike on the top line is the power supply’s capacitor bank discharging. The smaller spike on the lower line is a current induced in the langmuir probe by the sudden appearence and dissappearence of a magnetic field generated by the coils in the core. So the Polywell works.

Then we tried the electron gun, and it didn’t work at all. the filament was glowing, and we were getting high voltage on the accelerator’s feedthrough pins, but no reading on the langmuir probe.

After extensive thinking, speculating, and white-board writing, we decided we had to open the chamber up to see if the connections to the accelerator were right.

Here’s what we found

That’s your problem right there, ma’am

It’s a little hard to see, but a gray plastic piece which connects the core to the feed-through pins was right in front of the accelerator, totally blocking the beam.

Funny how sometimes the causes of problems are so obvious that you don’t even think of them.

Anyway, I got that fixed, tried it again, and got a beam. The readings on the langmuir probe attached to the multimeter were more or less the same as those from the last test. When we attached it to the oscilloscope however, things were a little more complicated.

The beam intensity was not static, but periodic. It fluctuated with a frequency of 60 Hz, pointing to the AC current which powers the hot cathode.

We expected something like this, because the availability of electrons to accelerate fluctuates with the AC powering the hot cathode.

Ideally, our electron beam would be have a perfectly even intensity, because then we could eliminate it as a variable.

Fixing that would involve rectifying the AC, a major upgrade to the power supply, so we decided to leave that for another day and run the experiment.

Here are some of the results

A really good one. The downward spike on the lower line signifies a a potential well. Nice!

Here we see a well, but it’s at the wrong time, it seems to have appeared just after we pulsed the core.

Here’s a strange one in which the Polywell core pulse seems to cause some change in the voltage on the langmuir, but not a well.

This one really demonstrates why the periodic electron beam is such a problem. The top spike came at a moment when the langmuir probe was reading zero. This means that there was no beam when we pulsed the core, so it’s no surprise that we just got an induced current.

The most tantalizing and baffling run we did. The well appears to be extremely deep, greater than 100V, but it’s unclear whether thats credible, because there’s so much other confusing stuff going on.

All in all, our results are little confusing, but good. We were able to create the well, which is a big win, but we weren’t able to do so consistently. In order to really study how the well is affected by tweaking variables, we need consistent baseline well to compare against.

Domenick Bauer

E-Gun + Polywell Setup

2 07 2012

All Photos

Now that we have a working electron gun, the next challenge is to pulse the Polywell core while we shoot a beam of electrons into it. Trivial as it may sound, the hardest part of this is just getting all the components in the chamber aligned correctly and with electrical feed-throughs.

My previous e-gun armature was way too bulky, so I scraped it. After several different designs, I came to this:

The round base goes around the feed-through pins and fits snugly into the hole in the conflat:

The two screws visible in these pictures allow for adjustments to the distance between the anode and the cathode.

As for the cathode holder, I cut the filament off of a light bulb, and soldered it’s ends to two pieces of 12 gauge copper wire, each about an inch-long. I attached them to the feed-through pins with two crimp connectors. Not as a cool as a 3D printed holder, but much more compact, and no plastic to out-gas or melt from the heat of the filament.

Here’s the whole thing

Then we cleaned everything with acetone and ethyl alcohol.

Began the assembly. After much trial and error, I got everything in and aligned correctly, and got the vacuum down to about 8 x 10^-4 torr.

The only thing left to do is to hook up the Polywell power supply, so we’re pretty much ready for the run!

Domenick Bauer

Electron Gun Success

24 06 2012

All photos

Today we tested the electron gun in the chamber, and we detected a negative potential on the Langmuir probe, which means it worked!

Negative nine volts on the Langmuir probe

Fuck yeah!

Here’s what we did

1) Added a faster-acting fuse to the power supply

the new 4A fuse is underneath the black shrink-wrap

We already have a .5 amp fuse to protect the light bulb filament, but this new one  takes less time to actually blow once its current rating is surpassed, so if the cathode arcs to the chamber wall and pulls a large current, this fuse will blow quickly, preventing damage to the chamber.

wide shot of the setup

2) Closed the electron gun assembly in the chamber, connected to feed throughs, and set up the Langmuir probe.

The Langmuir probe is a wire with one end in the path of the electron beam, and the other attached to a multimeter set to volts DC

3) Powered up the vacuum system.

Because there was so much stuff in the chamber, there was also (presumably) a lot of trapped air which leaked out slowly as we pumped down, so the vacuum wasn’t super deep, but it was deep enough for our purposes.

3) Powered up the e-gun.

The cathode immediately started to glow, amd as we turned up the voltage across the cathode, the Langmuir probe started to register a negative potential.

We could not get potential on the Langmuir probe unless we powered up both the cathode and the accelerator, so we concluded that it must be the result of a beam.

There were also a couple of other interesting things we noticed.

Changes in the voltage of the accelerator did not seem to affect the beam intensity. We brought the potential on the accelerator from +500 down to ~+250, and got similar readings on the Langmuir probe.

Changes in the voltage (and current) to the cathode do affect beam intensity. We found that the greatest value we could get on the probe was about -12 volts, using about 90 to 100 volts AC across the cathode. As we kept increasing the cathode voltage/current beyond that, the Langmuir probe started heading towards zero, until the fuse blew.

After this, the Langmuir voltage started to head toward zero.

A little hard to see, that’a 10.59 volts on the Langmuir, and 102.5 volts on the cathode.

We don’t know what is causing this.

Another cool thing we noticed was the effect the electron gun had on the vacuum. Leaving the beam at maximum intensity caused the vacuum meter to show increased pressure. We were literally filling vacuum space with electrons.

Weird to see the the materiality of electrons demonstrated in such a concrete way.

But all that aside, this is a big step for us. From here, getting that electron beam shining into the center of the Polywell shouldn’t be too hard. If we succeed in that and document our results, we will have performed real, original research on the Polywell design. If we can get the potential well deep enough, maybe even do Polywell fusion.

So let me reiterate, FUCK YEAH

Domenick Bauer


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