Alex Acosta '25
Clean, efficient, and sustainable Power, (Unlimited power!) is a possibility for this generation.
I was watching Revenge of the Sith recently (for about the 100th time), and for some reason, Palpatine’s “Unlimited Power” scene struck me. Star Wars admittedly requires some suspension of disbelief, but hear me out. This wrinkly old Sith Lord just defeated the champion of the Jedi Order in close quarter combat by blasting plasma from his hands. What?
Anyways, you know I’ve watched this movie too much because this time, the thought that came to my mind was “Could Palpatine just store the energy from his lighting in a battery, and legitimately have near unlimited (electric) power?” I was being somewhat rhetorical, but lightning is 5 times hotter than the surface of the sun and is made of plasma – a conglomeration of ionized matter and electrons where electric currents run everywhere. In other words, lightning is a phenomenal source for heat and electrical energy (just too unreliable to be used effectively, unless you’re Palpatine). If the Emperor lived today, I bet America would appropriate that man for government testing faster than you can say “Somehow, Palpatine returned.”
Somewhat unfortunately, Darth Sidious canonically died a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and I have to look toward the future. In this future, finding a reliable energy source is a global concern. Every energy source is flawed. Fossil fuels will be depleted if they don’t kill us first, solar panels have a sleep schedule, geothermal plants cause Zillo beast-waking earthquakes, fish are less likely to die playing Russian roulette than passing through a hydroelectric dam, and my Chernobyl-born friend can list 8 things wrong with nuclear fission on one hand. We need an energy source that can sustainably sustain our growing consumption as a population, preferably in a way that doesn't send D.C. underwater.
Well, as promised, there is such an energy source: nuclear fusion. Nuclear fusion would hypothetically be able to power the country with just a few atoms of hydrogen. Unlike its inferior younger brother nuclear fission, nuclear fusion produces nearly no radiation, and it has no negative impacts on the environment. Essentially, in a fusion reactor, hydrogen atoms collide really fast, then BOOM! – energy. To be more scientific, nuclear fusion just refers to the merging of the two nuclei, though the energy we care about subsequently gets released. This is what makes stars burn, as extreme temperatures and gravitational pull catalyze fusion reactions between hydrogen atoms in space. Despite the immense size and power of stars, they only really have the energy to fuse the lightest atom hydrogen into helium, and stars only start to fuse helium atoms if they begin to turn from red to blue giants. Here on Earth, a small hydrogen reaction is the best we measly humans can recreate. Hydrogen isotopes tritium (2 neutrons, 1 proton) and deuterium (1 neutron, 1 proton) are accelerated to crash into each other in reactors, creating a helium atom with 2 neutrons and 2 protons (one neutron is released). This process creates energy as the attraction between protons swings when the protons stop repelling each other by Coulomb force, and actually attract.
Now you’re probably asking yourself “Acosta, why are we not using nuclear fusion as a power source?” or “What did I just read?” To both of those questions, sorry, fusion’s complicated. Scientists and engineers have been working on this since the 1930s. Still, stars and other fusers have an advantage over us, since they have an insane gravitational pull that collides atoms for them. On earth, we have to use unparalleled temperatures to even attempt a sustained reaction. As of right now, recent technology broke the 100 million degree Celsius barrier (!!!) required for fusion reactions using plasma heating. Still, fusion using this heat remains inefficient, as we don’t yet have the technology to get protons moving fast enough to collide and fuse without wasting energy in overcoming their repulsion. The current “meta” in fusion design is using magnetic fields (instead of gravitational ones) hundred of thousands times stronger than the earth’s, but it still doesn’t get those atoms speedy enough. Advancements in this technology develop constantly, and working reactors are expected to come about in a generation. With luck, you may be a future pioneer.
As much as I wish lightsabers were real, there is a not-science-fiction science in the near future that could power and save our world. I am energized (pun intended) watching the birth of what I believe to be the future of energy, and I think you should be too (Preferably making breakthroughs on the subject, or donating millions like Bezos, but hey, seeing the value is a start). Nuclear fusion matters. If your future has a laser-charged flying car powered by nuclear fusion, then efficient energy matters. If your future has all the fossil fuels gone except for in Russia, then available, sustainable power matters. If your future world is 2°C hotter, then clean energy matters. Nuclear fusion solves and aids our future. But most importantly, when Palpatine comes back in his Death Star, you may not be a Jedi, but what you will have is power: unlimited power.