2798: Room Temperature

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Room Temperature
They're also refusing to fund my device that demonstrates uncontrolled hot fusion.
Title text: They're also refusing to fund my device that demonstrates uncontrolled hot fusion.


In this comic, Cueball presents a room-temperature semiconductor, consisting of layered silicon crystals. He enthusiastically describes the properties of his "discovery", namely that it can be tweaked to amplify or switch the flow of electric currents, but his audience is not impressed. This might be because silicon crystal semiconductors are already widely in use as a key component of electronic systems. Silicon semiconductor manufacturing is, in simplest terms, adding materials to a flat wafer made of silicon crystal, often in a process that adds an entire layer of material, then removing the unwanted areas through various etching methods. Development of these processes began in the 1960s.

It appears that Cueball has confused semiconductors with superconductors - materials that have no electrical resistance, meaning the flow of electrons is not slowed down at all (resistance can be thought of as the electrical equivalence of friction). Superconducting properties are extremely desirable since they allow for the lossless flow of electric current, as opposed to regular conductors like copper which have a low but non-zero resistance so the electric current decreases over time and distance, and this may also lead to superconductors having interesting magnetic properties. However, the known superconductors only work at extremely low temperatures close to 0 K, so their practical use is very limited. The discovery of superconductors that work above the boiling point of nitrogen (77 K or -196 °C) was a big deal because it meant that relatively cheap liquid nitrogen could be used as coolant rather than liquid helium. The comic probably references the recent controversy around alleged superconducting properties of carbonaceous sulfur hydride and nitrogen-doped lutetium hydride under extreme pressures. A team at the University of Rochester published two papers in the journal Nature, the first for C–S–H at 267 GPa which was later retracted after failed attempts at replication, and the second for Lu–N–H at just 1 GPa, which was later replicated. These pressures are too high to be practical for most engineering purposes, but the discoveries are still progress in the study of superconductivity. The discovery of a superconductor at standard temperature and pressure would be extremely surprising and could revolutionize electricity transmission, among other things, and dramatically reduce the cost of technologies like magnetic levitation and high-resolution nuclear magnetic resonance imaging.

In the title text, Cueball talks about a device that produces “uncontrolled hot fusion” which is also not met with enthusiasm. Again, this is likely due to the fact that it has already been discovered and used - in the form of hydrogen bombs. This is likely why no one wants to fund the device - not only is it not novel, but it is extremely dangerous; though clearly he also hasn't excited those people who typically want something dangerous. Controlled hot fusion could be useful as an alternative power source to nuclear reactors (which currently use nuclear fission); however, current implementations still require more energy than they create. Cueball probably confused this with cold fusion, i.e. nuclear fusion that takes place at temperatures much, much lower than the millions of degrees required for "regular" hot fusion. There are reputable ways of achieving this (all of which require vast amounts of energy), but "cold fusion" has become the epitome of bad science since two scientists claimed, with much media attention, to have achieved cold nuclear fusion by doing an electrolysis of palladium in heavy water. The results could not be replicated by other scientists and the experiment was widely criticized for its many flaws, most importantly that the only indication of nuclear fusion was excess heat, with no detection of actual fusion byproducts.

High(er)-temperature super-conductivity might be the key to more effortlessly initiating and maintaining low(er)-temperature fusion, through very concentrated magnetic fields, but so far their respective temperature ranges are too different to use them in combination, and whether this will ever be possible remains subject to speculation.

It should be noted that both "discoveries" presented in the comic were in fact very big and important discoveries back in their day. The proposal that nuclear fusion is what powers stars earned Hans Bethe the Nobel prize in Physics, and semiconductors are what allow modern electronic devices to be so small, as their properties make it possible to selectively steer the flow of electrical current, even over an extremely small area.


[A single frame with a table in the middle. A device consisting of multiple components and electrical wires is on the table. A Cueball stands to the left of the table with hands open, and facing him, Ponytail and another Cueball stand to the right of the table.]
Cueball: My layered silicon crystals can amplify or switch current while sitting right here on the table!
Ponytail: Uh huh.
Another Cueball: I see.
[Caption below the panel:]
No one is impressed by my discovery of room-temperature semiconductors.

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Isn't there actually quite a lot of funding available for uncontrolled hot fusion? https://www.icanw.org/squandered_2021_global_nuclear_weapons_spending_report ;) 23:29, 5 July 2023 (UTC)

Note that controlled hot fusion (e. g. a functioning Tokamak) would also be really valuable. Nitpicking (talk) 02:17, 6 July 2023 (UTC)

Someone explain why superconductors are a big deal

Arguably the temperature has to change for a semiconductor to work. For it to work at room temperature alone would be pure magic.

While I agree that a semiconductor that does not heat up in operation (IE stays at room temp) would be revolutionary, the way Cueball describes that they work "while sitting right here on the table" suggests they are "Room Temperature Semiconductors" in the sense that they can operate while immersed in a room temperature environment not necessarily that they themselves stay room temperature. Akin to the contrast between current superconductors that need to be blisteringly cold before they super-conduct and the hypothetical "room temperature superconductors" that could simply be strung through the air like present day power lines. 14:04, 6 July 2023 (UTC)

A note about the fusion connection. In recent years, there have been breakthroughs in high temperature superconductors, which theoretically would allow to build controlled hot fusion reactors at a much smaller scale (because they can create much higher magnetic fields). There are seveal private companies that attempt to do that, most notably CFS with their SPARC Tokamak. I think this is what is being referenced here. -- 08:16, 6 July 2023 (UTC)

Maybe you could add that yourself? I wrote the current explanation but actually have no expertise in that area, and also I'm not sure how to incorporate that into the current flow of the explanation. Rebekka (talk) 09:01, 6 July 2023 (UTC)
I assumed the title text (which says "demonstrates" and not "produces" uncontrolled fusion) - could be as simple as a device proving the sun is a fusion reaction --Nico (talk) 11:49, 6 July 2023 (UTC)
It could also be that he does have a device that produces uncontrolled hot fusion, and they won't fund it because the government does not negotiate with terrorists. 11:56, 6 July 2023 (UTC)

As I understand it, "cold fusion" doesn't necessarily mean room temperature. That would actually be quite useless. Cold fusion could mean anything from "doesn't need millions of degrees" to "cool enough to directly hook up to boilers to power steam turbines" (and potentially a lower pressure requirement). The "room temperature" thing is mostly due to bad "science" and frauds (though it is still questionable if higher temperature cold fusion can be a thing, too). It's easier to cheaply make an alleged "cold fusion device" if you don't have to heat it up to or contain it at up to several thousand degrees. 627235 (talk) 11:23, 6 July 2023 (UTC)

I took that phrasing directly from wikipedia, but you appear to be right. I did some further reading and apparently there are working methods of cold fusion (most notably Muon-catalyzed fusion) which are very different from the badly-performed experiments that gave cold fusion a bad name. But the difference is, reputable cold fusion still requires vast amounts of energy, just not as heat, while disreputable cold fusion is claimed to perform nuclear fusion basically for free (commonly by doing an electrolysis of palladium in heavy water). I'll try to incorporate that, but it would be great if someone with actual expertise would chime in and do their own edits.Rebekka (talk) 12:33, 6 July 2023 (UTC)
I don't claim any great expertise, but I was already (when I wasn't being edit-conflicted) adding little bits such as the "meeting at 'room temperature' speculation" whereby a nigh-on perpetual room-temperature process (albeit with 'hot products') could be the Holy Grail (or "Mr Fusion") of future cheap and manageable (and somehow not weaponisable/fail-deadly) table-top-scale fusion devices. Of course, this is is at least twenty-minutes-into-the-future stuff (deLoreans aside!) and may or may not ever become realistic. Perhaps less likely than the "flying cars and jetpacks" (or hover-boards!), of common imagination. But perhaps we might sometime get something the size (and surface heat, beyond the layers of necessary insulation and shielding for temperatures, fusion products and magnetic flux) of a household gas boiler. Probably not even that, in which case it could be justneighbourhood "CHP"s to add managed resilience across the power-grids. 13:43, 6 July 2023 (UTC)

Do we really need "citation needed" that uncontrolled hot fusion is dangerous? Really? Because anyone who doesn't understand this is not going to understand "room temperature superconductors", probably not uses of any superconductors. Like ever. Oh wait! I'm sure this discussion statement has a citation needed[citation needed]!!! -- Cuvtixo (talk) 01:56, 7 July 2023 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

It's a joke... albeit one that I think is somewhat overused. Currently 817 out of 2798 articles include it, just under 30%. BunsenH (talk) 04:36, 7 July 2023 (UTC)
Oh good. I tend to think that it should be maybe, as a ball-park figure, no more than one in four articles that has the {{Citation needed}} (in order to keep it special, not shoehorned in everywhere...), and it's almost down that. (It must also be on the absolute blinding obvious and perhaps even tautoligicous to the point of being a tautological tautology, of course. And funny. If it aint funny, it has no purpose.)
Though bear in mind that some articles have multiple occurances, so the use-count is probably higher as a proportion. And I'd have to check to see if the count counts the common redirects (thus aliases) of "citation needed", "Citation Needed", "cn" and "fact", at the very least, which might get used accidentally or because they're easier to type.
But, remember, if anybody wants an actual {{Citation needed}}, there's always {{Actual citation needed}}. And, naturally, if you see one of those then you are truly invited to confirm/deny or just more accurately word the 'fact' so labeled - if you are in a position to do so.
Here endeth the lesson. We now return you to your regularly-scheduled program... 05:02, 7 July 2023 (UTC)
I don't think that blindingly-obviousness is the right test - rather it should be that imagining that it were untrue results in a humorously absurd scenario. There are plenty of blindingly obvious statements that don't meet that test, and there are some less immediately obvious ones that do (in fact, these are often the more effective uses of the CN tag). 13:31, 7 July 2023 (UTC)
I did say "And funny. If it aint funny, it has no purpose." Plus, how can it be funny if someone (let's say the 'reasonable reader-on-the-web') doesn't recognise the underlying factuality without extensive additional research? There's going to be subjectivity, on both measures, but that's probably why I judge others' usage of the tag far more than I ever (have I actually ever? ...off my own back?) deign to impose it upon others. Horses for courses, but it's how I've become acclimatised to the local editing culture, and how I interpret it should be best perpetuated. YMMV, but its a POV. 15:05, 7 July 2023 (UTC)
There's a big space between 'blindingly obvious' and 'requires extensive additional research to realise why it must be true'. The best ones are where it makes you stop and think a moment and then realise why it would be absurd if it weren't true. 11:17, 10 July 2023 (UTC)

Now here I thought the device to demonstrate uncontrolled hot fusion was a pair of binoculars to observe the sun and stars. Jamcdonald (talk) 06:10, 7 July 2023 (UTC)

Yes, I thought the joke was telling people to look up at the sun. -- 18:52, 7 July 2023 (UTC)

I usually prefer controlled hot fusion with gravitational confinement. We are already using one such power plant. 13:21, 7 July 2023 (UTC)