College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM Research Scientists Search for Alternative Energy Source

from The Daily Mississippian  by Alexandra Combs

Research scientists at the National Center for Physical Acoustics at the University of Mississippi have been working extensively on a project that could potentially create an alternative source of energy.

Senior research scientist and research professor of physics, Charles Church, has been working on this project for over two years.

“We know how to approach the problem, but we don’t know what the answer is,” Church said. “It could take six months. It could take six years.”

The ultimate goal of the project is to produce small tabletop fusion generators that will provide an alternative energy source.

“Fossil fuels won’t last forever, and when they run out, we will be in trouble,” Church said.

The acoustic cavitation research project began with the California-based company, Impulse Devices, and is led by Felipe Gaitan.

Gaitan received his doctorate in physics from the University of Mississippi and is responsible for the discovery of single bubble sonoluminescence. Gaitan’s findings created a new field of study in physics.

The University of Mississippi’s research team also corresponds with Boston University, the University of Washington and Rutgers University.

“We all work on different aspects of the project,” Church said.

Kenneth Bader, a graduate student at the University of Mississippi, has worked full-time on the project since spring 2007.

“The project is really interesting,” Bader said. “It’s the kind of project that makes you want to be into science.”

Bader works on the project seven days a week and sometimes invests 10 hours per day.

“It’s been quite intense labor, and we’ve been taking in a lot of data,” Bader said

There are many different aspects to the research, which have kept Bader busy.

“It’s a never-ending research project,” Bader said. “Sometimes, you start doing something with the intention of finding one result, and along the way you find that there is a lot of other interesting stuff going on. You can get side tracked.”

The end result of the research project will have many global benefits for the environment.

“Current nuclear power plants produce a lot of irradiated materials in the containment vessel and the surrounding buildings,” Church said. “There are all sorts of potential pollutants that come out of a power plant. With the devices we are talking about producing, there will be very little radiated material that you will have to worry about.”

If the research collected proves to be successful, researchers will be able to create small devices that will be distributed throughout the world.

“This device would do the same thing that the sun does, it will provide the same sort of energy,” Church said.

The University of Mississippi researchers are using acoustic cavitations under high pressure that may ultimately produce a cleaner, less expensive and unlimited source of energy.

Acoustic cavitation is the process of producing vapor-filled bubbles in liquid under high pressure. Researchers use acoustic resonators to conduct their experiments.

“The general idea is acoustically generated inertial confinement fusion,” Church said.

If the research heads major advancements, it will bring large amounts of recognition for the University of Mississippi and increase its academic reputation.

“Everybody has heard of places like MIT and Stanford because they do great work,” Church said. “If the research is successful, we will prove to be able to do top quality work.”

Scientist Sara Brown said the results for the project that have been collected at the University are confidential, and some questions regarding the project need to be approved by Impulse Devices employees.