Science: Getting Closer

"It sounds like a lightning bolt is going off in the next room," says one worker. The building shakes, but researchers at Washington's Naval Research Laboratory hardly look up. They know it's only dynamic Alan Kolb, 30, at work on his thermonuclear experiment.

Last week in Upsala, Sweden, Kolb reported his preliminary results to an international conference of physicists. The data indicated that his project has made a significant advance toward the achievement of the first controlled fusion reaction, an objective that could give the human race a source of energy that would last for millions of years: one small bucket of...