Science: On the Road to Star Power

A new fusion reactor passes its first important test

Long after most workers in the lab at Princeton University had gone home for the night, scientists and engineers were still on the job, putting the finishing touches on the three-story-high, 1,500-ton behemoth of steel and wire. Finally, after hours of tinkering, they began their countdown. At exactly 3:06 a.m., the huge, cylindrical-shaped machine started operating. As powerful electrical currents surged through its magnetic coils, the gases in its circular vacuum chamber heated up to temperatures of 100,000° Celsius. The test lasted barely one-twentieth of a second, but it was enough...

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