Episode 59 – Weekly Weinersmith Soonish Series – Joy Dunn on Commonwealth Fusion Systems

Hello, and welcome to the reboot of The Weekly Weinersmith, celebrating the paperback release of our book Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve and/or Ruin Everything.

In chapter 3 of Soonish we discuss Fusion. Fusion is when 2 atoms fuse, and when this happens energy is released. You can capture this energy to power your toaster.

In Soonish, we focused mostly on big fusion projects in the field, which cost billions and tend to favor ever larger tokamaks – which are huge donut-shaped machines that magnetically confine plasma at high temperatures. (More on how tokamaks work can be heard in this week’s episode.)  

ITER is foremost among the tokamak projects, and is set to begin serious work around 2025 and is expected to cost around 30 billion dollars.

In the book we also took a look at some unorthodox designs for fusion, mostly made by small teams backed by venture capital. The fusion scientists we talked to tended to be skeptical of these alternative approaches.

So, we were excited to hear that a team with impeccable scientific credentials was being spun off from MIT to attempt a compact tokamak. They created a company called Commonwealth Fusion Systems, and they hope to do what ITER will do, but sooner and cheaper, largely thanks to new technology in superconducting magnets. If they succeed at making fusion an energy source, it would change everything from the speed of long distance space travel to the price of socks.

On today’s show we’re going to learn more about Commonwealth Fusion Systems by chatting with Joy Dunn. Ms. Dunn spent about 10 years at SpaceX, where she worked on and led teams working on the Dragon spacecrafts, and became known as the “Mother of Dragons”. She is currently Head of Manufacturing at Commonwealth Fusion Systems.

Soonish is available now in hardback and as an audiobook on Audible, and comes out in paperback on June 4 through Penguin Press in the US, and Particular Books is releasing a paperback version of the book in the UK this coming October.

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