One day 66 years ago, I sat in an Arizona elementary school science classroom where the teacher told us something even more exciting than the recent invention of television.
What the teacher said that day was exciting partly because what he said might come true someday, maybe even while I am still alive. It was like being told you might ride in a space ship or dance someday with Sophia Loren after she had discarded all her aging movie star boyfriends.
On the other hand, if I died before the miracle came true (the science miracle, not Sophia’s dance card), I would want to keep track over the years of those scientists working on the dream. I speak of fusion, a plan to produce unlimited, inexpensive amounts of electricity for everyone in the world.
In one respect, I have failed the miracle because I cannot remember the name of that teacher. We who sat in that classroom believe he deserved to be recognized equally as part of today’s fusion teams.
Fusion, he told us, would be a godsend to all the people on earth. It would make stinking coal and greasy petroleum obsolete. And jamming atoms together could make it possible to control global warming.
Of course, there was a snag or two, the worst of which was that fusion might not work at all, ever. The second snag, the teacher said, was that it might take at least 50 years to perfect.
It is now 66 years since we sat in that classroom.
However, the chatter in recent days is that teams of fusion scientists have been formed across the world and they are suddenly speaking in far more encouraging ways. Every other month another team has found a breakthrough.
Some of them are talking more in terms of five or 10 years. But they seem to be focusing more on the “when” than on the “whether.”
I wonder: Is that old teacher of mine still alive, as he so richly deserves to be? If you know such a person, tell him thanks for all the elderly kids who dreamed of a better world under the tutelage of teachers like him.
There is more than one element in this story. About 20 years ago, my mother, who used to worry constantly about poor people, lay dying from a sudden stroke that left her paralyzed and blind.
When it was clear that she had no more than hours left to live, we, her children, talked to her about how we would be all right. It was our painful duty of letting a dying woman go. Don’t worry about us, we said.
I told her about the good news of an astonishing breakthrough from two scientists in Utah. They had just announced that they had achieved success with fusion – though it was cold fusion. If that were valid, it would bring a better world far faster. We hoped what we said gave her hope for starving people.
But it turned out there was no hope that day. We lost a mom, and those Utah scientists proved to be heedless in their erroneous research.
Today, many years later, genuine fusion has never looked more promising. Suddenly, we have hundreds of competent, careful scientists in multiple labs around the world. They are smiling a lot these days.
So am I. Sixty-six years toward pay dirt is a miracle worth waiting for. Today, I salute grade school teachers who taught us how to hope and the many mothers who can worry less about the world’s hungry children.
Truly the fusion scientists of today are brilliant, but they stand on the shoulders of teachers and moms.
Contact Bill Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.