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Spotlight: Where Are They Now? Multi-year Winner Dennis Peterson

May 18, 2014
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Today, we launch a new Spotlights series on former Climate CoLab winners and kick it off with a multi-year winner, Dennis Peterson.

Dennis's 2013 proposal, 'It's the 21st Century. Where's My Fusion Reactor?' honored him with a Popular Choice At-Large Award for receiving more votes than 97% of all 2013 finalist proposals.  He was initially granted the Popular Choice Award in 2010 and 2011 for proposals on carbon pricing and a 7-point plan to reduce carbon emissions

Dennis, a software engineer based in North Carolina, had the opportunity to present his first award-winning proposals at the United Nations in 2011, where a conversation ignited his idea for his 2013 Climate CoLab entry.  As he tells it:

With my 2010 and 2011 CoLab entries, I convinced myself that we have the technical abilities to address climate change. What we lack is the political will. When we presented to the UN, the former environmental minister of France said "All these ideas are great, but how do you make them actually happen? That's the hard part. And what are you personally doing to make them happen?"

That question made me refocus from the things I'd been thinking about until then, like carbon prices and nuclear fission, to something that could overcome the political issues. And the one thing that seemed like it could, is fusion, especially boron fusion. The main reason is that it has the potential to be much cheaper than any fossil fuel. And of course that would make a huge difference.

I'm not directly involved in fusion research, but I try to help out where I can. The project that's easiest to get involved in, for an interested layman, is focus fusion, because it's the smallest and cheapest, and takes a very open approach. So I'm a volunteer board member of a nonprofit called the Focus Fusion Society (FFS). Right now we're helping them with a crowdfunding campaign for their next piece of equipment, which is a new reactor core made of beryllium.

Focus fusion is the project I'm personally involved in but there's also been progress with other experiments I mentioned in the 'It's the 21st Century. Where's My Fusion Reactor?' proposal. 

Do you have any words of advice for others who are interested in generating solutions to climate change?

If you're an amateur like me, don't be intimidated! The fact that it's MIT scares some people off, but one of the main goals is to get ideas from the general public.

There's a great quote by Buckminster Fuller: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

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You can click here to read the extended version of the interview, where Dennis speaks more about the potential of fusion.

Click here to see other Spotlights of the Climate CoLab winners, Fellows and Advisors.

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