The Arizona scientist that swapped nuclear fusion for COVID medical grade materials
By Scottsdale Pinetop and Robin Roadrunner
Three decades after its release, the multi-generational slacker Marty McFly and overzealous nuclear scientist “Doc” Brown from Back to the Future have continued to captivate a wide-spread audience like few other films could.
In fact, this was the exact inspiration for aspiring Arizona nuclear scientist Ian Horwath. The “Mr. Fusion” Home Energy Reactor and famous 1.21 gigawatts sparked Ian’s curiosity into science – which he has been pursuing ever since.
Starting with blue-color jobs where he learned hands-on mechanical experience, he decided to begin college at age 33 and earned a degree in engineering at Arizona State University which he considers “the best decision of my life.” After years of work in nuclear fusion research, Ian and a small group of scientists from ASU ventured off into the private sector where he founded Fusion Energy Solutions. His company works to develop innovative solutions including low-budget fusion reactors, a new approach to the fusion break even problem.
“Our focus is on a completely different approach to not only exceeding break even fusion, but practical implementation of this technology into modern society. This is our goal,” said Ian Horvath.
To achieve his goal, Ian’s focus is now on what he calls “smart nuclear material” – a new energy source that is clean, reliable and cheap. This smart nuclear material serves as a replacement fuel source in existing reactors and is designed convert waste generated by nuclear fusion into energy. Because of this new fuel source, nuclear reactors will no longer need to be stored or buried as waste continuously burns and converts energy. This reduces the chances of leaks or other dangerous risks that can result in disasters such as the infamous Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident.
However, the recent circumstances of COVID-19 have brought this nuclear research to a drastic halt. The need for new energy sources has now shifted to a demand for safe, durable medical equipment. Hospitals and medical facilities across the country are overwhelmed and struggling to keep up with the demand for face shields, isolation gowns and other protective equipment. Eager to do is part, Ian has shifted his focus to help meet the challenge.
In response to the pandemic, Ian pivoted his company and resources to privately create new medical grade Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as quickly as possible. PPE is being worn by doctors, nurses and other medical staff while testing COVID, drawing blood and handling other biohazardous matters. This means the equipment needs to be durable, waterproof and disposable.
The new goal for Fusion Energy Solutions is to get this medical equipment to providers quickly and manufacture additional stock for a potential second wave expect in the Fall. To increase production, Ian has designed a prototype mass production machine that utilizes plastic welding technology to create a new design for isolation gowns that are now stronger and has streamlined face shields production. Previous production time to create isolation gowns with skilled labor took 15 minutes each. Now, with Ian’s new machine and technology, it only takes 15 seconds.
In April, Fusion Energy Solutions was able to produce 100 face shields per week. Now they are able to produce 20,000 face shields per week and expected to be more than 40,000 in two weeks time. But that’s still not enough. To sufficiently meet the demand, they will need to generate 50,000 masks per week.
Since April, Fusion Energy Solutions has created 20 new jobs dedicated to PPE production with mostly U.S. materials being used. Any profits generated by PPE is directly reinvested into technology to design and build more plastic welding machines in order to improve production and quality. Fusion Energy Solutions is FDA Compliant for the manufacturing of medical grade PPE.
“I’m never going to run out of thing to discover,” said Ian Horvatch. “That’s why I love what I do and always love exploring new materials.”