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On January 24, 1958, English nuclear scientists announced the success of Project ZETA to ignite the first man-made fustion reaction. The project began in 1954 and was named after the design of the device involved in the process. ZETA stands for Zero Energy Toroidal Assembly which was expected to heat deuterium gas to temperatures in excess of 5 million degrees C into a plasma. Large magnets would be powered by capacitors to suddenly apply a 'pinch' and compress the plasma enough to initiate a fusion reaction.

During some tests, an excess of neutrons was detected and originally attributed to a short lived fusion reaction. On January 24, 1958 they released a press statement revealing the secret project and heralding its success with promises of limitless inexpensive power.

The announcement was premature. After re-examining the data, another press release announced the device never achieved fusion at all. English nuclear science lost a lot of respect in the scientific community because of the error.

Find out what else occurred on this day in science history.


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