Physicist Seth Putterman has been selected to receive a $50,000 Newton Award for Transformative Ideas during the COVID-19 Pandemic from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The award, named in honor of Isaac Newton’s achievements in mathematics, optics and gravitation during the Great Plague of London in 1665, sought “transformative ideas” to resolve challenges, advance frontiers, and set new paradigms in research of immense potential benefit to the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. Putterman received one of 13 awards.

Putterman’s research project concerns nuclear fusion, which is a safe, nearly limitless energy source. It is a nuclear process, where energy is produced by smashing together light atoms. The sun is powered by fusion reactions taking place in its hot dense core, generating light and heat.

One of Putterman’s key research insights is that “a bubble can focus energy by 12 orders of magnitude to make a dense plasma, which is the source of light. If the focusing could be increased by an additional two to three orders of magnitude conditions for nuclear fusion would be achieved.”

The compressibility of water limits the energies previously achieved to about 17,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Putterman intends to use the Newton award is to develop the idea that fusion can be reached by “realizing the phenomenon of cavitation in fluids which are more incompressible than water. The leading candidate for such a fluid is one where the bulk modulus is dominated by the repulsive forces between overlapping electron shells.”