Mister Fusion

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Photo by Scott London
The main chamber

Mister Fusion is an art car designed by Henry Chang. It first appeared on playa in 2012. The name of the car is derived from the central chamber around which the rest of the car is built. That chamber was used as some component of nuclear fusion experiments performed by the US Department of Energy and obtained by the artist on ebay.

Precursor

In 2011 Chang decided to build an artcar to take to Burning Man. He acquired a Musketeer landscaping cart (similar to Cushman), fabricated some elaborate tubular stainless steel side panels, then bolted them to the cart. The cart itself was of course not aesthetically interesting, so some simple steel framework was also added over which black fabric was draped. The intent was to make the stainless steel stand out. The car made it out to Black Rock City and needed to carry a generator with it to keep the batteries from running low. The artist hadn't been to Burning Man for 5 years and in the intervening time period, the art car game had changed. The bar had gone up, it was no longer fur glued to manufactured vehicles. He was inspired to in turn build something to the near maximum of his current ability and the notion for Mister Fusion was born: build the car from the ground up.

Conception

The artist liked the sculptural stainless steel side panels on the 2011 car, but found the result of covering up the cart to be completely unsatisfactory. Upon inspecting the chassis of the vehicle, which consisted of I-beams and box tubing at right angles, the sculptor in Chang thought, "I'm a sculptor, I know how to build structural members, why not just fabricate the entire chassis and make everything sculptural?"

2012

Designing a vehicle from scratch was not going to be a trivial task given that the artist knew almost nothing about cars. He did, however, know CAD as well as basic structural engineering and materials, therefore he had the idea that it could be done without the project being a complete disaster. He acquired the rolling chassis of a circle track racer (stock car), inspected how it was designed, how the suspension worked, salvaged the Speedway quick change rear axle and got it chromed. The first thing was the front suspension. Double wishbone suspension with pushrod to rocker arm to inboard shocks. This is where the CAD was essential - it would be difficult to get the geometry right without CAD. With the CAD and with proper jigging, it was straightforward. The jigging was important, otherwise the mount locations for the wishbones would wander as the stainless steel cooled (and shrank) from welding.

Frame

Once the frame was finished, it was mocked up with a number of stainless steel vacuum chambers the artist had acquired from ebay. The chambers formed the spine of the car - the arrangement was inspired by Czech Tatra multi axle trucks. The Tatra trucks' frame is simply a large tube and the axles simply pivot around the tube. The design is simple, yet very effective since not only does the tube offer rigidity in all directions, it also is the best shape for resisting torsion (which results when one side of the car hits a bump but the other does not). Traditional double ladder frames are not very effective at resisting torsional forces. Not that it mattered since it was an art car (therefore no performance necessary) but the artist nevertheless found the concept appealing because it was also elegant.

Frame and body mock up.jpg

That said, the "spine" of the car did split into two trusses just behind the midpoint of the car so that the engine could nest between them. The trusses stayed split until the rear tires where they wound their ways inwards until they met up on either side of the rear quick change differential.

Ghost weld.jpg

Name

The artist guessed that the large main vacuum chamber in the middle of the car was a fusion chamber since all the ports pointed towards an imaginary point in the center of the chamber and the ebay seller was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, very close to Los Alamos Laboratory. Surprisingly, this hunch would later turn out to be correct. The car was christened "Mister Fusion". It's a riff off both the vacuum chamber and the portable fusion reactor powering Christopher Lloyd's stainless steel DeLorean in "Back to the Future" (Lloyd put a banana peel into a little cylinder which had a "Mister Fusion" label).

On playa

Mister Fusion arrived at BRC early in the week and the reaction was about as positive as the artist could have dared hope. Mechanically a battery died late week, but mid week there was a temporary minor disaster when one of the vacuum chambers broke. When under vacuum, the chambers members compress together. The components are beveled and sealed with small welds. The vacuum pressure compresses the bevels and there is no danger of structural failure. In this situation, the chambers were used as the lower part of the spine, therefore they were under tension. The bevels were being pulled apart and the little vacuum weld lasted 4 days before breaking when the car was out past the Temple. The car was bent in two at the forwardmost chamber, a forlorn sight in the deep playa. It was down for 4 hours until a mobile welding unit was located. The car was jacked up and the two pieces fit together like pieces to a puzzle. A structural weld was applied and things were fine for the rest of the week.

2013

The next year a grille "nose" bit of bodywork was added as well as a truss underneath the front half of the spine, removing the vacuum welds in the vacuum chambers as part of the structural equation.

2014

Upholstery was changed to a deep red vinyl.

2015

reinforced the seat backs. Even though there's not much force on the seats, the vibration along with the leverage caused the tubes which constituted the spine of the seats to crack at the base. An extra triangulation tube was added to eliminate the cantilever. Elimination of cantilevers was also performed on various other pieces of bodywork. All chassis parts were triangulated, the lesson here is that *everything* needs to be triangulated. Chassis/frame vibration might be, say, 4x per second. That's 240x per minute and 14,400x per hour. If the car runs 4 hours/day, that's 56,000 cycles/day. That's a lot of cycles. If something is mounted directly to the frame and isn't isolated (via airbag or some other dampening mechanism), it cannot be a cantilever. Just say no to cantilevers.

2016

Floorboards were rebuilt. The originals were fabricated out of mild steel and painted. They suffered with the effects of the playa dust. The new boards were stainless steel and the support structure was triangulated.

Mister Fusion also traveled to the Supernationals Car Show in Albuquerque, New Mexico where 2 different scientists verified that it had been used in a fusion experiment. The first one freaked out, "I know that chamber, I know that chamber!" The only thing he could say were the initials "PBFA", obviously the rest was classified. Some internet searching yielded PBFA Z pinch experiment at Sandia National Laboratories. "For periods of ten-billionths of a second this fall, a massive accelerator at Sandia National Laboratories consistently emitted intense bursts of more than 40 trillion watts of X-ray power. The highest power pulse was more than 160 trillion watts -- more than 30 times the combined output of the Earth's utility plants."[1] Those are some mind boggling statistics. The artist has absolutely no idea what part of the fusion system this chamber functioned in. Nevertheless, this is proof that it is possible to obtain some interesting stuff from the Internet.

2017

Lighting system reworked.

Nose.jpg
At BRC.jpg




[1]https://www.sandia.gov/media/zpinch.htm

http://henrychangdesign.com/mister-fusion/