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Keeve M. (Kip) Siegel (1923-1975) was a US physicist. He was a professor of Physics at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, and the founder of Conductron Corporation, a high tech producer of electronic equipment which was absorbed by McDonnell Douglas Corporation; KMS Industries and KMS Fusion. KMS Fusion was the first and only private sector company to pursue controlled thermonuclear fusion research through use of laser technology.
Keeve Milton Siegel was born in New York City to David Porter Siegel, Chief of the Criminal Division of the US Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, and Rose Siegel (née Jelin). His uncle, Isaac Siegel, was a member of Congress.
He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1948 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He joined Michigan's Upper Atmospheric Physics Group, which had been set up that year, as a research associate and became the head of the group a year later. He continued in this position until early 1952, by which time he had completed his Master of Science degree from RPI (1950), and got married (1951). Due to the importance of their work to what would become NORAD, it was renamed the Theory and Analysis Group in early 1952. Kip chaired the Organizing Committee of the URSI-sponsored Symposium on Electromagnetic Wave Theory held at the University of Michigan, 20-25 June 1955.
In 1967, his long-term relationship with the University of Michigan came to an end when he accepted an appointment as visiting professor at Oakland University. Not long afterwards, he also resigned from Conductron, the company which he had founded, in a disagreement with the majority stockholder (McDonnell-Douglas) as to how the corporation should expand, and immediately started KMS Industries. Many of his former employees at Conductron joined him in his new venture, which prospered immediately. In the early 1970s he established KMS Fusion, a subsidiary of KMS Industries, to pursue the development of nuclear fusion as an energy source.
In the early 1970s, Siegel's focus became the successful achievement of laser fusion. Until that time, efforts to achieve fusion had principally used the process of confining a hydrogen plasma magnetically to reach the needed temperature and density for long enough to make hydrogen nuclei fuse. Siegel chose a different approach: using multiple high energy lasers from several directions focused simultaneously on hydrogen pellets so that the pellet reels inward under the blow, forcing some of the nuclei to fuse. The idea was not new, but KMS developed a number of new techniques, including hitting the pellet symmetrically, producing the fuel pellets and diagnosing the neutron flow.
Siegel's independent pursuit of nuclear fusion was not welcomed by either the federal government or the rest of the defense industry in which he had spent the better part of his career. Unfortunately, the company encountered heavy opposition from both the Atomic Energy Commission and from large federal weapons laboratories. Many people in both government and scientific sectors were bitterly opposed to the operation of such a fundamental and important energy program in the private sector. The long and, eventually, successful campaign of the AEC against KMS Fusion became a matter of public record. (Fortune, Dec. 1974).
However, Siegel believed in "the lesson of the Cavendish Laboratory (Cambridge, England), where a few bright people outinvented the world for a long period...with wires and chewing gum." The KMS Fusion team included some of the top experts in the United States at the time, such as physicist Brueckner, Nobel Prize winner Robert Hofstadter, and Siegel himself.
On May 1, 1974, KMS Fusion carried out the world's first successful laser-induced fusion in a deuterium-tritium pellet, the evidence for which was provided by neutron-sensitive nuclear emulsion detectors developed by Hofstadter. The neutron flow registered by scientists at KMS Fusion was still removed from a net energy flow by a factor of more than 10 million, and they did not pretend otherwise; but they had achieved controlled thermonuclear fusion, a first, as was subsequently acknowledged by ERDA itself (formerly, the AEC) and scientists working in the field, including Soviet and French laser-fusion workers.
Financial difficulties and demise of KMS Fusion
In the drive to succeed with laser fusion, Siegel cannibalized the other KMS divisions and invested his own personal fortune. The company's financing became tenuous, while the hostility of the critics of his efforts created an atmosphere where it was difficult, if not impossible, to secure additional outside financing.
At this time, KMS Fusion was indisputably the most advanced laser-fusion laboratory in the world. Unfortunately, outright harassment from the AEC only increased after the announcement of these results. According to one source in the faculty of the University of Michigan, the campaign against KMS Fusion culminated with a massive incursion into the KMS Fusion facilities by federal agents, who effectively put an end to its operations by confiscating essential materials on the grounds that, inter alia, all information concerning the production of nuclear energy is classified information which belongs exclusively to the federal government.
- UMich RadLab History Prof. T. B. A. Senior
- Keeve Milton Siegel papers Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
- In On Deception Watch: A World Federation Novel by David H. Spielberg, a plausible new world order is created, leveraged off the successful development of laser-fusion energy. The technical genius in the story is loosely based on Kip Siegel.