- 1929 - Atkinson and Houtermans used the measured masses of light elements and applied Einstein's discovery that E=mc2 to predict that large amounts of energy could be released by fusing small nuclei together.
- 1939 - Hans Bethe won the Nobel Prize in physics (awarded 1968) for quantitative theory explaining fusion
- shortly after World War II and the success of the Manhattan Project the hydrogen bomb was built, which released large amounts of fusion energy from a reaction ignited by a fission trigger
- 1947 First kiloAmp plasma created by a team at the Imperial College, London, in a dough-nut shaped glass vacuum vessel. Plasmas are totally unstable and only last fractions of seconds.
- 1951 - Argentina publicly claimed that they had harnessed controlled nuclear fusion (these claims were false), sparking a responsive research effort in the U.S.
- 1952 - Cousins and Ware build a small toroidal pinch device in England, and demonstrate that instabilities in the plasma make pinch devices inherently unstable.
- 1952 - 1 Nov, Operation Mike: The first detonation of a hydrogen bomb, yield 10.4 megatons.
- 1953 - pinch devices in the US and USSR attempt to take the reactions to fusion levels without worrying about stability. Both report detections of neutrons, which are later explained as non-fusion in nature.
- 1954 - ZETA stabilized toroidal pinch device starts operation in England built at Harwell south of Oxford.
- 1958 - American, English and Soviet scientists began to share previously classified fusion research, as their countries declassified controlled fusion work as part of the Atoms for Peace conference in Geneva (an amazing development considering the Cold War political climate of the time)
- 1958 - ZETA experiments end. Several firings produce neutron spikes that the researchers initially attribute to fusion, but later realize are due to other effects. Last few firings show an odd "quiet period" of long stability in a system that otherwise appeared to prove itself unstable. Research on pinch machines generally dies off as ZETA appears to be the best that can be done.
- 1967 - Demonstration of Farnsworth-Hirsch Fusor appears to generate neutrons in a nuclear reaction.
- 1968 - Results from the T-3 Soviet magnetic confinment device, called a tokamak, which Igor Yevgenyevich Tamm and Andrei Sakharov had been working on - showed the temperatures in their machine to be over an order of magnitude higher than what was expected by the rest of the community. The Western scientists visited the experiment and verified the high temperatures and confinement, sparking a wave of optimism for the prospects of the tokamak, which is still the dominant magnetic confinement device today, as well as construction of new experiments.
- 1974 - Taylor re-visits ZETA results of 1958 and explains that the quiet-period is in fact very interesting. This leads to the development of "reversed field pinch", now generalized as "self-organizing plasmas", an ongoing line of research.
- 1976 - Design work on JET, the Joint European Torus, begins.
- 1978 - The JET project is given the go-ahead by then EC. The chosen site is an ex-RAF airfield south east of Oxford, UK.
- 1983 - JET is completed on time and on budget. First plasmas achieved.
- 1988 - The Japanese tokamak, JT-60 came online
- March 1989 - two Utah physicists, Pons and Fleischmann, announced that they achieved cold fusion - causing fusion to occur at room temperatures. However, they made their announcements before any peer review of their work was performed, and no subsequent experiments by other researchers revealed any evidence of fusion.
- 1993 - The TFTR tokamak at Princeton (PPPL) does experiments with 50% deuterium, 50% tritium, which eventually produces as much as 10 megawatts of power from a controlled fusion reaction.
- 1997 - The JET tokamak in the UK produces 16 MW of fusion power - the current world record of fusion power. Four megawatts of alpha-particle self-heating was achieved.
- 1997 - combining a field-reversed pinch with an imploding magnetic cylinder results in the new Magnetized Target Fusion concept in the US (which has not been participating in interanational Tokamak research). In this system a "normal" lower density plasma device is explosively squeezed using techniques developed for high-speed gun research.
- 2002 - Claims and counter-claims are published regarding bubble fusion, in which a table-top apparatus is reported as producing small-scale fusion in a liquid undergoing acoustic cavitation. Like cold fusion, it's later dismissed.
joins the ITER
project, the successor to JET
- 2003 - Cadarache in France selected as the European Candidate Site for ITER