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"The whole problem of energy sources is going to be solved by little solutions, not by some big new piece of technology that does everything. We got into this crisis by believing that we had one big piece of technology that would do everything (oil)."
- Gregory Benford

Ram Field  
  A specialized version of the hydrogen-gathering field for a Bussard Ramjet.  

The Bussard Ramjet was proposed in 1960 by physicist Robert Bussard. However, author Larry Niven was given a suggestion by Frank Gasperik regarding a way to make the field more efficient.

" Ok, I'll make it quick. Let's look at what your RAM FIELD does. It picks up interstellar hydrogen in a path 3,000 miles across. It sweeps it in in via magnetic fields, pinches it together hard enough and long enough to produce some fusion. What comes out is helium and some leftover hydrogen and some higher order fusion products"

"Right."

"It is also a hot, fairly tight stream. Eventually it'll spread out into nothing, like any rocket exhaust. But suppose a ship were following you here." Brennan made pictures on the screen: two tiny ships, the second following one hundred miles behind the first. He spread a wide cone before the lead ship, converging it almost to a point behind the ship. A needle shape with the ship in it's point---the ship's protective shield---brought the incoming hydrogen into a ring shaped constriction.

"You're collecting the fuel for him. His ram field is only a hundred miles across---" Brennan drew a much narrower cone. "---and it gives him finer control over his fuel flow. It's already hot and dense. It burns better in higher-order fusion. The exhaust would be rich in beryllium."

"It's just one of the things those remaining Pak might have tried. The lead ship would be nothing but a ram; no onboard fuel, no insystem motor, no cargo. It would have to be towed up to ramscoop speed. The following ship is heaver, but gets more thrust."

"You think that's what's coming at us?"

"Maybe. There are other ways to work it. Two ships, held together by a gravity generator. In a pinch they could split up. Or the lead ship might be the ship proper, with the hind ship only an afterburner.. either way, I can find them. They'll produce beryllium frequencies like a neon sign on the sky. All I've got to do is build the detector."

From Protector, by Larry Niven.
Published by Del Rey in 1973
Additional resources -

See also the full entry for Bussard Ramjet

(Contributed by Frank Gasperik.)

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Protector
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven
  Tech news articles related to Protector
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven

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