PRINCETON, NJ.—Drop a certain name in conversation with a fusion scientist or a Department of Energy official and you’re likely to observe an unusual reaction. Rolling eyes and sighs are common responses; mild cases of apoplexy are not unknown. Usually composed researchers become animated, others simply nod their heads knowingly. Rarely does the name pass without comment.

The name is Bogdan Maglich, and the man who owns it claims he’s just a scientist with a relatively modest request: He’d like $2 million with which to build a fusion device smaller than a cubic centimeter, with an output of one kilowatt and practically no radioactivity. He calls it a “migma,” and he says that hundreds of migmas can be strung together to form enormous power plants.

Maglich is sure it will work. So sure, in fact, that he has formed a company, Advanced Physics Corp., to promote the idea. Its board...

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