Here We Go Again

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I was a professor at the University of Utah coming back to my office one late afternoon when one of my colleagues announced to me excitedly that they had discovered cold fusion. Right there in Utah! Naturally I was skeptical. But within the week Pons and Fleischmann held their press conference and the event seemed sufficiently significant to warrant walking over and witnessing it in person. I was impressed with their sincerity but remained skeptical of their results.

Then the naysayers got to work. It soon became quite obvious that the arguments back and forth sprang from a social rather than scientific basis. Pons and Fleischmann were chemists; all the physicists immediately chimed in that fusion, which had hitherto been the domain of physicists, could not possibly be done by chemistry, by which was meant by chemists. Physicists look down on chemists, but mathematicians look down on both so I had no particular pony in the race and remained completely open-minded but skeptical. I might add that the fusion projects favored by physicists involve billions of dollars which they were keen to maintain. Very keen. It was my first exposure to the truly ugly acrimony that lies behind science as it is actually practiced. Like sausage and politics, it is best not to see the process of creation.

There was another angle to the quagmire. Our favorite publication, the New York Times, came out early and forcefully with the position that Fleischmann and Pons were wrong. They knew that definitively because they were the New York Times. The subtext of their argument was essentially that such a thing, if it existed, could not possibly have been found first in Utah before the Ivy Leagues. Looking back, I believe that was my very first hint that something might not be quite right at the New York Times, which up until that point I had venerated unquestioningly. It was very clear to me, sitting there in Utah as I was, that there was a strong whiff of regionalism and probably what amounted to anti-Mormon bigotry driving their apparently unwarranted vituperation. Little did they know that the University of Utah is to Utah roughly what Austin is to Texas, which is to say that it is the center of anti-Mormon feeling within the state. That wasn't going to stop the NYT, which seemed rather ill-informed on the issue.

Scientists from around the world immediately tried to duplicate the Pons-Fleischmann experiment and something strange happened. Some people could duplicate the results some of the time, or so they said; others could not. And, worst of all from the scientific point of view, no one was ever able to precisely define or understand the conditions under which the experiment was replicated. That was deadly, and under the weight of a tsunami of antipathy from physicists, the New York Times, and as it seemed everyone east of the Mississippi, the whole thing was written off as a hoax and a ridiculous one at that.

But was it?

I personally remained quite skeptical for a long time, but eventually became convinced that the effect was real although only intermittently replicable. I became convinced because another professor at Utah in the engineering school had decided that the chemists were completely off the deep end and had set out to prove so definitively. He set up a hundred or so beakers exactly replicating their conditions, set them to running, and found that nothing happened. He was on the verge of denouncing them publicly of the beakers started firing up and showing, apparently, cold fusion. Then another. Ultimately several did so, but which ones and when and under what conditions were questions neither he nor anyone else could ever answer. This left the whole field in complete ignominy. Most of the public thought all that had happened was a couple of Mormon hustlers had tried to pull a fast one. (Neither of them was Mormon.) Most of the public remains soundly convinced that there was never any effect, it was all a hoax, much as most of the public is now convinced that Bush did not do his job on Katrina because he hates black people.

More recent experience with the MSM in general and with the NYT in particular should perhaps persuade us to rethink the whole scenario.

In the meantime, the scientific establishment has, very very quietly, continued with the research. After years of batting it back and forth, a blue-ribbon Department of Energy panel of scientists carefully reviewed the evidence again a couple of years ago and, contrary to the popular belief, decided that--far from being a clearcut hoax--the evidence is still uncertain. We still don't really know if the effect is real or if it's an artifact of the experimental apparatus. Here's a quote:
"Most scientists think that cold fusion is laughable, but when the dust settled, the researchers reviewing our work were evenly split."
David Nagel
cold fusion researcher at George Washington University in Washington DC

(Oh, and as an aside, researchers in Utah later dug up an article from the 1920's(!) in which a researcher had long ago stumbled across the same phenomenon, again without consistent reproducibility. The article appeared in--can you guess it?--the New York Times.)

Enter physicist Rusi Taleyarkhan of Purdue University. He believes he has now definitively created desktop fusion, albeit through a novel method. Instead of using electricity as the input mechanism he uses ultrasound. Looks good. There's just one problem:
the experiment doesn't always work, and the group is not sure why. Seth Putterman, a physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has also tried to verify some of Taleyarkhan's experiments, notes that the paper does not reveal how many failed runs were required before the team saw a trace of fusion neutrons.

Sounds very familiar. It's enough to make strong men weep. Well, this time around there's a physicist doing it, and he's east of the Mississippi, so maybe there's a chance it will be accepted into the mainstream. Or maybe not. Indiana is pretty far out west as far as the parochial inhabitants of Boswash are concerned. (But after Alito's grilling, I guess Princeton is no longer considered a sufficiently acceptable institution of higher learning either. You just can't win.) Or maybe it's all hokum? Will the evil New York Times receive it's well-earned comeuppance? Will big-time hoaxsters Pons and Fleischmann finally be definitively debunked? Stay tuned. Watch this space for developments.


David Thomson said...

“The subtext of their argument was essentially that such a thing, if it existed, could not possibly have been found first in Utah before the Ivy Leagues.”

Your cynicism is probably justified. The New York Times bosses almost certainly consider Utah as reactionary and backward. No valid scientific advancements could possibly occur there. Fleischmann and Pons never had a chance of being treated fairly.

Syl said...

Well, thanks. There went two hours!

Cold Fusion, the antithesis to Global Warming. One theory re-emerges as another dies.

I checked out the paper submitted for review. I hate to admit this, but I knew no details whatsoever so had to start from scratch.

the pdf

Basically, you takes a palladium cathode loaded with deuterium and put it in a heavy water electrolyte.

Add some juice and you gets an excess heat effect. (More heat than would be expected from a normal chemical reaction--by several orders of magnitude.)

Remove the juice, and the heat keeps going.

Change some conditions during the experiment, and the excess heat effect is stimulated.

The thinking is that this phenomenon is the fusion of two deuterium atoms into one helium atom plus heat.

They can detect and measure the helium (and the heat), though they have yet to observe loss of deuterium.

In known nuclear reactions other particles are emitted as well, but in some experiments this isn't the case. Whether other particles are also emitted may depend on the 'current density'.

And sometimes particles are emitted that have no known connection to what's going on.

In other words, the effects cannot be accounted for by known nuclear or solid state physics and the underlying process is not yet known.

Mechanisms for triggering (and sustaining) of the excess heat effect is still a huge ongoing question. (Among many.)

But the experiments are repeatable! And 'many of the reasons for failure to produce the heat effect have been discovered.'


Morgan said...

I've been following the cold fusion goings-on for a long time, and I am completely convinced that these experiments do, sometimes, produce far more energy out than in, and that the reaction is not a simple chemical one.

Pons and Fleischman were almost certainly not perpetrating a hoax, and were probably not even wrong.

Fusion is surprisingly easy to trigger under the right circumstances (see George Miley's work at the U of Illinois and this), and I suspect that Pons and Fleischman simply found one set of such circumstances.

chuck said...

I am skeptical of things that depend on small and difficult to measure effects. It is not that the effects are not there, it is just that the number of potential causes rises dramatically. So let the experimenters experiment and measure but remember, finding small effects is easy, too easy. It is accounting for all the possible causes that is difficult.

RogerA said...

I havent got the remotest idea whether cold fusion is possible as a chemical reaction--I think, though, we all owe debt of gratitude to MHA who demonstrates quite convincingly that science is as much a political, petty, and emotional process as it is a process where sainted workers laboring in laboratories have no external pressures and their finding as pristine.

There is clearly a disconnect with the process of science--messy, inacurate, and laden with politics--and the view of science as promulgated by all to many commenters on both the right and the left.

MHA has given us a really interesting topic that will probably not receive the attention it deserves.

terrye said...


Thank you for explaining this process.

Think it how would change the world if scientists could actually make this work.

truepeers said...

A very interesting post. It somehow connects to the one above, as I should have mentioned, but I'm not sure how. Knowledge gatekeepers, can't live with em, can't live without em.

offworld said...

Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity. That said, many interests would be threatened by a powerful and clean new energy source.

Such puzzling results form little cracks in the firmament of our understanding. The light showing through speaks to us of a better understanding to come but only if we can support real science.

I hope to be in a position some day to support private research of my own choosing. I would have been a scientist but the politics and public funding turned me off.

Javelin said...

There is one possible non-fusion explanation for the effects, but it's not for the weak of heart.


The stronger reason why the scientific community neglects cold fusion is because its occurrence requires a neutron model n=p+e formed by proton and electron. However such theoretical model violates the Fermi-Diract statistics.

A model of neutron n=p+e that does not violate Fermi-Diract statistics is proposed in the book QUANTUM RING THEORY (QRT).

Two papers on the neutron new model n=p+e of QRT are available in the Internet.
They are:


Before to post here the two links, I would like to give some enlightenment on the paper NEW MODEL OF NEUTRON, as follows:
1) When we analyze the mass of pions according to the current Standard Model, we arrive to contradictory conclusions about the mass M(d) of the quark down and the mass M(u) of the quark up.
In the paper NEW MODEL OF NEUTRON it is shown that we arrive to the following two conclusions:
CONCLUSION 1: M(d) > M(u)
CONCLUSION 2: M(u) > M(d)
2) Look at the chemical reaction Na+Cl->NaCl
QUESTION: what is the matematical formalism underlying such a chemical reaction?
ANSWER: No one. The chemical reactions have not been established through the mathematical formalism.

The chemical reactions have been established based on the LOGIC, and such a procedure was viable because the chemists had the help of a property of the chemical reactions: the mass of the reagent elements does not change after the reactions. For instance, the mass of Na is the same in the two sides of the equation Na+Cl->NaCl.

In the case of the high energy nuclear reactions the discovery of the equations became very complicated, for two reasons:

1) Either particles can desintegrate by discharging energy, or particles can be created, by the transformation of energy to matter.

2) In the model adopted by the theorists, the addition of spins is applied to all the reactons.
However in the beta decay the addtion of spins cannot be applied (but there is conservation of the total angular momentun, because in the reactions there is creation of neutrinos and antineutrinos).

Such anomaly in the addition of spins in the beta decay made the situation to be very bad, and the theorists could not apply the LOGIC for the discovering of the mechanic of high energy reactions, as the chemists made in the Chemistry.

That’s why the theorists tried to solve the problems by the mathematical formalism, through the Lie symetries as SU(2), SU(3), etc.
But the result was unsatisfactory, as one can understand easily. There are particles that does not fit to the theory, and that’s why Murray Gell-Mann felt the need of proposing ad hoc bandages, like the Strangeness.

As the theorists did not discover the true cause of the beta decay anomaly, they impute to other cause the occurrency of that anomaly: they state that the parity is not kept in the beta decay.

By addopting the “spin-fusion” hypothesis proposed in QUANTUM RING THEORY, it is explained the anomaly of the beta decay, and from such a way the high energy reactions can be explained through the LOGIC, in the same way as occurred in Chemistry for the establishment of the chemical reactions.

The two links are:




I would like to say some words concerning what said by the journalist Bob Weber:
"Regardless of experimental results, one needs a convincing theory of CF"
in the link:

Before to understand cold fusion, we neeed to have a complete understanding of the nuclear phenomena. However we dont have it.

In the Introduction of my book QUANTUM RING THEORY, it is written in the page 4:
“Perhaps one would like to say that the foundations for cold fusion are the same of that proposed in Quantum Mechanics. Indeed, in Jan-2004 the cold fusion researcher Dr. Dimitriy Afonichev sent me an e-mail where he said the following:
‘I think that occurrence of cold fusion can be explained on the basis of the existing theories’.
Truthfully his words transmit not merely a personal opinion, because actually several theorists those try to explain the cold fusion occurrence share his viewpoint. However such opinion is very intriguing, since the own academic community is agreeing that the existing theories in the branch of Nuclear Physics are unable to explain even the ordinary nuclear properties, as confessed by Eisberg and Resnick in their book Quantum Physics, where they say in the first page of the Chapter 15:
‘Though we dispose nowadays of a sufficient complete assembly of information about the nuclear forces, we realize that they are too much complexes, not having been possible up to now to use this acknowledge for building an extensive theory of the nuclei. In other words, we cannot explain the whole properties of nuclei in function of the properties of the nuclear forces that actuate on their protons and neutrons’.
So, as the existing theories are unable to explain the nuclear properties responsible for the hot fusion occurrence (which occurs according to the principles of Quantum Mechanics), it's hard to believe that such existing theories could explain nuclear properties that would be responsible for the occurrence of some so much complex as it is the cold fusion (which occurs by infringing the principles of QM). “

For a layman to understand easily that said in the Introduction of my book, take for instance the interaction between two neutrons.
Two neutrons have no repulsion. But in a short distance, they are attracted by the strong force. So, after interacting within a nucleus, two neutrons would have to form the 0n2, and would never separate anymore.
But 0n2 does not exist in nature. Heisenberg tried to explain it with the introduciton of the concept of Isospin. Unfortunatelly the isospin is an abstract mathematical concept.
Two neutrons tied strongly by the strong force cannot be separated by an abstract concept, because an abstract concept cannot produce a FORCE capable to win the force of attraction by the strong force.
Only a FORCE of repulsion can win the force of attraction.
A NEW NUCLEAR MODEL (that shows what is the force of repulsion between two neutrons in short distances) is proposed in my book Quantum Ring theory.

In 2002 the Infinite Energy magazine has published my paper “What is Missing in Les Case’s Catalytc Fusion” , in which I have proposed some improvements to be addopted, in order to avoid the missing of replicability.

In 2003 in the ICCF-10 Lets and Cravens exhibited their experiment, in which they have adopted the suggestions of mine in my paper published in 2002 by IE.

In my book I propose an explanation for Lets-Cravens experiment, showed in paper entitled “Lets-Cravens Experiment and the Accordion-Effect”

The Accordion-Effect is a nuclear property unknown by nuclear theorists, and it is responsible for the resonance that takes place between a nucleus (for instance Pd) and the oscillation of deuterons due to zero-point energy.

After reading some of my papers, the late Dr. Eugene Mallove said in 2004: "Guglinski has interesting and intriguing ideas".
That's why he suggested to put my papers on a book form, and to publish it.

However, Dr. Mallove did not read my papers concerning the new nuclear model.