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infinite energy

An interview with
Professor Martin Fleischmann
conducted by Christopher P. Tinsley
(Originally Published November, 1996 In Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #11)

Christopher Tinsley:    Now that you are retired from IMRA, what do you intend to do? Are you really retired?
Martin Fleischmann:    I don't suppose I'll ever retire completely. I retired from full-time work at the University of Southampton when I was age 56, but I didn't "retire." I started a number of part-time projects and, eventually, of course went full-time to IMRA Europe. At the moment I am taking a very careful look at some of the work which we have done in the past. It has been suggested at various times that I should start an operation in the United Kingdom but--bearing in mind my age and medical history--I think this would be not a very sensible way to go forward. So I am now interacting strongly with a group in Italy. I anticipate that we will take a very careful look at what we and other people have done during the past eight years and move on eventually to try to implement some of the work which I have wanted to carry out in the past.
T:    You've been giving some assistance to Mr. Evan Ragland with regard to his cell. This cell is of course the one which our magazine is hoping to provide to people as a demonstration device of the basic thermal effect.
F:    I think my interaction with Evan Ragland will be principally concerned with the form of the electrodes. I have had this view of the optimization of the electrode design for a long time. Historically we went through various phases in the work and eventually worked on large sheets--very large sheets--of palladium. That work was stopped in March 1988 because of concerns about the safety of the device. At that stage we switched to using rods, which, as everybody knows, we have used because we felt it was very important to be able to reduce the scale rather than to increase it again because of our concerns about safety.
T:    Are you thinking here of mechanical safety in the sense of the famous "centimeter cube of palladium" incident?
F:    Yes. That was always a big factor. You know, as the work moved forward, it included the work on this cube which disintegrated--unfortunately unobserved, because it happened at night.
T:    Perhaps, very fortunately it was not watched under the circumstances?
F:    Perhaps fortunately -- yes. After that we moved to using sheets under very mild conditions. We tried to reduce the scale of the phenomena. Incidentally, as we were discussing earlier, this included unexplained increases in the temperature of the cell. In March 1988, we decided that we had to take further steps to scale-down the experiments.
F:    There is a famous diagram which has Stan Pons' and my writing all over it, about these unexplained rises in temperature of the cell. As it happened, I was just recovering from an operation here in the UK. At that stage, we decided that this line of work had to stop and we switched to the rods. However, rods are not satisfactory mechanically because there is a stress concentration in the center, so it is obviously better to use something like a continuous sheet. That's why I believe that we should now look at tubes.
T:    Perhaps with one anode down the center and another anode as a coil around the outside, so that you make a triode arrangement in that way?
F:    Indeed. I think my interaction with Evan Ragland will be along that line.
T:    In the matter of the centimeter cube of palladium, the solid block, would you say that the disintegration incident had some effect on you in the way of being a stimulus to your continuing the work?
F:    Indeed, yes. It was our incentive to continue with the work but, at the same time, it was a one-off, so you can't really say anything definitive.
T:    You don't want to do it again?
F:    No, I don't want to do it again. You can specify various things which might have caused it. If you assume that it was a valid experiment, then its disintegration reveals a very substantial part of what has been found since then, including the fact that you can get heat generation at high temperature.
T:    You're suggesting it was a thermal runaway of sorts?
F:    Yes, you can see that even with a relatively modest enthalpy output and a uniform generation of excess heat in the volume, you would get rather strange conditions in the center of the cube.
T:    Rather like a haystack spontaneously combusting?
F:    Yes, it is like that.
T:    That although the process producing heat is at a comparatively gentle level, if you do that inside a haystack...
F:    It'll catch fire. Yes. You can do the calculation on the back of an envelope to show you that this will happen, that it could melt in the middle. It's just strange that people haven't done this know that people say "pooh, pooh, pooh, it can't possibly be," so the discussion never gets going.
   So if I could just go back now to something which I am sure we should cover here regarding our original scenario: we have, in fact, four ways--four major potential lines of research. The first was the topic electrodiffusion, I'm sure we shall cover that at some length; the second one was electrochemical charging; the third one was a collection of experiments which really bridged the topics of hot fusion and cold fusion. Interestingly enough, no one has ever asked us about that, they are not in the least bit interested.
T:    They perhaps haven't had the opportunity to ask that?
F:    Well, what is so interesting is that no one has asked.
T:    Well we are interested.
F:    The fourth one was another set of experiments which I may do with my friends in Italy. So there were four distinct lines and, of course, we became committed to electrochemical charging although our real intention was always to work on electrodiffusion. A discursive answer to the first question.
T:    We're just a few months on from the ICCF6 Conference. What do you anticipate will happen in the field in the course of the future from now on?
F:    It is very difficult to say. I've always said there is the "seven year barrier." Yes, we've passed that. Usually, if you have a new idea, you very rarely break through to anything like recognizable development or implementation of that idea the first time around--it takes two or three goes for the research community to return to the topic. So I thought it would probably all peter out in '96 if we didn't break through, but I don't think it has done that. I think this is one of those situations where although people think it is crazy, the value is so high that they will continue with it. If you think about the meeting in Japan, what was revealed was that if you do the experiment correctly--especially with the correct materials, then you will make successful observations. As regards the materials aspects, I'm very keen on Johnson-Matthey material Type "A" or something which looks like Johnson-Matthey material Type "A." If you use that, you will find it relatively easy to to reproduce the findings in a reasonably short space of time. However, I think that the meeting revealed that there are several research groups entering the field who are doing this. I think that the real success will come from the next phase, which will include experiments in electrodiffusion or combinations of electrochemical charging and electrodiffusion.
T:    We are seeing a considerable increase of interest in this whole general area --even in recent months there has been a considerable shift. And yet, of course, Max Planck set his "constant" at 20 years for new ideas to penetrate.
F:    Did he? Well, he said that all the opposition has to die out, didn't he?
T:    He said that science proceeds by funerals.
F:    Yes, yes. There is a lot of truth in that.
T:    And yet in cold fusion it's really not been the "young Turks" that have been coming in...
F:    It's the "old Turks."
T:    Exactly.
F:    I think that we were starting to talk about that earlier. I think this was a subject for older people who were not afraid to...who didn't care about their scientific reputation.
T:    But perhaps in the past there have been periods where people have been able to do science without having to worry about their reputations?
?F:    That's gone now.
T:    Perhaps it will come back.
F:    Maybe it will come back. I think that at some time we will want to talk about the general malaise of science.
T:    John Bockris has suggested that science had become very rigidified in around 1972. Do you have any comment on that at all?
F:    I think there was a very unfortunate development in the 70's, a sort of "anti-Francis Bacon development." People developed a view that a subject is not respectable unless it is dressed up with a suitable overload of theory, and consequently we have had this "top dressing" of theory put on the subject which has tended to make the approach very rigid. Also, the theories are of course written in terms of rather old-fashioned ideas.
T:    But we have been seeing a shift in general public attitudes.
F:    To science?
T:    No. Specifically towards things like towards cold fusion. This may be a kind of pre-millennial tension or something of that kind, but we are finding that companies and individuals are taking the whole field of cold fusion very much more seriously and positively than they were doing even months ago.
F:    I think that's probably true.
T:    It's a strange thing.
F:    I don't think so. I think that it is a question of economics. I don't know whether you have done your calculations but, about two or three years back, I did a first assessment of what the first successful device would be worth and it came out at about 300 trillion dollars. So, at that sort of value, people are prepared to take a rather high risk on the research. You know, for a long time people have always had a list of the first ten projects. I don't think you should over-emphasize the value of cold fusion necessarily, but if you make your list of the ten most valuable projects, high temperature superconductors will always be on the list; fuel cells will always be on the list. It doesn't matter whether you can or cannot achieve high temperature superconductivity or fuel cells, they will always be on the list because if you could achieve them they would be extremely valuable. So these ideas will keep on coming up. Now, of course, cold fusion is the daddy of them all in a way, in terms of value, so I think that viewed in a social way, from the point of social considerations and economics, it will tell you that this thing will stay around.
T:    Do you think that physics and chemistry took something of a wrong turning at some point in the last 150 years or so and started to perhaps head into something of a blind alley? That what we now are seeing -- perhaps with cold fusion, and so forth -- is that mistakes have been made? We have something that doesn't appear to fit comfortably.
F:    I don't think so. You see, I am a very conventional scientist, really. Extremely. I always explain that -- I'm really very conventional. We arrived at this topic from various inputs to the subject and, in the end, we could pose a very simple question, namely: would the fusion cross-section of deuterons compressed in a palladium lattice be different to the cross-section which you see in the vacuum? Now, I think that was a very simple question -- either yes or no. The answer turned out to be different.....I should explain that what we said was, "Yes, it would be different, but we would still see nothing." That was the starting point in 1983 or whatever, yes 1982-83. Of course, it would be different, but we will see nothing. But it turned out to be radically different than that. Now, of course, you have to say, "What do we do with such an observation?" Many people--as was shown subsequently and even though they were told what had happened--couldn't believe this and ignored their own experimental evidence. But that is not for us.
   As for taking a wrong turning -- well it has in an organizational way. I always say that if you recall Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo holding a painting competition in the Town Hall in Florence during the Renaissance then you cannot conceive of that happening in the present age. The early development of science was really a dilettante type of aristocratic preoccupation...
T:    Lavoisier and company?
F:    Yes. You cannot imagine that somebody would now give a latter-day Faraday carte blanche to investigate the interaction of forces.
T:    Mind you, for what he cost at the time, we could really afford it. It wasn't that expensive.
F:    Nor is cold fusion expensive. One of my theme songs is that if you can't do it in a test tube, don't do it. It is not necessarily true that expensive experiments are not worthwhile doing but there are plenty of rather cheap experiments which are certainly worth doing. So if you haven't got the resources, do think a bit and try the cheap experiments. So has science taken a wrong turning? Well, this is one instance where it has taken a wrong turning, but, of course, there is also this whole overlay of Copenhagen-style quantum mechanics which we have not been able to shake off.
T:    You feel that was a wrong turning?
F:    Oh, that was a massive wrong turning. Massive wrong-turning, although we have to give credit to Niels Bohr and the Copenhagen school, for a great deal of valuable development of theory. However, that approach should have been abandoned a long time ago. The problem is that replacement of Quantum Mechanics by Quantum Field Theory is still very demanding.
T:    Now, how about the difference between, in cold fusion, but perhaps in science generally, the way things are done in Japan and in, for example, the United States? There are obviously significant cultural differences between the countries and this runs into the way they work in every field. A World War II Japanese battleship can't help but look Japanese. Perhaps you could include the UK as examples. How would you characterize the differences?
F:    Yes. That's an enormous collection of questions; it's not just one question. I just had an ex-student of mine here, who is now an academic in Coventry. He has a very interesting collection of post-graduate students working on a range of topics. One of these led us to discuss globalization in the context of the difference between Christianity and Islam, and I said, "Well, this is not the question. I think Islam and Christianity can be reconciled but Shinto and Buddha on the one side and Islam and Christianity on the other, that is a much bigger problem." The cultural difference between the Pacific Rim and the Greco-Judaeo tradition is going to be a much bigger problem for the world. And, of course, I think that it is very difficult for people to lock into science if they haven't got the Hellenistic tradition.
T:    But the Japanese are notoriously fine co-operators....
F:    Yes, they are very good at retro-science for example, where teamwork is very important, but I don't think their system lends itself to innovative research. I think that many senior people in Japan, who are now unfortunately dying out, realize that Japan will have to take a step towards innovative science, they cannot go on using innovative ideas developed in other countries and develop them themselves. Incidentally, this is one of the problems with the development of cold fusion--they went into it too soon. I think they have a very important role to fulfill, but by stepping in too soon--before the boundaries of the subject had been defined --then this was going to create a great deal of difficulty. So I think that as science is organized in Japan at the moment it will not make a great deal of headway in innovative science. That's my own opinion.
T:    But, in Japan, is it not also true to say that they hold in very high esteem persons such as yourself--a Fellow of the Royal Society?
F:    Outsiders. A prophet is not recognized in his own land.
T:    "A prophet is not without honor save in his own country." But is it not generally true that the Japanese have particularly strong respect for high-powered academics from outside Japan?
F:    Yes. But this is because they don't recognize their own prophets. Because they don't fit into the system.
T:    But then neither do we. That's a universal problem.
F:    Well this has now come upon us. I think this was not true--especially if you take the United Kingdom -- this was not true in the past. I mean prophets in other endeavors--politics or the social sciences--might not have been recognized, but in science, prophets were recognized in the United Kingdom.
T:    Would that explain the disproportionate role that British science has played?
F:    Well yes. I think you know that I classify science as British science, American science, and everybody else. British science has a certain style and, of course, my problem is that, although I was born in Czechoslovakia, I am the archetypal British scientist.
T:    You are indeed.
F:    I am. I am a caricature of what British science is about in the way I work. American science is much more organized, much more hierarchical than British science has been. I think British science is becoming more like American science--and then there is everybody else, I'm afraid. Is it not true that 55% of R&D, ie. innovative science, since the War has been done in the USA and Britain.
T:    So, it is extraordinary...
F:    It is extraordinary and now, unfortunately, we have found ourselves in the position where I think some decisions have been taken by the mandarins in Whitehall that Britain should become a "super Belgium." The fact that we have not been able to exploit our ideas is taken as an indication that we should not do innovative science. When in fact, of course, what has been wrong is that we have not exploited our ideas. Removing the ideas is not going to do us any good whatsoever.
T:    That's certainly a fascinating view. You say that science is a highly organized endeavor in the United States, but surely a great deal of innovative and exciting work has been done in the United States as well.
F:    However, the cost is very high. It is not a very effective system, though they could afford it, or historically, they could afford it but the cost/benefit analysis of science in America is not very good.
T:    Yes, I've always been entertained by chauvinism in science, for example, in this country we have Crick & Watson and in the United States we have Watson & Crick. There's an extraordinary and highly inappropriate chauvinism, is there not, in science or would you say that's only in the public perception?
F:    It's in the public domain, I don't think scientists themselves do that. Scientists are really very conscious of the fact that they stand on the shoulders of an enormous tree of preceding workers and that their own contribution is not so enormous. What I've always said about cold fusion is that "everything I can say about cold fusion can be condensed onto about half a page now and I will know the subject has arrived when it is a footnote." When there is a lot of verbiage then you know you haven't arrived.
T:    Is this your comment about from simplicity through complexity back to simplicity again?
F:    Well that is part of it, yes, it is a little bit of it. You have to in the end, distill out that which is simple, to think about and re-investigate that which is simple to do.
T:    Yes, that's very interesting. Arthur C. Clarke once had a character in a novel comment that the French make the best second-raters at everything in the world.
F:    But that's their objective. It's a conscious decision. Historically they have been very good at mathematics, and occasionally you get a peak like Pasteur and they recognize the peak. I think you could hardly ignore Pasteur, but basically the French system also doesn't lend itself to innovative research.
T:    And Russia?
F:    Well, the Russians have been extremely innovative considering their resource base. So how one should analyze this, why the Russians were so successful? It's a good question.
T: Perhaps they have been in a continually post-diluvial state.
F:    Probably yes, I think they could only escape from the system via some sort of profession. You had to hide within your profession. You know, you had to become immune from the political pressures.
T:    If you became a Sakharov no one could touch you seriously - though they tried.
F:    But if you even go lower down the scale, scientists were left alone, so the clever people who could make it into science hoofed it and made it into science as fast as they could.
T:    To return to cold fusion: if you had to do it over again, would you have participated in that press conference in 1989?
F:    Here again, is an enormous collection of questions. Of course, I was opposed to it as you probably know and I tried to stop it -- even the night before--and I failed because there was a key person I needed to contact.
   Stan and I funded the first phase of the work ourselves. It was secret. We reckoned we would get our first answers for about $100,000, which was as much as we could afford to spend. In the Summer of 1988 we reckoned that we would need $600,000 to complete the first phase in about September 1990. We planned to review the question of publication in September 1990.
   We had at that time, and continued to have all the way through, tremendous hang-ups about whether this work should be published at all. In fact, in '88 we went through several discussions about whether the work should be classified.
T:    For reasons of....
F:    National security. However, in '88 we had the twin problem that we certainly did not have $600,000 between the two of us to spend on progressing this research properly, and we needed the $600,000. We also had to inform the American Department of Energy in the States, and I had to inform Harwell [Laboratory in the UK--Ed.] about this work. So I said let's kill many birds with one stone: let's write a Research Application rather than a patent--which we submitted to the DOE. Initially, it didn't go to the DOE, but it finished up at the DOE in August 1988 and that, of course, brought us into this conflict situation with another scientist who was interested in the subject, who had been interested in the subject previously. He had not done the experiment in a way in which he could possibly have succeeded, mainly because he had used 10% D2O in H2O and, of course, he would have had hardly any deuterium in the lattice--and he started to work on this topic again.
   There is nothing wrong with that incidentally, people object to that, but I don't object to that at all. I think that he should have disclosed his intention to restart his work when he refereed our proposal. What was hard for Stan and me was that he wanted to disclose his results. Now Stan and I were still working in secret at that time but, because of this development, we had to inform the University of Utah because we thought that they might need to take patent protection. They said yes, so then the patent became the driving force. And it was the patent consideration which produced the press conference, the "prior claim." I was not in favor of that at all, but it was that which produced it. Of course, you might ask if we would have done it any other way. Well, I wished we had carried on for 20 years in a mild way and I wish I had started it in 1972 and done it all myself, quietly and over a long period of time.    I think the press conference was a mistake. But it was inevitable.

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