An interview with
Professor Martin Fleischmann
conducted by Christopher P. Tinsley
(Originally Published November, 1996 In Infinite Energy Magazine
continued from page 1
T: Can you, looking
back, see any alternative to what happened?
T: You would have been stuck with the same
F: Given the situation we had and given
the results we had, we had to tell the DOE and Harwell. Given the
conflict situation which developed we had to tell the University.
Given the results we had, the University had to take a patent. It
was inconceivable that Chase Peterson and Jim Brophy would have
said, "No, we won't take a patent." The only thing which would have
changed would have been the existence of an Ethics Committee to
whom it could have been submitted--a National Ethics Committee would
have said this is not the sort of science or development which justifies
taking a patent, forget the patent, no press conference, no nothing,
it would have been OK. But, given the situation in which the Universities
found themselves, I think it was inevitable--and it would happen
again, and in other fields it will certainly happen again.
T: I for one see no clear objection to
what people dismiss as science by press conference. After all, the
hot fusion boys do it all the time......
F: I think it is worthwhile to recall Zeta.
Zeta [A supposed hot fusion achievement.--Ed.] was announced
by the Postmaster General in the House of Commons. What can be more
outrageous than that?
T: Quite. But I was thinking that, for
example, I would very much have welcomed a press conference by the
French nuclear research people, CEREM, on their full replication
of your "boil off" experiment. I'm sure you would have done as well.
F: Hmm--hole in the corner.
T: In other words, if you've got it you
flaunt it. Did you notice that any mention of the CEREM replication
is totally absent from Douglas Morrison's account of ICCF 6?
F: No, I haven't looked at that. But can
you imagine something which has been so systematically ignored as
T: Surely, but was it announced publicly?
F: Well, Biberian presented this work.
T: Ah, but only at this Conference. Where
else has it been announced?
F: I think what is going to happen is that
a lot of this work will disappear behind closed doors.
T: For what reason?
F: Three hundred trillion dollars.
T: The energy business?
F: I mean, other reasons as well, just
take that as a...
T: But you are thinking, in this instance,
of the energy implications?
F: Yes. But there are other implications
as well. But let's just confine our attention to energy.
T: Quite. You recall the famous sequence
of events at MIT, and Mitchell Schwarz and Gene Mallove's discussion
of that on the BBC/CBC documentary. Have you any comments to make
on that particular series of incidents?
F: It was certainly very extraordinary.
There were three, possibly you could say there were four, investigations
in 1989 that we should have taken notice of. One was the MIT investigation,
another one was Lewis at Caltech, the third one was in Harwell,
and possibly we should take note of Kreysa and his colleagues in
Germany. I think the last is a minor thing--a fairly ridiculous
investigation. I think the only half-way reasonable investigation
was the one in Harwell, that experiment was well designed but badly
executed and, of course, totally misinterpreted.
However, to their great credit, they made the
data sets available for study. This is Harwell.
T: Of course, MIT did that too in a sense,
F: In a sense, but see what happened. If
you take the Harwell data sets, you cannot say that this experiment
worked perfectly and that there is no excess heat. You could only
say either that the experiment worked perfectly and there is excess
heat, or the experiment didn't. And on those two bases you have
to do another set of experiments. As regards MIT, all one can do
is shake one's head in disbelief really. I mean, again, if you fiddle
about with baselines then you have to consign those experiments
to the dustbin and start again. The one in Caltech was clearly very
strange because there was a redefinition of the heat transfer coefficient.
I had actually thought of dropping out of this
field in '91 and just waiting to see what other people would make
of it in order to go back into it in '93 myself, but I was persuaded
to go to France.
T: Just one moment, to track back, you
were talking about the Caltech experiment -- you said something
very strange happened and there was a redefinition of the heat transfer
F: The heat transfer coefficient. I'd have
to refresh my memory, but my own view was that it was much more
plausible to re-interpret the MIT and Harwell and Caltech results
in terms of the generation of excess heat.
T: Yes, but that experiment was discussed
in a paper in the Journal of Physical Chemistry some while later,
was it not? Did you see the paper there which largely refuted the
Caltech experiment and showed there had been excess heat? That was
one of Miles' papers.
F: Was it? Well, yes, you know it's not
very difficult to show that you get excess heat if you use the right
material. Of course, it's a materials science question. If your
electrodes crack you will not load them electrochemically. You can
load them some other way but not electrochemically.
T: This is all connected with the same
period that you were effectively accused of fraud by Parker of MIT.
What were your feelings about this?
F: It's insane, really. But Parker had
an axe to grind and Parker tried to deny he was the lead of the
paper. I think it was Mitchell Swartz who caught up with him mainly,
and Gene Mallove, then Parker somewhere said, "I don't know, nothing
has happened," and then someone said, "But you are the , the lead
T: In fact, the BBC documentary showed
Parker in a very poor light.
F: So who called me a fraud?
T: Who indeed?
F: I shouldn't say fraud. Fraud is not
an acceptable word, but who created a deception.
T: "Inappropriately interpreted the data."
F: Who inappropriately interpreted the
data, which is very common? Incidentally, I was recently writing
to my Japanese colleagues about misinterpretation of data. Science
is full of misinterpretation of data. Because data interpretation
doesn't hold a very high priority in science, it is driven by the
Research Student Syndrome: "Let me get all these results now and
I will interpret them next year." Next year, of course, never comes.
T: One of the first things which convinced
me to study the field very much more carefully in the early days
was Professor Close's book on the subject. It seemed to me he was
tying himself into logical knots to try and explain the results
away. I felt that there must be something in it for a man of that
calibre to have to go so low. Such comments of his that when heavy
water was later found to be contaminated with ordinary water, that
this showed that somebody had been tampering with the experiment--and
I can't believe a nuclear physicist is unaware that heavy water
F: Well, contamination is a big problem,
you know. I think this is a very interesting point. If you have
a very low level of contamination by light water you will certainly
destroy the effects due to deuterium.
T: He was explaining the presence of tritium
by saying that it must have been contaminated by tritiated water,
because there was tritiated water available and the presence of
ordinary water in the heavy water proved that somebody had been
contaminating it. In fact it proves nothing of the kind.
F: This thing about the tritium was very
interesting for us, because this was something we never wrote up
properly at the time, and we have never returned to it because we
have got certain hang-ups about this aspect. But, to explain our
results with tritium, we would have had to have an isotropic separation
factor between deuterium and tritium, this is the ratio in the gas
to the liquid phase at about thirteen and a half. You can't get
that. There's no way we could have got that much tritium by isotropic
separation. So it had to be generated, you see, and other people
have found that since.
But Close, I don't know, I can't understand Close.
Frank Close came to see me. I had to return in February 1990 to
Salt Lake City, and he wrote to me saying that he wanted to come
and talk to me because he had been in Oakridge and he had seen the
results in Harwell which were negative, and he'd seen the results
in Oakridge which were positive. There were two groups in Oakridge
who had positive results at the time that was Hutchinson and Scott,
but there was a third group which had positive results in Oakridge
and I had just finished with all this calorimetry here. So I said,
"Come, I'll discuss it with you." And he came here and it transpired
that he really wanted to talk about the gamma rays. I said, "I haven't
got those data here. Come to Salt Lake City because we've done a
new set of measurements there on gamma ray generation," and he never
came. He came to Salt Lake but he didn't come and talk to us, so
he never had access to all the stuff which is in Il Nuovo Cimento.
So that's my knowledge of Frank Close.
T: That leads onto another question. Do
you feel that there is any further clarification you can give in
your answer to the accusations from Close and others about your
supposedly unethical shifting of the gamma ray spectrum?
F: There is a whole set of files upstairs
and you are welcome to have them in due course. I think that the
point about that was that I went to Harwell when I came back from
the States, and I used the diagram which I had prepared in February
'89 from data which had been given to me by my collaborators. There
was something obviously wrong with those measurements. I went from
Harwell to Switzerland and I asked for the final version of the
diagrams to be sent to me in Switzerland.
So it's one of these unfortunate things. You can't
really say what happened, but the diagram I used in Harwell was
a preliminary diagram and when David Williams asked me whether he
could have these diagrams and I said, "Yes, if they are for your
own study, please don't distribute them; for your own study you
can have them." These are the diagrams which Frank Close then got,
which he shouldn't have got. I would certainly not have vetoed his
use, but I would have wanted to add a word of explanation about
how they had arisen.
There is one important issue here. By March 1989
we had decided that these measurements had to be done with a high
resolution Ge-detector, not the low resolution Na-I detector. The
results of these measurements were available in Salt Lake City in
Subsequently, I tried to get these transparencies
back to see how they might be related to the material in Frank Close's
book. I was told by various people in Harwell that they had been
lost. So Frank Close got them and Harwell lost them. The whole thing
looks rather doubtful to me.
In other words, I don't take kindly to being accused
of unethical doings by people who clearly have been involved in
unethical activities themselves.
T: Speaking of people being accused, what
do you feel about John Bockris and his various problems--like horse
manure in his letterbox?
F: I didn't know that. Did he have horse
manure in his....
T: Yes, recently.
T: Well you know he held a conference on
low energy transmutations and had to hold it off-campus. I just
wondered if you had any comments, because Professor Bockris is a
fine, forceful old gentleman, is he not?
F: Well, he's another one who doesn't care
about his reputation. Well, he does, but not to the extent where
he would let it cloud his judgement.
T: Yes, that's a very interesting point--the
matter of reputation. If one was looking for the world's most highly
regarded electrochemists at the time one would have to include yourself
and Professor Bockris in a very short list. This is interesting--that
both of you have been perfectly happy to take such a stance, rather
than resting on your laurels.
F: I think I must interject something here.
People said, "Why would you do it?" We can come back to that, but
I said in reply to them, "Well it is not clear that it should have
been me, but I think it would have been very likely that it would
have been an electrochemist who would have done this research."
Because of the nature of the subject you see.
T: What is the "nature" of electrochemistry,
F: Well, it is the interaction of physical
chemistry and theory. You know, it is the combination of knowledge.
Your knowledge base which would make you pose the question, "Is
it not possible to induce anomalous nuclear reactions from deuterium
T: So, you would say that an electrochemist
is rather like someone standing where three countries meet?
F: Yes. A gas-phase man wouldn't think
of it all.
T: Are you interested in any other, shall
we say, "controversial" areas of science at all? Are there any things
which most people would perhaps dismiss, but perhaps you have a
less certain view.
F: Yes. Well, cold fusion is part of a
much wider area, and I have been really quite uncertain that our
theory and understanding of condensed matter is at all satisfactory.
However, I'm not interested in some of the more extreme ideas which
have been put forward and which interest you, you know in the future
T: I will say that some of this gravity
modification stuff does, in fact, appear to have a theoretical basis
as well as some experimental evidence...
F: Well, if you think about gravitation,
until we have a unified field theory, then you can't be sure what
is going to happen.
T: Even Frank Close said that we don't
know much about gravity, and anything might happen.
F: We really have an incomplete understanding.
This will change, but there are one or two notable exceptions, which
I don't want to talk about now. We have no understanding of quantum
gravity and until that happens we can't be sure that nature won't
play some rather strange tricks. As I told you when we were talking
before, we had about four projects which we were working towards,
one was to do with gravitation, one was actually to do with the
behavior of electrons in metals. We actually started to collect
equipment together to investigate the behavior of electrons in metals.
F: I have told you there have been certain
themes which have run through my work, although they have never
really been disclosed. I have often worked on topics where something
short of the final answer would nevertheless be quite interesting.
When I think about what I have done, I find that
I have failed to achieve any of my longer term objectives.
T: A pretty impressive failure, surely?
F: I have been content with what I have
achieved, but I have not achieved what I wanted to achieve.
T: Which was?
F: To gain a better understanding of condensed
matter. In order to do so, as with the cold fusion story, I find
the answers to the global questions have eluded me.
T: Most of the truly exciting science over
the last half century has been in condensed matter, you are saying?
T: In terms of value to humanity, it has
been the area of science which has been of the greatest benefit.
F: However, there is a lot to be said for
working in high vacuum. Curiously enough, I am again extremely interested
in the behavior of thermionic diodes. I find I do not understand
how a thermionic diode behaves. As I am interested in the interaction
of charges in electrolytes, I think about simpler systems, and from
that try and understand the behavior of the thermionic diode. I
do not understand it; and I don't think that anybody else understands
electrons in a vacuum either.
T: In that case, to me, the number of things
I don't understand is increasing all the time.
F: I sometimes believe that I don't understand
T: I'm happy to say I'm at least beginning
to make some progress in the direction of not understanding...
F: Well, you have worked in this field,
haven't you. Just think of the space charge around a cathode, you
T: Well I must admit, to be honest, I've
rather tended to take things like the thermionic diode pretty much
F: Well, before our next meeting try to
tell me whether you understand the space charge around a cathode.
T: I will. If something had prevented you
from becoming a scientist, is there some other...
F: Oh yes.
T: What would you have liked to have done?
F: I could have done many things. Basically,
I was more interested in history and English literature than I was
in science. It is, you know, very common for chemists to be interested
in history and it was really very difficult to choose. Shall I tell
you why I became a scientist?
T: Please do.
F: I did not think I could have a rewarding
career if I went into arts.
T: In what sense a rewarding career?
F: Well, an intellectually rewarding career.
I decided to do science because I could see.....this seems a very
sort of cold-blooded decision. Well, it was really. A somewhat mature
decision for a child of 16.
T: Yes, I can believe that. Staying with
your history, what can you tell us about the route your family took
to come to England from Czechoslovakia before the Second World War?
F: I have told Gene some of this.
T: You have, but I think he's rather hoping
you might still say a few words for this interview as well.
F: Well, it was quite sort of accidental,
as so many things--really formative things--in one's life are accidental.
We had got caught up in the German occupation of Western Czechoslovakia
and we managed to get out. I always tell people I had the unique
and unpleasurable experience of being arrested by the Gestapo at
the age of 11. These things tend to concentrate your mind somewhat,
you know, and my father was very badly beaten up by the Nazis. However,
we got out. We were driven across the border by a First World War
comrade in arms of my father.
T: He had been with your father in the
F: Yes. He was a fighter pilot in the Austrian
Army, and my father was an artillery officer, but they were very
close friends. They were big heroes locally. He drove us across,
he had a taxi firm. He himself drove us across into the unoccupied
part of Czechoslovakia. That was the first time we got away, and
the second time, it wasn't clear where we were going, we might have
gone to Canada or Argentina -- or South Wales actually. But we couldn't
get any money out. My parents were going to start a factory in South
Wales, but this couldn't be arranged, so we lost everything, and
in the end my sister was adopted by a Methodist minister and his
wife in Cheadle Hulme and the wife's brother lived in Llandudno
and she told him that he had to adopt me. Which he did. He was a
bachelor and he adopted me.
I find this very difficult to talk about. I must
say, when Gene asked me about it, I burst into tears--which I am
prone to do when I recall this ancient history. At that time, my
parents also got permission to come to England, and we all got on
the train in Prague and came to the Dutch border and the Germans
cleared the train of all refugees and we were in the last coach
and my father said, "No, sit tight, don't get off the train," and
the train pulled out of the station. So that's how we got away the
second time, and arrived at Liverpool Street Station with 27 shillings
and sixpence between the four of us.
T: And how were you treated afterwards?
T: This country treated you well?
T: In what way?
F: In everything. We had the most unbelievable
T: Because not all people coming into this
country nowadays as refugees are so well treated.
F: Well, it's gone.
T: The old spirit has gone?
F: The old spirit has gone. Maybe it was
a luxury of the upper classes. Or whatever.
T: You think so? After all, do you not
recall the battle of Cable Street when the British fascists were
put to rout by the mob in the East End of London?
F: Yes, that is one thing, but the consideration
of the refugees I would have thought was a middle class/upper class
T: So you were set up as it were, in this
F: No. My sister went up north and I went
the other way to Wales and then my parents were going to start a
chicken farm in Sussex, but then my father died and then my mother
started this toy firm.
F: Yes. During the War, converting unusable
scraps of materials into toys and dolls. The stuff she used would
have been burned, you see. And it was her lucky break because her
first doll -- we used to keep it -- resembled Benito Mussolini and
she said, "This is the Mussolini doll," and she said the only reason
she succeeded was that there was no competition! The dolls improved
very quickly. Actually, she had training at the Art School in Vienna
so she was a good designer.
T: So things improved for you?
F: Well, at times it was a little touch
T: Moving forward, what are your recollections
of meeting with Julian Schwinger in Salt Lake City?
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