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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)

continued from page 1

T:    Can you, looking back, see any alternative to what happened?
F:    No.
T:    You would have been stuck with the same situation?
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 that announcement?
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, eventually.
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 coefficient.
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 is hygroscopic.
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 February 1990.
   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.
F:    Really.
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, then?
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 in palladium?"
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 of energy.
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. But...
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?
F:    Yes.
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 anything.
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 understand that?
T:    Well I must admit, to be honest, I've rather tended to take things like the thermionic diode pretty much for granted.
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 first war?
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?
F:    Marvelously.
T:    This country treated you well?
F:    Yes.
T:    In what way?
F:    In everything. We had the most unbelievable consideration.
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 aspiration, really.
T:    So you were set up as it were, in this country?
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.
T:    Really?
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 and go!
T:    Moving forward, what are your recollections of meeting with Julian Schwinger in Salt Lake City?

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