Ten Years That Shook Physics
(Originally Published March-April,
1999 In Infinite Energy Magazine Issue #24)
by Eugene F. Mallove, Sc.D.
When I read George Gamow's book, Thirty Years
that Shook Physics: The Story of Quantum Theory (Doubleday &
Company, 1966), it was impossible to imagine that in less than twenty-five
years another revolution would shake physics in ways every bit as
dramatic as what happened from 1900 to 1930.
For the past decade, the Cold Fusion and Low Energy
Nuclear Reactions revolution has been underway, whether or not the
mainstream physics/chemistry establishment and the general science
media wish to acknowledge it. This month we celebrate what has indeed
been "Ten Years That Shook Physics." The barrier that separated
conventionally understood chemistry and nuclear physics has come
crashing down like the infamous Berlin Wall. The barrier does not
exist--at least not within special microphysical domains of palladium,
nickel, and other metals in contact with hydrogen. Exotic new physics
is at work, the "End of Science" again disproved.
The Revolution does not even have a name on which
all the revolutionaries can agree! "Cold Fusion" is likely to stick,
if for no other reason than that is where it all began. The terms
LENR (Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions) and CANR (Chemically-Assisted
Nuclear Reactions) have been tried. This displeases Dr. Randell
Mills of BlackLight Power Corporation, who has a radically different
theoretical approach and an apparently robust commercial activity.
See Mike Carrell's assessment of the new Mills scientific initiative:
"hydrino hydride compounds," page 36 - 39 of IE Issue No.
24. To be neutral on this issue, we'll float a trial balloon. How
about "Nu-chemistry?" It's certainly "new" (nu) and it certainly
has nuclear (nuc) aspects--as even Dr. Mills agrees.
The Nu-chemistry Revolution began inauspiciously on
March 23, 1989 at the University of Utah. Electrochemists Drs. Martin
Fleischmann and Stanley Pons had worked for five years and spent
some $100,000 of their own funds before they announced their findings.
We are very privileged to have in this issue an essay by Dr. Fleischmann,
which reveals some of the scientific thinking that led to the discovery
(pp.25-28 of IE Issue No. 24). Circumstances forced disclosure
at a press conference some eighteen months before the scientists
had wanted to publish.
Fleischmann and Pons claimed in 1989 that in a heavy
water electrochemical cell near room temperature they had produced
excess energy orders of magnitude beyond explanation by chemistry,
and that they had detected neutrons and tritium as well. These were
all signatures of nuclear reactions.
Unfortunately, they did not emphasize the difficulty
of producing the effects. At the time, because their hands were
tied by lawyers focused on patent issues and conflicts with nearby
BYU, they were not even able to provide at their news conference
a preprint of their forthcoming Journal of Electroanalytical
Chemistry paper. It was published April 10, 1989 but was circulating
via fax almost immediately. A great fuss has been made about this.
In retrospect the delay seems short. Tokamak results have often
been announced on the 7:00 o'clock news months before papers are
made available. Their neutron measurements were flawed, as they
later admitted. This was a failing, yet others would later confirm
in cold fusion experiments both low-level neutron radiation
as well as tritium evolution.
Most important to an understanding of the heated debate
of the past decade: The Fleischmann-Pons announcement threatened
an entrenched Federal research program. Billions of dollars had
been invested by the U.S. government in its decades- long "hot"
fusion program, which sought to emulate the thermonuclear conditions
in the cores of stars. Hot fusion had promised a distant era of
safe, clean, infinite energy from the hydrogen isotope deuterium,
which is abundant in water. These programs have resulted in useful
plasma physics research, but no net energy release--ever. Thermonuclear
bombs were far above "breakeven," but controlled thermonuclear fusion
reactors at Princeton and at MIT were not.
Fleischmann and Pons were saying that they had achieved
breakeven already, and, unlike hot fusion, there were no
deadly emissions. The claim of a chemically-assisted nuclear fusion
reaction with net energy release threatened to divert Congressional
funding from the hot fusion program. With private zeal, and later
public scorn, scientists supported by the hot fusion program--particularly
at MIT--sought errors in the Fleischmann-Pons work.
When the exact radiation signatures and end-products
of hot fusion reactions in a vacuum were not found in the Fleischmann-Pons
results or in quickly-done tests at other laboratories, scientists
at the MIT Plasma Fusion Center (PFC) yelled "possible fraud," "scam,"
and "scientific schlock." On May 1, 1989, the MIT PFC planted story
in the press unleashed a torrent of anti-scientific bigotry. It
did not occur to most scientists that a new class of nuclear reactions
might have been discovered. As Nobel Laureate Julian Schwinger would
say in a lecture at MIT in November 1991, "The circumstances of
cold fusion are not those of hot fusion" (see pg. 81 in IE
Issue No. 24). He was ignored.
The furor over cold fusion in the spring of 1989 prompted
President George Bush through Energy Secretary Admiral James Watkins
to convene a "Cold Fusion Panel" of the U.S. Department of Energy's
Energy Research Advisory Board (ERAB). Nobel Laureate Glenn Seaborg
had told President Bush in the Oval Office on April 14, 1989 that
the Utah discovery was "not fusion," thus poisoning the well and
precluding an honest investigation. One of the twenty-three ERAB
panelists had thought at the time: "Just by looking at Fleischmann
and Pons on television you could tell they were incompetent boobs."
(Prof. William Happer of Princeton, quoted by G. Taubes in Bad
Science.) So much for the theory of the "unbiased" ERAB panel,
which included Professor Mark Wrighton from MIT and the much less
involved and (in 1999) apparently "neutral" Prof. Mildred Dresselhaus
This panel, convened by the Department of Energy,
was assigned to assess reports from various laboratories and to
make recommendations to the U.S. government. Three major laboratories
submitted negative reports. These were MIT, Caltech, and Harwell
(England). The ERAB report was negative, and quickly so. A preliminary
negative conclusion came in July 1989 and the final report November
1, 1989, with the following consequences: 1) No special funding
by the U.S. government for further research; 2) Flat denial by the
U.S. Patent Office of any application mentioning cold fusion; 3)
Suppression of research on the phenomenon in government laboratories;
4) Citation of cold fusion as "pathological science" or "fraud"
in numerous books and articles critical of cold fusion in general,
and of Fleischmann and Pons in particular.
The 1989 reports of MIT, Caltech, and Harwell have
each been analyzed by other scientists and these analyses have been
published (see references, page 34 in IE Issue No. 24). Each
of the widely cited 1989 "null" experiments has been found to be
deeply flawed in experimental protocols, data evaluation, and presentation.
Each, in fact, contained some evidence of excess heat as claimed
by Fleischmann and Pons. There is evidence that the MIT data was
deliberately altered to erase an indication of excess heat. The
altered data was published officially by MIT, and it was included
in reports to a government agency under the official seal of MIT.
The experiment was paid for out of federal government funds. This
report had a dramatic impact on the perception of many scientists
It is ironic that each of these negative results were
themselves the product of the kind of low quality work of which
Fleischmann and Pons were accused. The difference was that the reports
said what the hot fusion community wanted to hear. This was the
legacy of the 1989 ERAB report, but that legacy must now be reversed--and
it will be, however long that takes.
Almost two years after they were concocted, Prof.
Ronald R. Parker of MIT's Plasma Fusion Laboratory publicly stated
that the MIT PFC cold fusion calorimetry data were "worthless" (June
7, 1991). In the same period (August 30, 1991) after I had challenged
this data, Parker stated that "MIT scientists stand by their conclusions."
Which is it?
The full story is given in detail in a "MIT and Cold
Fusion: A Special Report" in this issue. I was there and I saw what
went on--behavior far beneath what one would have expected from
MIT. In 1991 I resigned my job in protest, and later founded this
magazine. My 1991 book, Fire from Ice: Searching for the Truth
Behind the Cold Fusion Furor (John Wiley & Sons) did not tell
all that could have been told then. It took years to put it in proper
perspective. Now the story has much more significance because Fleischmann
and Pons have been vindicated--if not by the media and by the establishment,
certainly by mountains of high quality published results.
We shall see what the MIT authorities of 1999 will
do about the misrepresentations some of its staff made in 1989 and
in the years thereafter. MIT continues to receive large Federal
funding for its tokamak hot fusion project. In fact, as our Special
Report reveals, MIT President Charles M. Vest is on a Federal panel
that continues to recommend funding for tokamak fusion. The president
of an institution as influential as MIT should weigh issues of intellectual
integrity and conflict of interest very carefully. But past experience
with Charles Vest and cold fusion, documented here, does not inspire
The literature on the Fleischmann and Pons effect
is now voluminous--as most readers of Infinite Energy or
Fusion Technology (an American Nuclear Society publication)
know very well. It strongly suggests that what Fleischmann and Pons
discovered was but the tip of an iceberg of a much more widespread
phenomenon--"Nu-chemistry," if you wish. Selected papers are cited
in this issue as a starting point for those who need to study some
of the best hard evidence. These are not fantasies. This is solid
work, the kind of pioneering, exhaustive experimentation that could
have been done at places such as MIT, Caltech, and Harwell, but
The production of excess heat in the range of hundreds
of megajoules per mole of metal has been confirmed, as well as the
production of helium, tritium, and other elements. Power densities
of kilowatts per cubic centimeter of electrode have been achieved
by some researchers. The field of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions has
been established, if not yet widely recognized. Low energy neutron
or weak gamma radiation are seen in some experiments, but most produce
excess heat with no radiation or radioactive byproducts. Rapid remediation
of radioactive materials has been demonstrated. What a fantastic
opportunity for universities such as MIT to become involved!
The replication and commercial application of the
Fleischmann and Pons effect has been inhibited by a lack of understanding
of the exact nature of the reactions, which are not those known
to plasma physicists. There is a severe and widespread materials
and theory problem related to cathode materials that produce the
effect. Criteria are available to test cathode materials for potential
activity, but knowledge of how to produce such material at will
is not available.
Sad to say, solving the materials problem may be beyond
the financial resources of the scattered researchers who have worked
to validate the Fleischmann and Pons effect. Unfortunately, the
negative reports by key hot fusion laboratories to ERAB prevented
diversion of government funding from the failed hot fusion program
to the more promising field of cold fusion. The patent-crushing
ERAB report also became a severe deterrent to private investment
in the new energy field.
Ending where this began, we return to George Gamow's
musings of 1966, when I was a sophomore at MIT in aero/astro engineering.
Gamow thought that the next major physics revolution would be in
understanding the very existence of elementary particles. He wrote,
"There is hardly any doubt that when such a breakthrough is achieved,
it will involve concepts that will be as different from those of
today as today's concepts are different from those of classical
physics." He was both wrong and right. He could not have suspected
that the next physics revolution would begin not with high energy
particle physics but with fundamental electrochemistry--and that
it would end with the birth of modern alchemy. The revolution will
be the end of the world that we have known, this time for the better.