The Science of Low Energy Nuclear Reaction: A Comprehensive
Compilation of Evidence and Explanations About Cold Fusion by Edmund Storms
Review by Scott Chubb
It is Christmas Eve. And what a gift it has been to me to read Edmund Storms’ new book, The Science of Low Energy Nuclear Reaction: A Comprehensive Compilation of Evidence and Explanations about Cold Fusion, and to be given the opportunity to review it for Infinite Energy. It is both a pleasure and a privilege to recommend this book. Not only does it provide important, historic information about an incredibly important, new area of science, but it does this in a way that provides an important context for understanding the remarkably complicated set of circumstances that has led to such confusion about the area. In particular, when “cold fusion” burst onto the scene in 1989, very little was understood about the relevant experiments, and incredible confusion resulted as a consequence. Edmund Storms provides a scholarly, well-thought-out exposition that explains both the context and the confusion about it, and the relevant science. In doing this, he has performed an invaluable service not only by providing a very real, human perspective about the associated events but by explaining many of the more subtle points that have not been obvious, even to experts of the field.
This book provides a remarkable story about a remarkable period in science. As Michael McKubre notes in the first Foreword, the book “is a well-written, easily readable account of the birth and early childhood of a field whose limits and applications have not yet been revealed.” The book also provides an important perspective associated with the events and science that many in the field share, involving an open-mindedness and dedication that has been missing in most discussions of the subject by individuals who are not familiar with the relevant science.
Pons and Fleischmann (PF) claimed that they had achieved release of nuclear fusion energy by using the electrolysis of heavy water to deposit deuterium onto a palladium metal cathode. These claims would have been ignored if PF had not been recognized authorities. Fleischmann was a Fellow of the Royal Society in England and Pons was the chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Utah. Both had extensive publications. When PF announced their discovery of cold fusion, Ed Storms was working as a material scientist in a space nuclear propulsion program at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Plans for duplicating the PF experiments began the next day, and Ed joined the effort shortly after the initial work began. His book starts with those formative days of cold fusion. He writes with the authenticity that only an active participant can provide. The book, clearly, provides a seminal recounting of past events and, for this reason, is destined to become a primary source of information for future historians.
The first weeks following the March 23 announcement were a period of intense excitement throughout the chemistry and physics worlds. Though almost nobody really thought that nuclear reactions could be carried out using normal chemistry, the claims had to be checked. This looked deceptively simple to do. Rapid testing followed. But there were only a few apparent successes, and most attempts failed. A tide of ridicule followed. As Storms tells the story, a climax occurred at the May 1, 1989 meeting of the American Physical Society, in Baltimore. “Major damage was done to the field by the hubris and misdirected self-confidence of a few people. Thus, a myth was created that even today continues to have a negative impact.” For one thing, a proper repeat of the PF tests takes far more time than had passed since the announcement. A stranglehold of inappropriate theory, based largely on the false assumption that cold fusion had to be a form of hot fusion, evolved, in which implicitly it was assumed that neutrons and high energy particles had to be released. The book provides an invaluable description of these early events that both explains the associated controversy and provides a human perspective associated with what took place.
Ed’s laboratory studies on cold fusion began almost immediately after the announcement. Storms joined a new laboratory test program. Working with Carol Talcott, he and she ran more than 250 electrolysis experiments, in which their primary goal was to detect tritium. Tritium was an expected product of any then-known fusion reaction. Most of the runs showed no tritium, but a few showed larger amounts than could be explained as contamination. When reaction tritium was found, it was found in the electrolyte and was not present in gas that is liberated by electrolysis. Roughly 50 years earlier, Farkas had shown that the gas in bubbles formed on palladium during electrolysis originates in microcracks, which receive interior deuterium. Therefore, tritium entering the water by reversible chemistry had to come from reactions occurring on or near the metal surface. Ed and Carol published their results in 1990. The studies convinced Ed that something nuclear sometimes occurred. Ed’s work with Carol had an additional impact: They decided to get married, and Ed began a new career as a continuing researcher in a developing, international cold fusion program. Ed and Carol built a unique and beautiful home, not far from the Sante Fe Institute, and a very enviable home laboratory where Ed continues to conduct his research experiments.
Ed’s home lab studies have reinforced his conclusion that long electrolysis onto bulk metal can produce a nuclear active environment on or near the surface of his metal cathodes. This location has the desirable effect that he now sometimes uses a layer of test metal plated on a substrate instead of a bulk, pure metal in his electrochemical tests. In one run described in the book, he used palladium (Pd) deposited on platinum (Pt). The run produced excess heat. A post-run surface analysis showed Pd, Pt, and some oxygen, along with iron and copper impurities. He thinks near surface LiPd alloys may play a role. Since bulk Pd is expensive, the ability to use plated surfaces potentially can be useful for reducing costs, which can be especially important for home research efforts where limited funding is available.
The book’s role as a compilation of evidence and explanations is an extension of Ed’s long-standing role as a scientific reviewer of the field. He published a major review summary in 1991. This compilation of results has continued to grow. He and Jed Rothwell created an Internet-accessible library (at www.lenr-canr.org), from which LENR research papers can be downloaded without charge. There have been more than 640,000 downloads from a selection of more than 500 full-text, technical papers. They have also maintained and improved their library over the years.
Ed discusses a number of theoretical ideas that have been suggested for explaining cold fusion and other low energy nuclear reactions. The one weakness, in his treatment of this, involves his failure to distinguish between “theories” that implicitly build on known ideas associated with conventional physics and chemistry, from those that require new physics. In particular, a number of theories based on the quantum electrodynamics (QED) associated with deuterium (D) interacting with a Pd lattice have been proposed, by myself, Giuliano Preparata, Peter Hagelstein, Julian Schwinger, and Yeong Kim. Implicitly, these theories make use of resonant forms of coherence that can explain how nuclear reactions can take place without high energy particles. Ed does not seem to appreciate the importance of these ideas and the subtle differences between these kinds of theories and other, less precise theoretical ideas. He also does not seem to realize that even in the known deuteron (d) +dhelium-4 reaction, the conventional Coulomb barrier that applies in hot fusion has to be replaced by a more sophisticated (QED) picture, in which as opposed to a single, static barrier, time- and spatially-dependent effects have to be included.
Ed favors a “hydrino” theory, which violates some of the well-established rules of the quantum physics that underpins the twenty-first century world. He also appears to favor a picture that involves a special environment (a nuclearly active environment—NAE). On the one hand, this kind of picture has potential value because it suggests that only a small fraction of a particular sample of Pd (or other material) may be involved with an LENR process. On the other hand, by overly emphasizing an “environment,” this kind of picture potentially can fail to include dynamical effects (for example, through coherent, resonant forms of interaction) that may be extremely important. An interesting point is that Talbot Chubb and I suggested many years ago that d+dhelium-4 reactions involving Pd could be triggered when compounds of the form, PdD1±d, are allowed to evolve, in situations in which ||<10-3. In fact, this kind of picture is consistent with the idea that the nuclear active environment involves a small fraction (||<10-3) of the total number of deuterium atoms and the idea that this becomes possible when deuterons occupy ion band states.
I would like to thank Talbot Chubb for providing a preliminary draft of a potential review. This material helped me to organize my thoughts while I was preparing this review.