At 21, Cold Fusion Is Still in Its Infancy
Published in IE Issue #90, March 2010.
by Scott Chubb
The 21st anniversary of the initial cold fusion announcement by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons is March 23. Although in the course of a lifetime 21 years is sufficient for many things to mature in a recognizable and pleasing way, in the case of cold fusion this really hasn’t been true. Although considerable progress has been made in the field in terms of the wider context of conventional science, at 21 cold fusion is still in its infancy. And even to achieve its current level of maturity, the field has been the subject of such outrageous harassment and ridicule that the very idea of viewing it as being in its “infancy” actually is a positive step, since this suggests that further growth in the field will take place.
There are a number of reasons for the controversial nature of the subject and the fact that the field has not been more widely accepted. Some of these are obvious. Some are not so obvious. As this year’s anniversary approaches, it seems appropriate to look at these. It also seems appropriate to look at some of the positive aspects of the field and its most promising areas of research.
Like it or not, in the context of conventional science, an important reason that cold fusion has not been more widely accepted involves the sources of funding that are used in conventional science. Although the funding situation is beginning to change, financial support of cold fusion research by the U.S. government has not occurred, with the possible exception of a limited number of cases. Government is the primary source of funding for most long-term research.
All of this could change, of course, if a tangible device, possessing real market value, were to come to the forefront. An important problem that has impeded this from taking place is the complexity of the associated effects (this is related to the more general problem of non-acceptance of the field by mainstream scientists). In particular, chemical, materials science and nuclear phenomena all seem to be involved, and the effects, partly for this reason, are difficult to reproduce, much less sustain. In order to make and market a working device, at the very least it is essential that the associated effects be sustainable and controllable, on-demand. A good case can be made that until (or unless) further research is conducted, it will be impossible for a working device to be developed.
Given the controversial history of the field, it is also plausible that the most likely source of continued support for the field should involve the government, primarily because it remains difficult in the private sector to justify the kind of long-term investment that past history has demonstrated appears to be necessary. However, there is always a possibility that a breakthrough will take place, leading to new, unforeseen consequences. And for this reason alone, private investment not only will continue but is essential. Already, the efforts that have been sponsored through various for-profit and non-profit organizations have led to significant breakthroughs, most notably by Energetics Technology, SRI, and Mitsubishi.
Issues related to sustainability and repeatability have plagued the field, and these issues have undermined continued support of research. However, in many other areas of science, these kinds of issues have not impeded research. In the case of cold fusion, additional political factors have plagued the field which undermine the ability of researchers to obtain funding. A primary reason for this is the failure by mainstream scientific journals to publish material about cold fusion research.
In 1996, I was asked by Professor Adil Shamoo (University of Maryland Medical School), editor of the Taylor & Francis ethics in science journal Accountability in Research (http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/titles/08989621.html), to serve as a guest editor of a special issue dealing with why this breakdown in communication had taken place. In 2000, the two-edition issue of Accountability in Research (Vol. 8, Issues 1 & 2) was published; it documents the findings of the resulting study. (Copies of the articles from this collection are available at www.lenr-canr.org.) I asked a number of editors, scientists and scientific program managers, all of whom had been involved with the field, to address questions related to why there was so little information about the subject in mainstream scientific publications and other sources of scientific discourse. I explicitly asked each participant to address this question objectively by avoiding personal biases associated with whether or not cold fusion claims (which were the source of considerable controversy at the time) were valid.
An important finding of this study is that on May 1, 1989, during an unruly, largely unscientific gathering of members of the American Physical Society (APS), a general consensus was reached by mainstream physicists that the work by Fleischmann and Pons was not credible, in spite of the fact that no refereed publication documenting either their work or work involving claims by Steven Jones and his colleagues at Brigham Young University had been published. Tragically, during this late-night, May 1 gathering, in the words of Accountability in Research contributor David Goodstein: “Steven Koonin and Nathan Lewis, speaking for himself and Charles Barnes, all three from Caltech, executed between them a perfect slam-dunk that cast cold fusion right out of the arena of mainstream science.” (http://www.lenr-canr.org/acrobat/GoodsteinDwhateverha.pdf) This must now be viewed as a debacle, since the situation has not changed.
A second important finding from the study, identified by David Nagel, is the breakdown in accountability that ensued (http://www.lenr-canr.org/acrobat/NagelDJfusionphys.pdf). In mainstream science, progress in research requires funding, and how mainstream science progresses also involves funding. Nagel points out in his article that the funding process requires a degree of trust in the accountability process. For scientific research to be funded, the individuals who receive the funding must be trusted; this requires that the individuals who receive funding provide something tangible in exchange, while the funders are required to believe that what is exchanged has tangible value. Implicitly, trust is required both by the individuals who receive the funding and by the individuals who give it. And for the process to work, both parties must be held accountable for what is exchanged. Thus, as referenced in the title of the publication, in real life for mainstream science to proceed, accountability is absolutely necessary.
In mainstream science, the accountability process occurs through scientific disclosure—either through publications, scientific presentations, patents, or comparable venues. Individuals (editors of scientific journals, organizers of scientific meetings, and so forth) who are responsible for the dissemination of scientific information are also required to be held accountable for what is presented. Here again, a degree of trust is necessary: rules about disclosure (including, when required, timely publication of summaries of talks) are supposed to be followed. (As discussed below, in the case of the May 1 APS session, this did not take place.)
In the case of cold fusion, there was a further complication: the mainstream press/media and other unconventional forms of scientific discourse (including the widespread distribution of the initial Fleischmann-Pons and Jones papers via fax machines) undermined the associated accountability process. In particular, David Lindley, who served as the primary contact for Fleischmann-Pons and Jones at Nature magazine, told me during an informal interview that it was virtually impossible to obtain an objective appraisal of the work by Fleischmann-Pons. For this reason, Nature refused to publish their work. The review process, a mainstay in mainstream publishing, implicitly involves trust. Results that are submitted for publication during the review process are not supposed to be disclosed, except in a proprietary fashion. Because of the frenzy that occurred at the time of the initial announcements in 1989, the confidentiality that was supposed to be applied was not followed by Fleischmann-Pons, Jones or the scientific community.
A key point is that beginning on May 1, 1989, during the late-night APS session, falsehoods about the credibility of what Fleischmann-Pons presented have been allowed to fester and poison the dialogue (or lack of dialogue) by mainstream scientists. This failure has undermined the necessary trust that is implicit in the requirements of accountability. The APS is expected to be accountable by following particular guidelines and forums for scientific discourse, yet this process was not followed during the May 1, 1989 session. Further complicating the situation is that historically, no one in a senior level position at the APS seems to have recognized this failure. Hence, the APS has not been held accountable for what transpired in 1989.
At the May 1, 1989 APS meeting, seemingly trivial breaches of scientific protocol (such as formal presentations by individuals without accompanying published documentation) were allowed to take place. As a result, a raucous, bizarre, unhealthy atmosphere evolved in which cold fusion was viewed as being a pathological form of science by the vast majority of mainstream scientists. It is also certainly true that Nate Lewis, Charles Barnes, and Steven Koonin were very wrong in how they portrayed the relevant science, and each of these scientists should be held accountable for this. Even minor changes correcting their seriously flawed public pronouncements about what appears to have been taking place in the cold fusion experiments could, in principle, help to re-kindle a much-needed, healthy debate about the subject.
Because false impressions were conveyed as a result of the consensus by mainstream physicists that the Fleischmann-Pons claims were patently absurd, the requisite forms of trust that are necessary in the accountability process were destroyed, and individuals who were responsible for funding research (even risky research) became hesitant about awarding funds to cold fusion researchers. Clearly, at all levels, a degree of accountability in these decisions (including the mainstream scientific community) and in the dissemination of information about cold fusion could make a difference, and it is time for this to take place.
Members of the media and press acted quite irresponsibly in their initial coverage of cold fusion and have continued on this same path for the most part. A degree of accountability by all who were involved could make a difference in helping to move the science (and the funding of it) forward.
Nagel points out that the process of accountability is multi-faceted: 1) Individuals involved with funding pay attention to scientific discourse and base their funding decisions on what is presented; 2) The press and media also pay attention to what is funded and to scientific discourse; 3) Scientific discourse results from the process in which scientists present what they believe to be true, based on their implicit desire to seek the truth. Nagel further emphasizes that when information associated with one of these three facets of the accountability process is distorted, the disclosure process can become corrupted and, in the case of cold fusion, all three of these features of the accountability process were distorted.
As I said, cold fusion is in its infancy. Despite the acrimonious debate (and, sometimes, lack thereof) about the reality of cold fusion in mainstream science, progress is being made. Part of the reason for this is that individuals have been attempting to bring information about the field to mainstream scientists. George Miley did this as editor of Fusion Technology, by publishing a large number of articles about cold fusion. For many years, Fusion Technology was the only scientific journal that regularly published refereed articles about cold fusion. Between 1998 and 2009, I organized sessions at APS meetings about cold fusion. More recently, since 2007, Jan Marwan and Steven Krivit have organized sessions at American Chemical Society (ACS) meetings and published refereed proceedings documenting the associated research. (The latest session organized by Jan Marwan is taking place at the ACS meeting in San Francisco at the end of March.) Possibly the most important advances in disseminating information to mainstream scientists about the field has been the development of electronically accessible venues, including the refereed Journal of Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (http://www.iscmns.org/CMNS/publications.htm) published by the International Society of Condensed Matter Nuclear Science (http://www.iscmns.org) and the electronic archive of papers maintained by Jed Rothwell and Ed Storms (http://www.lenr-canr.org).
Clearly, the most important reason why research in cold fusion has not only continued but expanded is that scientific progress is being made. With this in mind, it is useful to highlight some of the most promising advances that have occurred in cold fusion and the related fields of low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) and condensed matter nuclear science (CMNS), and to provide suggestions for future research in these areas.
Probably the most significant experimental results that followed the initial Fleischmann-Pons experiments involved the identification in 1991 of the importance of loading in the production of excess heat by McKubre and co-workers from SRI and the correlation between excess heat and the appearance of helium-4 outside heat-producing electrodes by Benjamin Bush, Melvin Miles and collaborators, and Miles et al. (Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division) in electrolytic experiments. These results were significant because they established a causal link between excess heat and external, observable effects (loading in the McKubre et al. work, and the appearance of helium-4 outside heat-producing electrodes in the Bush et al. and Miles et al. experiments) that had not been established previously. Equally important results were obtained in experiments by Y. Arata and Y.-C. Zhang (Osaka University) in 1996 and subsequently in 2005, in which smaller crystals were shown to effectively produce heat and helium-4, first in electrolytic experiments and later in gas-loading experiments. These four sets of experiments (described in papers at www.lenr-canr.org and, in the case of the electrolytic experiments, in the Hagelstein et al. review at http://www.lenr-canr.org/acrobat/ Hagelsteinnewphysica.pdf) are responsible for some of the most important experiments that have occurred during the last 21 years.
Also of importance are results that employ alternative forms of loading. In particular, Stanislaw Szpak, Pamela Mosier-Boss and Frank Gordon have developed a technique in which Pd and D are simultaneously deposited onto a substrate. The most important aspects of these experiments are that they have complete (100%) reproducibility (as do the procedures developed by Arata and Zhang), that they provide evidence of cold fusion phenomena without requiring the longer incubation times that are necessary when more conventional electrolysis is used, and they provide significant evidence for emissions of higher energy particles (including neutrons) and forms of radiation. More recently, Irving Dardik and his colleagues (Energetics Technology) have developed a procedure that loads a conventional Pd electrode but uses a highly non-linear wave-form (referred to as a SuperWave) to accomplish this. Extremely large power gains (ratios of 26 times as much output power as input power) have been created using this procedure.
Mitchell Swartz makes use of conventional loading in most of his experiments but uses a highly resistive (high impedance) electrolyte involving large concentrations of nearly pure heavy water (without the conductive salts that are used in more conventional Fleischmann-Pons-like forms of electrolysis). His work is quite significant because he has developed procedures for identifying loading conditions through the functional relationship between output power and input power, as loading (or other parameters) are varied, which allows him to reproduce excess heat; he has an additional procedure (which he refers to as dual ohmic heating) in which he connects two separate calorimeters in series with each other. By systematically studying the associated response of the entire system using this alternative procedure, Swartz has been able to initiate and control the phenomenon referred to as “heat after death,” in which excess heat is observed in the absence of applied electrolysis. Also, as in the procedures developed by Arata-Zhang and Szpak-Mosier-Boss-Gordon, through his procedure Swartz can create excess heat on-demand.
More recently, as the field of LENR has developed, significant evidence has been accumulating of the appearance of new elements that appear to be created through transmutation processes. Potentially the most significant occurred in a set of experiments by Iwamura et al. (Mitsubishi) involving the possible transmutations of 133Cs into 141Pr and 88Sr into 96Mo, in which, effectively, four d’s (four protons and four neutrons) apparently are fused to a substrate nucleus during gas-loading experiments.
The list of important experiments I have summarized here is certainly incomplete. I cited these in particular because they either have had or promise to have a lasting impact on the field. More complete summaries of the most recent developments in the field are available in the summaries of ICCF15 (by Nagel) and ICCF14 (by me) in IE #88 and #81. One important lesson that has resulted from 21 years of research is the complexity of the associated phenomena. Funding and further work are needed throughout the field. A useful model for a national program of research is outlined by Nagel in IE #69. [These three IE articles are available on our website.] Nagel points out that many areas not envisioned in the initial Fleischmann-Pons work now exist, and research should be carried out in each of them. He notes, “These include gaseous, plasma, and beam means of loading materials with hydrogen isotopes, in addition to electrochemical processes. The materials should include nanometer and micrometer sized particles, in addition to thin films and bulk geometries.” In what follows, I am going to suggest some specific avenues for research that in my opinion would be very useful. I am not meaning to suggest that research in all of the areas that Nagel mentions is not useful and important, merely that certain specific directions for particular research efforts might be extremely valuable.
In particular, two important lessons that have resulted from the last 21 years of research involve the roles of materials and loading. More recent advances, initiated by Arata and Zhang, have revealed that the most reproducible procedures for creating helium-4 and heat seem to occur when deuterium is gas-loaded into nanometer-scale Pd crystals, or nanometer-scale Pd crystals embedded in a suitable surrounding matrix (involving ZrO2, for example, as in their work). The associated experiments are very appealing for two important reasons: 1) The calorimetry (which involves measurements of temperature, pressure and volume) is considerably simpler in gas-loading experiments than when electrolysis is used; 2) The associated environments are potentially significantly more amenable for applications because of the elevated temperatures (relative to situations involving electrolysis) that gases can be subjected to and remain stable. From a theoretical point of view, modeling the associated environment using concrete computational techniques may become a reality in the near future.
A further attractive aspect of research along these lines (or involving nanometer size materials, under more general loading conditions) is that potential device applications derived from this line of research could be more adaptable to new environments and attractive for marketing purposes. In particular, it is quite plausible that assuming a practical space heater (or other device) is developed in a nanometer-scale environment, in principle, the resulting device could be completely new and novel. For this reason, it might not pose a threat to existing technologies, but simply replace them, similar to the way digital cameras have replaced virtually all conventional cameras.
These factors suggest that future cold fusion research efforts would be well-spent in understanding these kinds of nanometer-size gas loading experiments. Because of the apparent success of the SuperWave technology, it is clear that its application in the existing environments where it is used and in new areas potentially could be extremely advantageous. It may be useful to explore SuperWave pulsing procedures at current (or with elevated) temperatures, involving variations in gas pressure in gas-loading experiments as well, as a means of increasing output power and energy as a function of input power and energy.
A second avenue for future research involves further quantifying a key experimental result: that d+d4He+23.8 MeV is the dominant heat-producing reaction. The most precise experiment that documents this finding involved a recycling procedure in which helium-4 that had been trapped inside heat-producing experiments is released into the atmosphere. This experiment, which was named “M4” by the SRI group who conducted it, was performed in 1994. “M4” should either be repeated or more precise measurements should be performed, using other systems potentially involving recycling techniques, to test its conclusions. From a theoretical point of view, research related to this particular question is much-needed because a degree of confusion and uncertainty exists among theorists about the importance of this particular reaction in the heat-producing experiments.
I have two additional suggestions for further research. These involve exploring: 1) The science associated with considerably colder cold fusion experiments, similar to the experiments that Francesco Scaramuzzi reported at ICCF15; 2) The potential role of crystal size and periodic order on cold fusion and LENR phenomena. In particular, beginning with a presentation I gave at ICCF5, I have been suggesting that the potential role of cooperative effects (similar to the effects that occur when water freezes or a metal becomes superconducting), in which many particles begin to “cooperate” (“act together”) with each other at once, that are known to occur in low temperature environments might lead to useful ways of understanding cold fusion phenomena. Lower temperature environments have two additional positive aspects: 1) High-loading is easier to achieve (it has been achieved routinely in PdD in studies of superconductivity); and, as a consequence, 2) Precision temperature and heat measurements are possible. The possibility that periodic order and crystal size might be important in cold fusion-related phenomena has been at the heart of the ion band state theory (discussed in my oral history interview, p. 21) that has formed the basis of some remarkable predictions Talbot Chubb and I formulated at the beginning of the cold fusion controversy. It would be nice to quantify the limitations of this theory and to test some of my more recent predictions, based on this theory, involving triggering excess heat in nanometer- and micron-size crystals.
To say that cold fusion is in its infancy is not meant to devalue the important work which has already taken place. All science takes many years and it is reasonable to believe that all science should be and is constantly evolving. Thus, the progress of cold fusion may seem slow, but in the context of scientific revolutions this field is still in the early stages and seems to be evolving to a more understood and better-accepted phase. With wider acceptance of the field as true science, hopefully funding will increase and research efforts will broaden and improve.