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SCC San Diego cold fusion researchers, Boss,Gordon,Szpak
US Navy research team who see promise in what they call the Fleishmann-Pons effect. Doctors Pam Mosier-Boss (left), Frank Gordon, Stanislaw Szpak.

Cold Fusion Lives!

Interview with authors of February 2002 research report on 'cold fusion'.

By Bill Moore

In 1989, two Utah researchers announced to the scientific world that they had discovered a heretofore-unknown energy process that generated excess heat and nuclear waste byproducts at room temperature. This was picked up by the mass media and prematurely, it turns out, heralded as an important breakthrough that would ultimately lead to cheap, safe energy production.

Stanley Szpak, now officially retired but still actively engaged in the search to better understand the process that the media dubbed "cold fusion", knew Martin Fleishmann as a highly respected scientist and innovative experimenter.

"There was no doubt in my mind, at least, that [the Fleishmann-Pons effect] couldn't be a hoax," he told EV World. "That [it] was the real thing."

But if it was, as Dr. Szpak, contends "the real thing" then why did it ultimately meet with skepticism so intense that both Stanley Pons and Martin Fleishmann were forced to leave the United States to pursue their research elsewhere?

According to Szpak there were two reasons.

"That was the first conference announcement in which they couldn't get into any detail, so not everything was disclosed. And second, it was a rush by the people which first of all had no business to start research in that direction."

Dr. Frank Gordon, who headed the efforts at the Navy's Space and Naval Systems Warfare Center (SSC San Diego), noted that Fleishmann and Pons' discovery fell into disrepute because other scientists had difficulty repeating their findings. Repeatability is not only the key to verifying a theory, but also to commercializing it.

"Through a combination of not understanding the experiment, the fact that it would take a couple of weeks to begin to see any results, and just the overall difficulty, they weren't able to repeat them and they quickly lost interest," Gordon explained.

It turns out that the key to the illusive repeatability of the Fleishmann-Pons (F-P) effect is very dependent on the quality of the materials used in the experiment, as Dr. Mosier-Boss pointed out. She contends that many of the earlier experimenters used whatever they had at hand, including palladium rods that had been in the lab for "god knows how long."

"They didn't know anything about the metallurgy. . . And since then they have found out that the metallurgy, purity and so forth, [and] how those electrodes are treated has a great impact on how they work."

Both Mosier-Boss and Szpak hold PhDs in electro-chemistry and have spent much of their time at the San Diego naval research lab investigating high energy batteries to power torpedoes. According to Dr. Gordon, their supervisor, both have published extensively in scientific journals.

"The fact that they knew Fleishmann and Pons and thought that this was something we should look into, they didn't have to convince me that they were the right people to look into it.

No One Exactly Sure What's Going On
Gordon and his team began investigating the F-P effect in 1991 after the first international conference on the subject. Like many other researchers who were quietly continuing to experiment and theorize, they wanted to understand what was going on at the nuclear level.

Much of the confusion associated with the F-P effect is its association with nuclear energy and 'hot' fusion. In 'hot' fusion, current theory holds that intense heat and pressure, like that at the sun's core, forces hydrogen atoms together into heavier helium atoms generating awesome amounts of energy.

The possibility that a process akin to this could happen at room temperature on earth raised the eyebrows of the collective scientific community. The problem was - - and continues to be - - the fact that no one has yet been able to come up with a theory that sufficiently accounts for what is actually going on at the atomic level.

Mosier-Boss explained that while researchers think they know, up to a point, what is causing their experiments to generate excess, heat beyond that, "Lord knows what's going on," she said.

How the Experiment Works
Essentially, what appears to be happening in the test tube is this.

When a small negative electrical potential is applied to a thin wire of palladium immersed in a solution of "heavy water" and lithium oxide, the deuterium atoms slowly begin to bond in the surface lattice of the palladium. A platinum wire is used for the positive anode.

As the experiment continues to run, the concentration of deuterium in the palladium lattice continues to increase through various levels described as "alpha" to "beta" and possibly "gamma." Alpha level is a very weak concentration at 10 percent deuterium/palladium (D/P) ratio. Beta occurs at 60 percent D/P loading. There is some controversy over when or if the gamma level occurs, however. It is at concentrations above 60 percent that the F-P effect begins to manifest itself.

What Gordon, Mosier-Boss and Szpak believe happens next is the deuterium starts to be converted to helium 4 and in the process enthalpy or the production of excess heat begins. They say they have also seen tritium created, yet another byproduct of the nuclear decay process.

The length of time it takes for the process to commence depends on not only the quality of the materials researchers use, but also "how lucky you are," Szpak noted. Dr. Gordon observed that the thicker the palladium wire, the longer it takes for the required concentration of deuterium to build to a sufficient level for the reaction to take place.

In the binding or "fusion" process, detectable amounts of thermal and nuclear energy including x-rays and gamma rays are generated and possibly even the "transmutation" of elements.

"How the nuclear process occurs, I don't think we are aware of today," Dr. Szpak added. "I don't think there is one theory that covers all the phenomenon that people see; not only the excess heat, the transmutation and the other things."

Dr. Mosier-Boss indicated that all kinds of theories and names have been suggested for the P-F effect, including "fractal fusion." Dr. Szpak enumerated the most recent list monikers: low energy nuclear reaction, chemically-assisted nuclear reaction, neutron catalyzed fusion, electron-induced nuclear reaction. Each is not only an attempt to better describe the process and stake a historic claim to a favorite theory but also to remove the stigma associated with "cold fusion."

Dr. Gordon commented, "The term 'cold fusion' seems to be a lightning rod so we, in our papers, have tended away from that." The SSC San Diego researchers and their colleagues prefer to call it the Fleishmann-Pons effect.

The team's two volume report is available in PDF format from SCC San Diego web site:

The State of Research
Given the assumed ill-repute of "cold fusion" research, most of what is being done to better understand the process is being carried out quietly in dozens of research institutions around the world. According to Dr. Gordon, Fleishmann himself believes there are some 800 individuals investigating the phenomenon, though how accurate this number is remains uncertain simply because those involved want to keep a low profile.

There are, however, enough people interested in it for them to gather periodically at international conferences, the ninth of which was just held in China. Gordon said several hundred people attended.

"I think one of the reasons why [research] is still done somewhat quietly is because, at this point, as soon as you say something positive about cold fusion you bring all sorts of skepticism on to yourself. So, it's just easier to be quiet until you're sure that what you have is something they can't question," he stated.

Skeptical Science
Cold fusion researchers aren't the only scientists who have had to deal with establishment skeptics, Gordon explained when asked why science isn't more open to new ideas like this.

He pointed to the works of a European graduate student in the mid-1600s who postulated that the speed of light wasn't infinite as Galileo contended, but could be measure based on the time it took light from Jupiter's moons to reach the earth. It turns out he was right but it took decades before the scientific establishment of the time accepted it.

"You can find examples throughout history," he said. "It is not that unusual."

To Part 2

Times Article Viewed: 9065
Published: 03-Aug-2002

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