Martin Fleishmann
Hot fusion drives the star that powers the fragile biosphere we call Earth. Enormous heat and pressure cause the transmutation of hydrogen into helium, releasing a spectrum of radiation both beneficial and harmful. But is this the only way to create energy? Are there still little-understood processes that could produce fusion energy at room temperatures? That's what 'cold fusion' researchers around the world are quietly trying to determine.

Cold Fusion Lives! - Part 2

Navy scientists continue to search for elusive Fleishmann-Pons Effect.

By Bill

Thinking Out Side the Physic's Box
Orthodox physics has a hard time accepting Cold Fusion, or what the Navy research team of Gordon, Mosier-Boss and Szpak call the Fleishmann-Pons (F-P ) effect in honor of the two original discoverers. A major reason for this is because it doesn't neatly fit into our current theoretical model. Theory holds that nuclear fusion can only occur at extremely high temperature and pressure, which is why controlled fusion in a laboratory setting has been so difficult to achieve.

Now along come Martin Fleishmann and Stan Pons, both highly respected scientists prior to the original Cold Fusion media debacle in 1989, who contended that fusion could, in fact, happen at room temperature in a simple test tube full of heavy water in which is suspended a thin pair of palladium and platinum wires

Dr. Pam Mosier-Boss sees the problem this way. "There are all these wonderful theories, but they are meant to be guides," she stated. "In our minds, the experiment decides what's going on. We use the theories to guide us. She added that she's had arguments with friends who are physicists who point out how "elegant" current theory is. Mosier-Boss pointed out theory says proton decay should happen at a predictable rate, but it in fact doesn't. The rate of decay keeps getting longer and longer the more experiments are conducted. The implication is obvious: elegance doesn't mean the theory is right.

Dr. Frank Gordon added, "I don't think we have all the answers yet."

As if to underline this observation, last week researchers announced they had proved contrary to Einstein's theory of relativity, that the speed of light, thought to be 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, is not constant. It can slow down. This discovery, if verified, could have a profound impact on our understanding of matter and the universe.

The Navy team, who work at the SPAWAR research laboratory in San Diego, California, began looking at the F-P effect shortly after the original announcement. Initially, they received some funding from the Office of Naval Research. Once those funds were exhausted, they continued to investigate the phenomenon on their own.

"The experiments aren't all that expensive to conduct, if you don't count your own time," Dr. Gordon stated, obviously concerned about the perception that tax-payer money is being spent on a theoretical dead end. "We basically have been doing experiments on our own."

Cold Fusion Plating
Unlike the classic Fleishmann-Pons experiment that used palladium wire, Dr. Gordon's team uses an approach akin to electroplating metal to speed up the F-P effect and better measure the results. Gordon explained to EV World that instead of using deuterium-rich heavy water, they have substituted a solution of deuterium and palladium chloride. They then use either copper wire or a copper wire mesh as their electrode. When a small electrical current is run through the anode and cathode, the deuterium and palladium quickly begins to coat the negative electrode, resulting in the higher deuterium/palladium concentrations necessary to see the F-P effect.

"We plate the palladium on to wire mesh and in the process of plating it. It's being plated at the same time the deuterium is evolving. So we generate the alpha and beta phase as the thickness of the plating is growing."

But Can It Be Measured?
One of the historic issues with the F-P effect is sporadic nature of validating scientific measurement. Various approaches have resulted in conflicting claims. What Dr. Gordon's team did to prove the effect was, in fact, working was to measure the temperature of both the solution and the negative electrode. Consistently, said Gordon, the temperature of the electrode was one to two degrees centigrade warmer than the surrounding solution. "Since then, we have also done IR (infrared) measurements when we designed the cell and we can look at the electrode with an IR camera and again verify that the heat source is coming from the electrode," Dr. Mosier-Boss interjected that this also demonstrates that the heat is not "Ohmic" heating.

Besides measuring caloric heat from their experiments, the team said they have also seen evidence of both x rays and tritium being created.

As might be expected, the reception to the team's latest paper has been mixed. Dr. Gordon said he's heard from people he wasn't aware were exploring the phenomenon who have also seen similar results, as well as coming under criticism on various chat groups on the Internet. These critics have lambasted the team for doing the experiments, but not challenged them on the merits of the experiments or their findings.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the claims of Cold Fusion is the transmutation of elements. The team say they have seen evidence of this in their experiments, as have others. Gordon noted that after the experiment has run for some time, researchers claim to have found trace elements of gold, for example, in the palladium lattice. He sees this as an indication that what is happening at the atomic level is not a chemical reaction, but a nuclear one.

Any Regrets?
While research into Cold Fusion can short circuit a promising career, and has for some, the trio at the Navy lab in San Diego said they have been able to remain above the fray.

Assuming the phenomenon is real, what are its practical applications?

Dr. Szpak sees two possible uses: low-grade heat production high enough to boil water and possibly the conversion of nuclear waste to something more benign, assuming the transmutation effect can be better understood.

But that understanding appears to be sometime off. Dr. Mosier-Boss noted that we simply don't understand the process well enough to know what we can do with it, if anything. She said there have been reported incidences of a runaway heat reaction that not only boiled the heavy water but also melted the palladium wire. The trouble is, no one know why or how to replicate it and thereby control it.

But that's the rub, as they say. Despite hundreds of scientists best efforts over more than a decade, we seem only slightly closer to understanding the F-P effect than when Drs Fleishmann and Pons made their original announcement in 1989. For some, the dream of cold fusion is as elusive as the hunt for practical hot fusion. No one on the team was willing to hazard a guess as to when we would be able to come up with a workable, verifiable theory of cold fusion.

Dr. Gordon likened the process to early efforts to build a working transistor. It wasn't until science understood the underlying physics and processes like doping that industry could begin to turn out devices that would revolutionize our world.

Only time will tell whether the persistence and faith of people like Drs, Gordon, Mosier-Boss and Szpak will be rewarded with devices as practical as the transistor. Many people from Martin Fleishmann to researchers in Japan and Italy continue to doggedly pursue the dream of a source of energy that might someday help transform the world of the 21st century the way the transistor did the 20th.

For their part the team in San Diego continue to conduct their experiments. They started a new one the day we conducted our interview. There is something about this phenomenon that holds a strange fascination, one that could change the way we not only produce energy but how we see the world around us.

Times Article Viewed: 7866
Published: 12-Aug-2002


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