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U.S. Dept. of Energy Takes A New Look At Cold Fusion 554

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the it's-all-sci-fi-to-me dept.
lhouk281 writes "Technology Review is reporting that the U.S. Department of Energy has decided that recent results justify a fresh look at cold fusion. According to Peter Hagelstein, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, experiments performed under properly controlled conditions reliably produce more heat than standard theory predicts, and nuclear products show up in about the right amounts to account for this excess heat. Maybe we'll get those atomic-powered automobiles after all ..."
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U.S. Dept. of Energy Takes A New Look At Cold Fusion

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:32AM (#8984539)
    the same crackpots who brought you an Earth that orbits the Sun, an Earth that isn't flat, blackholes, gravity waves, etc turns out to be right about "cold" fusion - say it ain't so...
    • Re:OMFG, what if (Score:5, Insightful)

      by deglr6328 (150198) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @11:53AM (#8985668)
      Yeah! And what if the same crackpots who brought you homeopathy, a flat earth, creationism, phlogiston theory [infoplease.com], alchemy and vitalism [wikipedia.org] turn out to be right about the existance of magical dragons?-say it ain't so!!

      To think that mere crackpottery is indicitive of actual evidence is a laughable lapse of judgement.

      They also laughed at Bozo the clown, to paraphrase Carl Sagan.
    • by Jonny Ringo (444580) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @12:12PM (#8985937)
      I think they are trying for to much, they need to take baby steps and be realistic.

      Start with luke-warm fusion.
      • Re:OMFG, what if (Score:3, Informative)

        by Dyolf Knip (165446)
        Actually, we can do _really_ cold fusion already, at around 3 K. You can use muons (sort of a very heavy electron) as a fusion catalyst and get fusion going. Problem is, muons are consumed in the process (even if they didn't decay in microseconds) and it takes about 5 times as much energy to produce them as you get from the reaction.
  • Surely Heat might be more useful :-)
  • by JudgeFurious (455868) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:32AM (#8984554)

    I want an atomic powered FLYING car. Until they get those babies off the ground I'm not interested.
  • Well.. (Score:4, Funny)

    by rijrunner (263757) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:32AM (#8984555)

    But since it relies on dihydrogen monoxide, it'll never make it through congress
    • Poly water (Score:5, Interesting)

      by goombah99 (560566) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:37AM (#8984638)
      Anyone remember the discovery of polywater. It was massively redidistlled water that developed weird almost homeopathing memory and strange viscosity.

      Although it was considered unexplainable, repeated tests showed that the one and only thing inside the glass beaker was infact water. So it had to be a new form of water. A kind of ice-9 but for real.

      It was eventually found to be accumulated soluble silica products from the glassware. Which of course was the one chemical that could not be tested for inside a glass beaker. Got people exited like cold fusion for a while, since like cold fusion is was not utterly implausible.
      • Links on Polywater (Score:5, Informative)

        by goombah99 (560566) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:46AM (#8984743)
        here are some links:

        here [216.239.39.104] and links to more links [216.239.39.104]

        it was called polywater because it was thought to be polymerized water. Because it had a much different freezing point polywater was the inspiration for the cat's cradle story. (ice9). It took a long time to figure out the problem because it was hard to reproduce and only minute amounts could be generated at a time.

      • by NearlyHeadless (110901) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @11:06AM (#8985022)
        Anyone remember the discovery of polywater. It was massively redidistlled water that developed weird almost homeopathing memory and strange viscosity.

        Although it was considered unexplainable, repeated tests showed that the one and only thing inside the glass beaker was infact water. So it had to be a new form of water. A kind of ice-9 but for real.

        It was eventually found to be accumulated soluble silica products from the glassware. Which of course was the one chemical that could not be tested for inside a glass beaker. Got people exited like cold fusion for a while, since like cold fusion is was not utterly implausible.

        I remember that; I was a grad student in a chemistry lab.
        One day I was going to south to visit my gal.
        But I had to stay and keep watch over the equipment.
        My Sal she is a spunky gal,
        But I was on polywater duty all day.
      • Re:Poly water (Score:4, Informative)

        by Hal-9001 (43188) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @12:04PM (#8985816) Homepage Journal
        A kind of ice-9 but for real.
        There actually are a number of different solid phases of water, which are known as ice-one, ice-two, etc., all the way up to ice-twelve. So there is in fact an ice-nine, but fortunately it has none of the properties attributed to ice-nine by Kurt Vonnegut. See this link [lsbu.ac.uk] for more information about the different solid phases of water.
  • Bit late (Score:5, Funny)

    by 16K Ram Pack (690082) <<tim.almond> <at> <gmail.com>> on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:33AM (#8984561) Homepage
    Haven't most people switched to PHP or ASP now?
    • Re:Bit late (Score:3, Informative)

      by dasmegabyte (267018)
      Not if they want a quick and easy way to abstract SQL datasets using a syntax that looks and feels like HTML (so as not to shock the linguistic sensibilities of your graphic artists). CFML is still tops at that.

      Though I've seen some JSP tag libraries that come close.
  • by Total_Wimp (564548) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:33AM (#8984564)
    Does this mean we have to give Ponz and Fleishman their dignity back?
    • by ed__ (23481) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:42AM (#8984696) Journal
      no. P&F weren't reviled because they were wrong. they were reviled because they circumvented the whole publishing and peer review part of science and went directly to the 'make wild-ass claims to the press' part.

      that said, being wrong didn't help them either.
      • by bplipschitz (265300) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:49AM (#8984790)
        no. P&F weren't reviled because they were wrong. they were reviled because they circumvented the whole publishing and peer review part of science and went directly to the 'make wild-ass claims to the press' part.

        that said, being wrong didn't help them either.


        Mod parent up. P&F weren't *wrong*, however, they just made those WAC's that weren't supportable. There *is* something going on in these experiments [I've read some of the DOE and DOD papers on it], but it *ain't* cold fusion, and we really don't know what it is.
    • by shic (309152) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @11:08AM (#8985051)
      I can't speak personally about Pons, but I was amazed at Fleishman's gung-ho attitude. I attended a lecture he gate to the "Royal Society" in Southampton UK about a year or so after the collapse of the original claims. To be honest, even my most half-hearted fabrication of results for high-school chemistry put his case to shame. The evidence was laughable, his recording pathetic and the almost obviously dishonest results he was theorising about had spurious order-of magnitude arithmetic errors on his hand-drawn slides. It was unbelievable!

      While academics at the event lambasted his unprofessional conduct - all I could say is that whatever Dr. Fleischman had been working on, it had no hope of supporting his highly unusual theories.
  • by britneys 9th husband (741556) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:33AM (#8984569) Homepage Journal
    You can't really criticize the government too much for doing this. We'll certainly have cold fusion before the Bush administration finds any WMDs.
  • However... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tuxedo Jack (648130) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:34AM (#8984582) Homepage
    That still doesn't solve the issue of cost-feasibility on a scale that would power a metropolitan/regional/national area.

    Unless it's an area like River Oaks in Houston or the MS campus in Redmond.
    • Scale can work two ways: big reactors that power entire areas, or little home power plants. Of course, that's assuming that there's anything to cold fusion in the first place ...
  • by sphealey (2855) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:34AM (#8984587)
    I remember I was at a nuclear power trade conference the week the Pons-Fleischman announcement was originally made. And my first thought when I heard about it then was, where are the neutrons? A nuclear process that produces that much excess energy should also produce enough neutrons to kill everyone in the building where it is being tested.

    So, I guess that is still my question. It always seemed to me that there was some sort of poorly understood reaction going on, but it was more likely a physical chemistry issue than a nuclear issue.

    sPh
    • by PIPBoy3000 (619296) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:41AM (#8984679)
      Well, if "bubble fusion" can produce neutrons [slashdot.org], I'm willing to give them the opportunity to explain themselves.
    • by Myself (57572) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:48AM (#8984770) Journal
      Personally, I'm more concerned with the poorly understood reaction between the DoE and actual science.

      The way I see it, cold fusion is such a tremendously holy grail, and the Pons-Fleischman experiment was simple enough to replicate, it would've made more sense to throw some more experimental funding at it years ago. A handful of failed attempts to replicate the results are discouraging, yes, but the potential benefits should've justified a bit more tinkering back when it was announced.

      Maybe I'm missing it, maybe the threshhold of debunking was passed and everyone gave up on it as a fluke. Maybe it still is a fluke, albeit a somewhat more convincing one.

      Obviously not the whole scientific community gave up on the idea, or today's announcement never would've happened. What did these folks know that kept them working on it?
      • by sphealey (2855) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:53AM (#8984838)
        The way I see it, cold fusion is such a tremendously holy grail, and the Pons-Fleischman experiment was simple enough to replicate, it would've made more sense to throw some more experimental funding at it years ago. A handful of failed attempts to replicate the results are discouraging, yes, but the potential benefits should've justified a bit more tinkering back when it was announced.
        What was then the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a research consortium sponsored by North American electric utilities, and its counterpart in Japan continued to fund cold fusion research with significant dollars long after the "crank" label was applied to P-F.

        Believe me, whatever the mythical secret-suppressing automobile manufacturers/oil drillers don't want revealed, the the electic industry very much does want a new energy source. However, nothing was ever found and the work was de-funded after about 8 years.

        sPh

      • A handful of failed attempts to replicate the results are discouraging, yes, but the potential benefits should've justified a bit more tinkering back when it was announced.

        I'd like to announce that I've produced a fusion reaction in my sock drawer. I await further funding. Surely the potential benefits justify a bit more tinkering?

      • by AJWM (19027)
        the Pons-Fleischman experiment was simple enough to replicate,

        Ah, but that was the catch. It sounded simple to replicate -- stick a palladium electrode electrolysis setup in some heavy water and run the whole thing in a calorimeter -- but the devil turned out to be in the details.

        For one, precise calorimetry at that level is actually pretty hard -- Pons & Fleischman were old hands at it but it's not something your typical physicist does much of.

        More significantly, it may be (judging by the replicat
        • by Crispy Critters (226798) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @12:59PM (#8986555)
          "precise calorimetry at that level is actually pretty hard...the setup is far more sensitive to uncontrolled variables...than P-F were aware."

          Along with this, measurements of reaction products like alphas, neutrons, and tritium can be very difficult to perform reliably at low levels.

          I heard a talk by someone who did some recent work, and he talked about one gap in how physicists see the problem. He said that a lot of what is done to prepare containers and catalysts for some reactions in normal chemistry is practically voodoo. Some samples just do not work, for no known reason. Things have to be baked under vacuum ten times longer than what should be required to clean them. The truth is that some things are not as reproducible as they are expected to be, and the absence of easy reproducibility does not mean the original results were erroneous. Chemists understand this, but most physicists do not. If this applies to normal chemistry, it may apply equally to cold fusion experiments.

          "There have been a lot of interesting results with various setups reported over the years"

          Unfortunately, there has also been a lot of garbage touted as interesting results. I once read through a few reports suggested by CF advocates as some of the best evidence, and they did not meet the standards of a high school science project. Most scientists will not take CF seriously until the CF community polices itself. When lousy scientific work recieves acclaim because it shows the desired result, credibility is demolished. (I would never claim the CF is the only place this happens, but that is not an excuse.) When the CF community separates the serious work from the chaff itself, offering only solid experimental results to the world, then other scientists can start to pay attention.

    • by Concerned Onlooker (473481) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:52AM (#8984821) Homepage Journal
      ...but it was more likely a physical chemistry issue than a nuclear issue.

      You may very well be correct. But even if it's not cold fusion they're possibly going to learn something new or startling or useful about chemical reactions. I'm sure the alchemists, in their desire to turn base metals into gold stumbled upon many interesting things.

    • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@n ... minus physicist> on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @11:14AM (#8985137) Homepage Journal
      I was a physics student (undergrad Physics for Engineers course) of Dr. Steven Jones [byu.edu] when this whole thing broke loose. About 3 weeks before the Pons & Fleischman announcement, he announced some interesting results that were very similar to the cold fusion announcement.

      At the time, Dr. Jones was a peer-referee for the article that Pons & Fleischman were writing, and it turned out that their research was following similar lines that he and other researchers at BYU were following. He asked for permission (and was granted) to break the confidentiality agreement with the publisher to share research information. (Details of this are well documented elsewhere, including things I saw on the PBS-TV show Nova about this episode.... I can confirm this so far as this is what Dr. Jones mentioned to our class prior to the whole fiasco breaking loose).

      Dr. Jones was following an earlier line of research where he was studying Muon-induced fusion (where a Muon would take the place of a normal electron and bring atomic nuclei closer together under certain conditions... potentially triggering a fusion reaction). He was also studying natural phenomina including a speculation that there might be some other process besides nuclear fission and meteoric landfall that causes volcanic hotspots around the earth. I'm not here suggesting that cold fusion causes Mauna Loa, but some isotopic measurements of gasses emitted by that volcano contained traces of Helium-3 and Helium-4 that could not otherwise be accounted for. The speculation was that perhaps a limited form of fusion might also be taking place.

      The key element of Dr. Jones' research was that he was indeed measuring emitted particles instead of measuring heat. Some graphs he showed to our class (after the big fiasco) included some very telling information about some of the particles being emmitted, but at levels so low that it seemed improbable that a calorimeter would be able to measure the effect.

      When all was said and done, the best that could be offered by the researchers I talked to afterward was that this research could be used to make a neutrino emmitter that could be turned on and off electronically. Now that does indeed have some interesting uses, but neutrino detectors are another problem. As a futuristic energy source, there were many other much more productive lines of research to consider.

      The other nice thing about cold fusion was that it didn't require huge laboratories to study the effects, which is convient to relatively underfunded universities for research activities (like BYU), it also brings out the weirdos, scammers and crooks. As a result, research discussions tend to have a very low S/N level. This makes finding information all that more difficult.

      It is also something to note that BYU is also where Philo Farsnworth did his final research on the Fusor technology. In fact, the cold fusion research was conducted in the very same laboratory (buried underground just south of the HBLL library). They were indeed worried about radiation damage, and chose to buy $20,000 worth of pennies to build a cheap radiation shield. I'm not sure if they ever put them back into circulation, but it was a sort of joke when walking into the lab and it looked more like the inside of a bank vault.
    • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @11:30AM (#8985345) Journal
      A nuclear process that produces that much excess energy should also produce enough neutrons to kill everyone in the building where it is being tested.

      As I understand it, the reason plasma-based fusion reactions tend to produce neutrons is that you need to dump the excess energy from the reaction product for the fused neucleus to "settle down" in the lower-energy bound state, and that means you need to spit out an additionl particle to dump the energy as momentum. Thus D+D -> T+n, or D+T -> He+n.

      In "cold fusion" the reaction is taking place in a dense metal matrix - at a deuterium density far too low for the "normal" two-particle fusion rate to be significant. This implies that, if there is significant fusion going on, it's because of some interaction with the surrounding metal, or with other hydrogen neuclei. This implies that some of the normal D+D->He->D+D might stop at He by dumping the excess energy as a recoil off another D or the surrounding matrix of electrons and metal neuclei.

      I want to see this experiment retried:
      - In a large single-crystal.
      - In a large single-crystal with a tiny trace of impurities.
      - In a polycrystal of a very few, very large crystals (in case the reaction occurs at crystal boundaries and is enhanced by the size of the crystal).
      - With the magnetic field tightly controlled - and varied in both strengh and directon with respect to the crystal lattice.
      - With the electric field similarly controlled.
      - With controlled electric currents through the metal in various directions.
      - With sudden strong pulses of electric and/or magnetic fields once the metal has been "loaded" with deuterium.
      - With small bombardments of various charged particles at assorted energies (in case some component of bacground or cosmic radiation is a trigger of a short chain-reaction).

      When thinking about hypothetical cold-fusion mechanisms I'm constantly bothered by the similarity of the system to early point-contact diodes, and how quickly the junction transistor, and then the rest of semiconductor technology, fell out of the development of a physical model for the long-range, room-temperature, quanum-mechanical phenomena underlying electrical conduction within a highly-ordered, slightly impure crystal.

      Pumping deuterons into a dense and potentially crystaline metal by electrical pressure seems to me to be just begging for the deuterons' wave functions to be stretched out and overlapped in a similar way to those of the electrons, resulting in lots of potential for interactions that would not be observed in the disordered environment of a plasma or liquid.
  • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:35AM (#8984589) Homepage Journal
    That extra heat is coming from an exogenous source: the bowl of the researcher's crack pipe.
  • by Upaut (670171) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:35AM (#8984597) Homepage Journal
    An atomic reaction small enough to be contained within a laptop, providing months of continual power. Really gives "BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH" a whole new meaning...
  • by alnapp (321260) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:37AM (#8984634) Homepage
    "Over the past 15 years, enthusiasts have generated some 3,000 manuscripts on cold fusion, but very few were ever published in scientific journals.

    Really?

    I can't think why
    • by beldraen (94534) <chad.montplaisir@NOsPAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:59AM (#8984913)
      Just because people are not published does not mean they are wrong. There have been plenty of cases where people have been refused publication because of political views--the world revolving around the sun being one of them that comes to mind. What impressed me the report is they targeted the issue of why it appears there is such a discrepancy in the results, not that there was one. It appears we have a lack of understanding of how to cause the deuterium to bind in sufficient amounts to palladium. Even if Cold Fusion remains a simple curiosity, at a minimum we now know that not all catalytic bindings are the same. It makes me wonder if catalytic converts for cars could be made substantially better with these understandings.
    • Its for the same reason they refuse to publish my theory that FDR was a time traveling robot from the year 2620. They're just afraid of the truth.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:39AM (#8984652)
    If this research turns out to be true, it can result in all-out war with every kind of weapon available. Power structures around oil are so entrenched, the oil producing countries and corporations will never allow their revenue to disappear.

    Just my first thought
    • by RogL (608926)
      Yeah, it's a shame we ever allowed the oil companies to develop nuclear weapons. They've kept the American auto industry away from building cheap fusion-powered flying cars, ever since they nuked Honda & Toyota back to the Stone Age. And what can we do, except stay away from Canada (those Canucks with their straw-to-ethanol enzymes; you know they're getting blasted into atoms any day now! What were they thinking?!)

      Damn oil-company overlords... I'll never welcome them! Never!

      Got to go - I hear the medi
    • Don't worry, there are other important uses for petroleum besides burning it.
    • If this research turns out to be true, it can result in all-out war with every kind of weapon available. Power structures around oil are so entrenched, the oil producing countries and corporations will never allow their revenue to disappear.

      Sigh. And this gets modded +4 interesting. Way to go, mods.

      Take off your tin-foil hat. No war is going to result from oil being displaced as an energy source, and there are two main reasons for this.

      The first reason is that having less a dependency on oil will mean th

  • by pubjames (468013) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:39AM (#8984653)

    If reliable (and not too costly) cold fusion could become a reality, it really could solve many of the world's problems.

    Imagine - oil would no longer have much value, and so the Middle East would no longer be a constant battleground. We would no longer have to worry about global warming because CO2 production would go right down. And increasingly resource hungry emerging economies like China and India would no longer be such a threat to "our" oil resources.

    If the USA spent 10% of it's military budget on alternative energy sources then this nut could be cracked quickly...

    Too much to hope for I guess...

    • by Dun Malg (230075) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:45AM (#8984729) Homepage
      If the USA spent 10% of it's military budget on alternative energy sources then this nut could be cracked quickly

      You think the reason alternative energy projects are moving slowly is lack of money? Please.

    • by Anixamander (448308) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:50AM (#8984798) Journal
      Imagine - oil would no longer have much value, and so the Middle East would no longer be a constant battleground.

      While it would indeed solve the worlod's energy problems, I have to disagree on the above point. The Middle East was a battleground long before oil meant anything. Perhaps what you meant was it would no longer be a battleground that the US cared about. Without oil, it would be more like Rwanda...bad shit would still happen there, but the developed world would not care.
    • If energy becomes cheap how do we discard the byproduct of it use which is mostly heat?

      One of the paths that Arthur C. Clarke went down exposed this issue with cheap and nearly unlimited energy.

      CO2 would go down, but do we really know enough about how the enviroment works to say that that is the only cause or the biggest?
    • You would have to pump a *lot* of deuterium through
      a palladium cell at quite a high efficiency for quite a long time in order to pay for the mass of palladium. While it has been obvious to me that cold fusion was real, on the basis of the published papers, since 1990, it seems equally obvious that it is not a sufficient basis for a commercially viable power technology, without substantial further innovation.

      Leave alone the cost of palladium, which is probably going to exceed that of gold in the near futu
    • I was not aware that cold fusion also produced plastics.
    • by argStyopa (232550) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @11:24AM (#8985266) Journal
      If the USA spent 10% of it's military budget on alternative energy sources then this nut could be cracked quickly...

      So the reason Cold Fusion doesn't work is now ALSO the USA's fault?

      You people are amazing.
  • USDOE Likes It? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geomon (78680) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:41AM (#8984676) Homepage Journal
    Remember that this is the department who lost a classified hard drive. Not exactly a group packed to the ceiling with critical thinkers.

    A colleague of mine walked into our DOE monitor's office one day to deliver a milestone report. That report was hand delivered to the DOE employee. The DOE employee sets the report down, engages my colleague in a bit of small talk, and then asks if he has the report ready for delivery.

    DOE is a bureaucracy. It has some very bright and engaging people working in it's ranks. On the other hand, it has some "lifers" who haven't a clue. These poor souls are in a position to not only accidentily make policy decisions (see: a million monkeys), but they are also in a position to ignore good advice and strong scientific evidence.

    I would put DOE's support for Cold Fusion down as one of those brain farts that they occasionally pull (much like the CIA's $200M experiment in remote viewing).

  • by Len (89493) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:41AM (#8984684)
    According to Peter Hagelstein, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT...
    Once again, cold fusion is championed by someone who's not a nuclear physicist.

    I'll believe it when I see it running my car. Actually, I probably won't believe it even then.

    • by TigerNut (718742) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:57AM (#8984895) Homepage Journal
      There are lots of people in the nuclear physics field that are plugging away at cold fusion, though, and they wouldn't be doing that if it was proven to be a crackpot science. Historically, a lot of ground-breaking discoveries have been made by people from outside the established group of experts in the field.

      The facts are that a lot of people are seeing unexplained excess heat generation when they do these experiments. Whether it's fusion or not, unexplained results eventually lead to fundamental theoretical insights, and that's all to the good.

      • by krysith (648105) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @01:09PM (#8986675) Journal
        Speaking as a physicist who ~has~ paid attention, I have to ask:

        Pray tell how much heat is "unexplained excess heat" when the experimenter cannot tell how much energy went into binding the deuterium into the palladium matrix in the first place? You do realize that usually the deuterium is put into the palladium matrix under rather high pressure. Like, high enough pressure to rupture metal. When you have a gas being pressurized, and then later, excess energy appears, don't you think it's appropriate to wonder how much energy was used pressurizing the gas? If you'll note from the above referenced article:

        "McKubre has also found that the seeming inconsistency in experimental heat production arose from differences in the amount of deuterium packed into the palladium electrode. Whenever the number of deuterium atoms loaded into the metal matched or exceeded the number of palladium atoms, excess heat was generated. Palladium loaded with slightly less deuterium produced inconsistent results, and if the deuterium level was reduced by a great amount, then no excess heat at all was produced. Deuterium loading was hard to control and limited by the strength of the metal. Unfortunately, palladium strength is difficult to predict or control, and is not improved by purification; indeed, the purest palladium ruptured at lower loadings, and the highest strength was seen only in one impure batch."

        I used to lurk on sci.physics.fusion, back in the day when Dick Blue, Deiter Britz and Stephen Jones used to wrangle it out (names are from 12 years old memory, could be incorrect). The real issue is not that the scientific community refuses to look at the cold fusion community's data (they do refuse, and I'm not defending them) but rather that the cold fusion community refuses to meaningfully communicate with themselves. It's been understood for a while that deuterium binding theory is not well understood. This is a huge missing variable in the "excess energy" they are always talking about. They are exploring the amount of energy involved in deuterium binding, but at the same time they are ignoring it! The cold fusion community puts tremendous effort into proving that cold fusion is a nuclear effect, but cannot answer the simple question - how much energy did you store in your deuterium?
  • by Le'BottomEh (750785) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:42AM (#8984693)
    1. A naive female scientist who writes her formula on post-it notes
    2. A Russian scientist who is forced to decipher the formula on said post-it notes
    3. An international spy that uses names of saints as a disguise

    Don't believe me? Here's proof! [imdb.com]
  • by wherley (42799) * on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:44AM (#8984724)
    Infinite Energy [infinite-energy.com] has been asking for continued investigation of cold fusion for a long time. See Their press release on this story [infinite-energy.com].
    There are many more CF and LENR resources at their web site.
  • by narcolepticjim (310789) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:45AM (#8984737)

    ... in his What's New [aps.org] column on April 2:

    1. COLD FUSION: TRUE BELIEVERS SEE DOE REVIEW AS "VINDICATION."

    There hasn't been much to celebrate in the 15 years since the University of Utah held a press conference in Salt Lake City to announce the discovery of "cold fusion." Although a brave little band of true believers continued to trumpet cold fusion, the band leader was publishing "Infinite Energy Magazine." That made it pretty hard to take this stuff seriously. Although there was no press release or announcement, DOE has apparently agreed to take a second look. That's not really too surprising; not since the Reagan administration has unbridled technological optimism so dominated Washington decision making: missile defense, hydrogen cars, hafnium bombs, manned missions to Mars. How are these other ventures doing? ...
  • by MrNybbles (618800) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:46AM (#8984750) Journal
    A Cold Fusion Power Plant would not have the bad reputation that Nuclear Power Plants do (thank you Three Mile Island). With a new source of cheap and safe electricity people in the US can finally buy economical electric cars and use electric heating and begin to break the US dependancies on forign oil.

    This of course assumes many things like Cold Fusion being practical, safe, and nobody screwing things up enough to create a Cold Fusion Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.
  • by WwWonka (545303) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:48AM (#8984774)
    ...and nuclear products show up in about the right amounts

    About? About?

    Is that the kind of "precise" measurement that will lead to three eyed fish and babys with 12 toes in twenty years?

    Man, I would give a volkswagon worth of dollars to have a more precise way of measuring nuclear by-products! ;-)
  • by CatGrep (707480) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:48AM (#8984775)
    You mean we've been making fun of cold fusion for nothing all these years? What'll we make fun of now?
  • by novakane007 (154885) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:54AM (#8984854) Homepage Journal
    Here [spacedaily.com] is another article about cold fusion experiments. It uses sound cavitation to collapse acetone vapor. It sounds quite promising. I'm personally fond of the idea of using sound as a controlling force for the reaction. The experiments were funded in part by DARPA.
    "The research team used a standing ultrasonic wave to help form and then implode the cavitation bubbles of deuterated acetone vapor. The oscillating sound waves caused the bubbles to expand and then violently collapse, creating strong compression shock waves around and inside the bubbles. Moving at about the speed of sound, the internal shock waves impacted at the center of the bubbles causing very high compression and accompanying temperatures of about 100 million Kelvin."
  • by Compulawyer (318018) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:55AM (#8984864)
    I'll believe it when my Mr. Fusion(TM) is using beer cans and banana peels to power the Flux Capacitor(TM) on my DeLorean(TM).
  • by bplipschitz (265300) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:56AM (#8984877)
    was calling it 'Cold Fusion.' If you read the DOE or DOD papers on the subject, there *is* excess heat and nuclear material being generated, but it is eensy weensy amounts. Not enough to fuse the gum to the bottom of your chair, let alone H-->He.

    It produces infintesimal amounts of excess energy.

    At this point, it is a scientific curiosity that in need of an explanation, but not something that is going to produce enough energy to blow your nose.

    I don't know if it will ever lead to anything practical or even useful, but it does beg explaining.
    • by Antaeus Feldspar (118374) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @12:27PM (#8986148) Homepage
      But it has the potential to achieve one of the most important breakthroughs possible in science, which is to prove existing assumptions wrong.

      Yes, you're right, that there is not a huge amount of energy being produced over and above what theory predicts. That pales in significance, though, next to the fact that extra energy is being created over and above what theory predicts, and the reasons why -- well, until we know the reasons why, we don't know what else is possible that our current state of theory cannot account for.

      As pointed out in the article, the difference may be that in the actual experiments, where we're seeing extra heat production, the interaction between particles is taking place inside a lattice, whereas theory assumes that it makes no difference whether it's in a lattice or a vacuum -- that the atomic forces from the lattice need not be taken into account.

      Now if this assumption is wrong -- well, let me put it this way. If our current knowledge of chemistry was based on the presumption that only those substances transformed during a chemical reaction were relevant to the reaction -- if we had no knowledge or concept of catalysts -- what things that we take for granted today would actually be unknown to us? What would be out there, overlooked, waiting for us to discover it?

      To say this is trivial just because there is not a lot of extra heat production is like saying to Alexander Fleming that he's making too big a deal out of that petri dish where he can't get the cultures to grow -- after all, it's just one dish.
  • by xtal (49134) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @10:57AM (#8984902)
    Look, everyone seems all full of their intelligence here - so why not approach things with a neutral opinion until proven one way or the other? This guy is not selling you anything. He has an experimental apparatus and theory behind analmous heat production and can reproduce it; Ergo, either something is going on or he made a mistake. This can be determined on the basis of his experiment.

    When experiment and existing theory produce different results, you need a new theory. That's how science works. The universe is never wrong. If you want to critique this guy, then go show me how smart you are and pick apart his experiments or apparatus, or maybe propose a theory that could explain the results another way - and devise an experiment to test that theory.

    People mocked astronomy, planes, cars, space travel, quantum physics, the atomic bomb, television, computers, you name it - as the work of the devil, impossible, blah blah blah.

    Yes, he could be wrong, but that's for replicable experiments to decide. I applaud these guys for trying and more importantly publishing their results. Nothing like the herd mentality, though. :sigh:
  • by apirkle (40268) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @11:12AM (#8985114)
    There's another article on the subject in this month's issue of Physics Today: DOE Warms to Cold Fusion [physicstoday.org]
  • New Physics? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by earthforce_1 (454968) <earthforce_1 @ y a h o o . c om> on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @12:00PM (#8985744) Journal

    In the very early days of radio, it was common for hobbyists to use a geranium "cat's whisker" to demodulate signals. Nobody was sure how it worked at the time, so it was more of an art than a science. You would simply fiddle with the cat's whisker contact until you got the best signal possible. It wasn't until well after WW2 with the invention of the transistor that semiconductor physics were understood from a theoretical basis.

    *IF* cold fusion is real, it may be much like that. They may have stumbed onto something, but the results are not reproducible, becuase we don't really understand what we are doing from even a theoretical, let alone an engineering basis. It is as if somebody had reported high temperature superconductivity before we had any theory explaining how may work, but couldn't reproduce it, since they didn't really know how to manufacture a high temperature superconductor, they just got lucky in the process.

    Penicillin was discovered totally by accident, (contamination of a bacteria culture by a very rare strain of mould) but at least we could grow more of it to reproduce the results. Imagine how the results would have been laughed at if the original penicillin strain had died, and they tried to reproduce the result with other moulds.

  • by Rotiahn (647005) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @12:02PM (#8985781)
    Alright, for the moment I'm going to give this article a little benefit of the the doubt, and see what comes out of it:

    Standard physics says cold fusion shouldn't work because photon exchanges result in nuclei repelling each other.

    However, they think it works here because they think that the palladium atoms are aborbing all the photons which would normally result in the nuclei repelling each other. As a result the nuclei don't exchange photons, so arn't repelled by each other, so they can collide and combine into He.

    So, they've somehow developed a lattice who's quantum structure results in creating a barrier between the two nuclei which repels photons, but allows the nuclei to pass through. The nuclei effectivly can't "see" each other until they've already collided.

    I found it really interesting that they said they got better results with the impure samples. I did a quick search and discovered that Palladium Ore [webmineral.com] contains Platinum [webmineral.com] Certain isotopes of which are radioactive and produce alpha particles (alpha particles = helium).

    So, if their impure samples are the ones that are producing the most helium and heat, its possible that it is simply the platinum in the palladium ore which is providing alpha decays, and that is skewing their results.

    Its hard to guess if this is really the case though without knowing what kinds of numbers they are getting. How many helium atoms from how much palladium and how much deuterium.

  • misrepresentation (Score:4, Informative)

    by Crispy Critters (226798) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @01:52PM (#8987122)
    I have to say that the article does not improve my already low opinion of Tech Review (it used to be so much better).
    But building a fusion reactor that can convert that tremendous heat into useful energy has posed an immense challenge. After decades of research, the conditions needed for fusion still can be attained only briefly, and these experimental fusion reactions produce less energy than is needed to ignite them.
    The conditions needed for "hot" fusion can be easily attained. They are just expensive. No facility in the world currently exists that can handle the radiation that would be generated by a device like a tokamak running above break-even (where generated fusion power exceeds input power plus change in energy stored in the plasma). This was nearly achieved on the JET tokamak. Why don't they keep trying this? Because the facility cannot handle the radiation. Human beings have to be able to work on the experiment to do maintenance, so the equipment cannot be allowed to become too radioactive. In fact, no similar experiment consistently uses the mixture of deuterium and tritium most likely to be used in fusion reactors. No large hot fusion experiments achieve break-even because none of them are trying to achieve break-even.
  • If proven... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GooberToo (74388) on Tuesday April 27, 2004 @02:04PM (#8987421)
    ...to actually be working, does this place cold-fusion in a scientifically more advanced state the hot-fusion? After all, hot-fusion has a theory and little scientific proof that it can actually work and be sustained. On the other hand, if it's proven to be for real, cold fusion is proven to work and is simply lacking strong theory to explain everything.

    Seems to me, the more viable and truly scientific work is going on with cold-fusion.

    On one camp, we have tons and tons of money and theory and no experiment shown to support that theory (AFAIK; correct me as needed). On spite of this, hot-fusion is thought of as accepted and proven science.

    In the other camp, we can scientists performing experiments which are roughly meeting or exceeding expectations and simply lacking in some portions of theory which might explain everything that is going on. In spite of this, cold-fusion is ignored and rejected.

    Which is real science? Science finding new things it doesn't understand and attempts to explain or science failing to prove which it hopes might work, one day, given enough funding. Seems to me, hot-fusion is looking more like snake-oil than cold-fusion ever did. Cold-fusion, during the early days of just plain fraud, was quickly shown for what it is. The fact that two guys were invalidated hardly invalidates a whole field of study. My point? Would seem that many "scientists" and failing to look beyond their ego to do real science. If it's being peer reviewed and being replicated, that's science.

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