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Journal of Applied Physics, NASA, and the Hydrino 247

Erik Baard writes "I wanted to bring you the last on a story that was slashdotted in June: NASA's investigation of the 'hydrino' rocket. In June I reported for that the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts was funding a six-month study of rockets propeled by plasmas created by BlackLight Power Inc. The company claims that energy is released when it shrinks hydrogen atoms, bringing the electron closer into its nucleus than thought possible. Here's the scoop: the researcher told NASA that *something* was indeed generating plasmas with more kinetic energy than would be expected for the power input. And the kicker is that BlackLight founder Randell Mills scored a paper about his plasmas in the mainstream Journal of Applied Physics -- after a few years of following this bizarre startup, that floored me." Here's the Village Voice story with these updates.
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Journal of Applied Physics, NASA, and the Hydrino

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  • by Goalie_Ca ( 584234 ) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @10:56PM (#4835501)
    Better recalculate those schrodinger equations. Lets add more variables this time :D
    • "Better recalculate those schrodinger equations."

      Just so long as it doesn't involve reaching into any more alphabets. I've had my fill with Greek and Cyrillic. My TI-92+ just doesn't have enough buttons.
  • by dagg ( 153577 ) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @11:04PM (#4835527) Journal
    There are many reasons to be skeptical of this project:
    • The company is named "Blacklight Power".
    • The guy looks funny in that lab jacket.
    • Most of the scientific community finds these theories "crackpot ideas".
    • He's raised 30 million dollars.

    --No money raised for this... []

    • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @11:26PM (#4835600)
      • "The company is named "Blacklight Power""
        • All the really cool names like "Lockheed-Martin []" are already taken.
        • If you weren't spending money on start-ups with silly names several decades ago, you would have missed the opportunity to invest in General Atomics [].
      • The guy looks funny in that lab jacket.
        • It's the guys that don't look funny in a lab jacket that worry me.
      • "Most of the scientific community finds these theories "crackpot ideas"."
        • So? We should all be more concerned with what the scientific method has to say about his ideas, not the "community."
        • If we don't, we'd be no better than the Catholics who locked up Galileo.

      "He's raised 30 million dollars."

      • 99.99% of which did not come from Slashdot users.
        • If we're not monetarily involved, what's wrong with a little cheerleading?

      • Crackpot Ideas (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MikeFM ( 12491 )
        Does anyone else find that so called scientists that dismiss something new out of hand aren't really worthy of being called scientists? IMHO a scientist is like Captain Kirk.. always going where no may has gone before. It's one thing not to believe every thing that comes down the pipe but creeps like this guy that hunts down 'voodoo' just piss me off. If there is nothing to someones ideas and claims then eventually it'll be self evident. There is no need to attack new ideas just because they may be wrong. I've always thought learning from mistakes was the best way. If you're not proving something works then at least your shining light on what doesn't.
        • Re:Crackpot Ideas (Score:5, Interesting)

          by kmellis ( 442405 ) <> on Sunday December 08, 2002 @03:53AM (#4836461) Homepage
          Does anyone else find that so called scientists that dismiss something new out of hand aren't really worthy of being called scientists?
          I don't think that's a fair characterization. They don't reject new things out of hand, they reject revolutionary things out of hand. As well they should.

          Why? Because there are an infinity of false revolutionary "scientific" ideas possible. A scientist's job is to be skeptical, not credulous. Yes, scientists are "going where no man has split infinitives before" but they go there with intellectual rigor, not having sex with whatever has blue skin and big tits.

          And this story, with the upcoming paper, just demonstrates that the system is working quite well.

          If you think that scientists should be more interested in bizarre and revolutionary ideas, then you should spend some time in sci.relativity and sci.physics (just to name a couple of newsgroups) and see how many crazy, ignorant people with crazy, ignorant theories there really are out there who complain that "they're being persecuted" and "Einstein got bad grades and nobody believed him, either" (he didn't and they did).

          • It's one thing not to waste their own time on a revolutionary new idea. It's another entirely to attack that idea especially without first investigating whatever claims (if any) have been made. Crackpot ideas are less damaging to society than a missed chance.

            Crying down people without first investigating what they say is not science. Taking a 'know-it-all' stance and assuming what someone says to be wrong (even based on experience) isn't science either. If something doesn't work you have to offer some proof before slamming it.
            • Re:Crackpot Ideas (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Comedian ( 26794 )
              If something doesn't work you have to offer some proof before slamming it.

              Ohnononono.. you've got it all backwards: the burden of evidence is on the other side.

              Crackpot ideas are less damaging to society than a missed chance.

              Well, to use the quote that Carl Sagan loved to pull out in circumstances like these: extraordinary claims demands extraordinary evidence. Is there any extraordinary evidence in this case that indicates it's actually worth looking into? Or is it just yet another case of a mental patient roaming the 'net? Why aren't scientists from far and wide already throwing their collective intellects into investigating these claims?
            • Another famous quote from the early 20th C. "This theory is so bad, it isn't even wrong."

              Crackpot science dosn't use standard vocabulary so that someone versed in the field can't understand the claims or the mechanism.

              I have to say that there is, and should be, a lot of skepticism surrounding a "below ground state" state of hydrogen. Hydrogen at a energy state higher than ground state spontaneously transitions to lower states by emitting an electron. If this lower energy state exists, why hasn't it been seen before in labs aound the world? Until someone can reasonably explain this anomaly, then there will continue to be profound skepticism.
            • Re:Crackpot Ideas (Score:3, Informative)

              by dvdeug ( 5033 )
              Crackpot ideas are less damaging to society than a missed chance.

              How many people have died because they went to someone with a crackpot idea that he could heal them without surgery, without chemo, without drugs? How many people have spent needless time sick because they used homeopathic medicine (studied and disproved since 1846) instead doctor approved medicines (or chicken soup and bed rest)? How many people have had a lifetime of missed chances, because instead of working on something that could have been right, they were working on a crackpot idea that didn't have a chance in hell of being right? How many chances do we miss as a society because we spend on crackpot ideas (and supporting thier manufacturers) instead of real things, the money from which will go in part to real research?
          • Very well put, Mr. kmellis. I liked the bit about the tits. :-)

            Seriously, I want to belive in this as much as anyone, but that doesn't mean I can. I want to see that space heater.

          • I agree with you, but I must make a comment for the records before this article gets archived:

            Einstein did fail some highschool math class. (I don't recall which precise year it was)

            The part that most people don't know, or chose to ignore, is that when he started doing physics, he realized his math skills were not sufficient at all, so he 'brushed up' on it so he could use it to prove his theories.

            That, I think is the greatest lesson to be learned from him: if you aren't born with a gift, it doesn't mean you can't make up for it... and also, even if you are born with a gift, that doesn't mean jack shit if you don't use it well (rimshot to all the underachievers of the world - maybe even including me a bit).

            • No, he didn't. His grades were uniformly excellent. This whole misconeption arose because the gymnasium he attended reversed its grading scheme at one point, making it appear to the unsuspecting that good grades were bad grades. (If I recall correctly, it was a numerical 1 to 5 scheme.)
              • Hmmm... Seriously then, I don't know what to answer (we are at a stale mate), because I read this in his biographical book.

                I guess it is up to both of us to be diligent and go do the research in hard facts (links on the web won't work since you say that this is a common misconception).

                • "I guess it is up to both of us to be diligent and go do the research in hard facts..."
                  Absolutely! I'm a little ashamed that I didn't do so before answering your post. I'm getting lazy in my old age. I was going on the results of the last time I actually did go to the trouble to research this. Unfortunately, I don't remember the details and, as such, cannot be trusted to be reliable. For all I know, the issue of his grades during his adolescence and during what we would call his "higher education" are two seperate issues.

                  However, I will research this now and report back immediately.

                  • Well, a quick web search shows that this error is both repeated and debunked at many sites.[1]

                    An old USENET post on alt.folklore.urban contains almost the entire text of a New York Times article on this subject. I'm posting both the link to the AFU article here [], but I'm also posting the full text of the NYT article (as it appears in the AFU post), just because I can, fair use be damned[2]:

                    Copyright 1984 The New York Times Company
                    February 14, 1984, Tuesday, Late City Final Edition
                    (SECTION: Section C; Page 1, Column 5; Science Desk)


                    Contrary to a popular legend that has given comfort to countless slow starters, young Albert Einstein was remarkably gifted in mathematics, algebra and physics, academic records recently acquired from Swiss archives show.

                    The records, contained in a collection of the great theorist's papers now being prepared for publication at Princeton, confirm that Einstein was a child prodigy, conversant in college physics before he was 11 years old, a "brilliant" violin player who got high marks in Latin and Greek. But his inability to master French was the bane of his school days, and may have been chiefly responsible for his failing college entrance examinations.

                    The documents "place Einstein in the context of his times much more than in the past, providing details of his education in Germany and Switzerland and his more human contacts," said Dr. John Stachel, editor of the papers.

                    A prime objective of Princeton University Press, which plans to publish the first volume of the Einstein papers in 1985 after years of controversy and lawsuits, is to seek out the roots of Einstein's sudden penetration to a deeper understanding of nature. The series may run to 38 volumes when complete.

                    The initial volume includes Einstein's first scientific essay, dealing with the effect of magnetism on the hypothetical "ether." It was written when he was 16, apparently as part of his first, unsuccessful effort to gain admission to the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

                    Although some Einstein biographers have disputed the widely held belief that Einstein was a poor student, the papers at Princeton lay this to rest, once and for all. According to Dr. Stachel, those who saw Einstein's academic records may have been misled by a reversal in the grading system of his school in Aargau, Switzerland.

                    Those records show that, for two successive terms, when Einstein was 16, his mark in arithmetic and algebra was 1 on a scale of 6, in which 1 was the highest grade. For the next term his mark was 6, which would have been the lowest grade,except that the grading scale had been reversed by school officials.

                    Examination of the papers, now numbering in the tens of thousands, is a journey into the academic world of the 19th century, with emphasis, in Einstein's elementary school experience in Munich, on regimentation and learning by rote. The curriculum, however, was less rigid in the preparatory school heattended in Switzerland.

                    ...(Stuff deleted by the AFU poster)

                    Neglected Math for Physics

                    His academic records there were destroyed in World War II, but Dr. Stachel and his colleagues at Princeton have in hand a letter sent to a Munich newspaper in 1929 by H. Wieleitner, then principal of the Luitpold Gymnasium. He had examined Einstein's school record to refute a report in a Berlin magazine that Einstein had been a very poor student.

                    With 1 as the highest grade and 6 the lowest, the principal reported, Einstein's marks in Greek, Latin and mathematics oscillated between 1 and 2 until, toward the end, he invariably scored 1 in math. Nevertheless, as pointed out by Banesh Hoffmann of Queens College in his book on Einstein, the latter confessed that he later neglected mathematics in favor of physics.

                    Another testament to his childhood precocity comes from Dr. Max Talmey, who, as a medical student in Munich, knew Einstein when he was ten and a half years old. His "exceptional intelligence," Talmey wrote later in a book, enabled him to discuss with a college graduate "subjects far beyond the comprehension" of so young a child.

                    Talmey gave him two books on physics, one of which was entitled "Force and Matter," as though anticipating Einstein's famous definition of the relationship between mass and energy.

                    A Weakness in French

                    It was chiefly Einstein's weakness in French that led to his failure to pass the entrance examinations for the Federal Technical Institute in Zurich. According to the documents assembled at Princeton, he had been allowed to take the examinations even though he was two years younger than the normal admission age of 18, thanks in part to intervention by a family friend.

                    The friend was Gustav Maier, whose banking house in Ulm, Germany, many years earlier had been on the same street as the feather-bedding factory of Einstein'sgrandfather. Maier wrote to Albin Herzog, head of the Zurich institute, which was then as now of international repute, extolling Einstein's genius and urging that he be allowed to take the exam even though he lacked a school diploma.

                    While Maier's letter has not been found, the archives of the Zurich institutehave produced Herzog's reply. "In my opinion," he wrote, "it is not advisableto remove even so-called 'Wunderkinder' from an institution in which they have begun studies before they have been fully completed."

                    He recommended that Einstein finish his preparatory studies, but said he could take the examinations if he wished. When Einstein failed them, Herzog suggested that he enter the Aargau Cantonal School, whose graduates were automatically admitted to the institute. This was the course that Einstein followed and he was admitted to the Zurich institute in 1896.

                    Faulty Essay Gives Insights

                    Before that, at Aargau, French was almost his nemesis. Swiss archives have produced the minutes of a teacher's conference held on March 15, 1899, in which it was noted that a written reprimand from the French teacher had been entered in Einstein's record.

                    When he finally graduated this blemish was again noted. He was "promoted with protest in French," his transcript read.

                    It may be that Einstein, reared in a German-speaking environment, had difficulty competing with Swiss students who, though in the German- speaking region, were taught French from childhood.

                    The essay that Einstein wrote in French on his original examination for acceptance at the institute in Zurich was full of errors, but also very revealing. It is quoted in part by Abraham Pais in his recent book on Einstein, "Subtle Is the Lord."

                    Entitled "My Future Projects," the essay says he hopes to concentrate on mathematics and physics. "I see myself becoming a teacher of these branches of natural science, chosing the theoretical part of these sciences."

                    "Here are the causes which have led me to this plan," he continued. "It is above all my personal disposition toward abstract thought and mathematics, lack of imagination and of practical talent."

                    The Aargau records include an "inspector's report" on 17 students of the violin and piano. "One student, named Einstein" it says, "gave a brilliant, as well as understanding, rendition of an adagio from a Beethoven sonata." Einstein continued to play the violin during his years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, until his death in 1955.

                    [1] I won't go into the issue of the reliability of the web, except to say that my experience has been that the sheer breadth of information available on the web makes it more easy to seperate the wheat from the chafe than is the case with supposedly more reliable sources. I have never relied exclusively upon mere reputation or authority to guide my opinion of what is true and correct, and as a result I find the web a superior resource because out of the melange--most of which is crap--it's easier to distinguish the cream that floats to the top.

                    [2] I tend to be a supporter of intellectual property rights (though very definitely not a supporter of those who, like the RIAA et al want to abuse them); but, in this case, I do object to the locking away into for-pay archives all sorts of information that would otherwise be of great and frequent benefit to the public weal.

                    • Amen!
                      Well, who knows, maybe the book I read was misinformed. Or maybe my memory of it has melded into that of the Urban Myth.

                      In any case though, I'm glad to see some intelligent conversing and argumentation on /.
                    • One source I saw said that at least one of Einstein's biographers was confused by the grading change. Perhaps it was this biography that you read.

                      It's somewhat ironic that I spend much time debunking this UL at all since, I must admit, my own grades were as often "F"s as they were "A"s. (Meaning, most of the time.) I, as a "gifted" young person and still, as an adult, a critic of rote learning and a reliance on supposed "objective" grades, always took comfort in the myth of Einstein's genius and educational non-conformance. I have as much a personal psychological stake as anyone in perpetuating this myth. But it aint true.

                      Furthermore, I ended up attending an unusual and very rigorous college that, though very difficult, did not utilize grading. Their system managed to work, however, by having one of the very highest student-to-teaching-faculty ratio in the US (perhaps one of the four or five highest, actually) and so there was never any doubt as to the quality of any student's work. And if the work wasn't up to scratch, they were asked to leave. Even there, however, I was both brilliant and an underachiever, so, there ya' go. My point is that it would be nice to hang onto to some sort of idea of the brilliant maverick underachiever who has a revolutionary effect on a field of study; but the truth of the matter is that this is very rarely the case among revolutionary scientists, even prior to the twentieth century.

                      This calls to mind a discussion I had with my mathematics tutor (that's what faculty are called there). I was always quite brilliant in mathematics and did things effortlessly that others had to struggle over. Nevertheless, there was written work I neglected just because, well, I was lazy and had long since become accustomed to believing that the rules didn't apply to me. In his office, the tutor gestured to the shelves of books behind him, books (or other works) written by the likes of Descartes and Newton and, yes, Einstein; and he asked me, "Do you think that these writers accomplished what they did through nothing more than genius?" He answered his own question: "No, they did not. They were brilliant, but they also worked very hard."

                      As an adult pushing forty years of age, and as someone who's spent much of my life discovering that, yes indeed I am very talented....I've come to understand that talent is cheap and in great supply, hard work is expensive and rare. I may indeed have one or two ideas that could revolutionize a field of study; but then even my most arrogant and narcissistic estimates would have at least many thousands of other people similarly capable. Nothing I am capable of doing is relying only upon me to achieve it. Even though it has felt that way at many points in my life, it is simply unreasonable to expect that I'm very important at all merely by existing. Only through the combination of talent and hard work and perhaps a bit of luck could I be "important".

                      I have a great affection for Einstein and an abiding interest in Relativity (though I'm certainly barely competent to even mention it--I know and have dated an astrophysicist and certainly know the vast intellectual and competency gulf that separates us). And something resonates deep within me at his quote that he knew Relativity must be true because anything so beautiful must be true, God would make it so (not a direct quote). But when it is said and done, even in his case it's true that he worked hard all his life, and he paid his dues, and he worked within the system. That's just simply true.

                      In this guy's case (the hydronic guy), the fact that he's apparently competent at the field he's trying to revolutionize should work in his favor. In my opinion the first acid test for separating the cranks from the (possible) honest-to-goodness revolutionaries is whether or not they're competent in the fields they are challenging. Most would-be revolutionaries are not.

      • "He's raised 30 million dollars." 99.99% of which did not come from Slashdot users.
        All right. Fess up. Who gave this guy 3,000 dollars?
    • From looking at the references I would say that Blacklight is (in rough descending order of likelyhood):

      "Winging Scientists"*
      "Mislead Scientists"*
      Really onto something.
      *(By "a Winging Scientist" I mean someone who has trouble understanding some work done by other scientists and assumes that they are just making up things. Thus a "winger" feels justified in making up thing to sound impressive.)
      *(By a "Mislead Scientist" I mean decent people like Pons and Flieshman in their pursuit of cold fusion).

      And if you think he looks funny, have a look at all of the coporate officers at
      I could see them as pastors at a fundamentalist church involved in snakehandleing but I wouldn't want have them in company I was involved with.
    • Not only does the lab coat look funny, it shows he can't be a real scientist. Real scientists wear WHITE lab coats, this guy is wearing a BLUE lab coat. I think blue coats are for sanitation workers.
  • by Papa Legba ( 192550 ) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @11:09PM (#4835540)
    I would take the publishing of a science paper these days with a grain of salt. The register just did some ground breaking reporting in this area for another company like this and found out that the state of peer review at most of these mags is poor at best.

    As long as it sounds plausible then it gets published. Stringing enough buzz words together usually does the trick. Unfortunatly the science mags have gone the same way as the game review mags. Don't make waves or you don't get content and loose readership and advertising dollars.

    Read the whole article at the Register []

    • "As long as it sounds plausible then it gets published. Stringing enough buzz words together usually does the trick."

      If only that problem were limited to science mags.

      Excuse me while I go utilize a paradigm shift while thinking outside the box. That will surely decrease my TCO.
    • Blah blah blah...

      You, an uncredentialed /.er who goes by the name Pap Legba, have just dismissed the peer review process of scientific journals, comparing "science mags" to "game review mags."

      I considered arguing your pseudo-point, perhaps suggesting that you read the actual journal article, which you might find to be intelligent and thorough, and to provide sufficient information to duplicate the experiment in your own lab, which is expected in peer review journals.

      I also considered mentioning that the people that review these articles, although quite busy, are well versed in their respective fields.

      But that would only serve to validate your ridiculous point.

      So instead I will directly attack your apparent lack of intelligence.

      You are an idiot.


      • You, an uncredentialed /.er who goes by the name Pap Legba, have just dismissed the peer review process of scientific journals, comparing "science mags" to "game review mags."

        Uh, just to clarify: we aren't talking about a scientific journal here. The original article explicitly stated that it was the "Journal of Applied Physics."

        -- MarkusQ

      • I don't know if you were even old enough to read when the Cold Fusion fiasco started...

        The (Pons and Fleishmann) paper that got all the attention, and got the whole sorry thing going, was peer reviewed in a reputable scientific journal. The authors were well respected scientists in their field.

        Sadly, it was clear if you looked at the math carefully, that the claims of excess energy were derived by dividing by a small difference of large quanitities (generally a no-no) which were not measured accurately.

        A lot of people spent a lot of time as a result of this paper, doing elaborate experiments and spending bundles of money (including government funds) and found no confirmation, although a lot
        was learned about how NOT to do electrochemical calorimetry!

        Also during this time lots of peer reviewed journals published contradictory elaborate theories by genuine theoretical physicists that "explained" how the cold fusion might be working (although there was, in fact, no experimental evidence of cold fusion).

        Yes, the scientific process works, and peer review is a critical part of it, BUT... it doesn't always work on the first publishing of a paper!

        Oh, btw, there is still a journal of cold fusion. It is published by a guy who also writes editorials about all sorts of other junk science (in a ham radio magazine that he also owns).
    • by adminispheroid ( 554101 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @12:30AM (#4835784)
      Since I've been in the position of peer reviewing similar journals, I have some sympathy for people who let through results that are obviously wrong. Here's why: with a result that's based on an experiment, nobody expects the reviewer to go repeat the experiment. If somebody writes a paper that clearly describes an experiment, says they checked everything they should have checked and made all the calculations they should have, and comes up with a "surprising" result, it'll get published. And if you think about it, this is how it should be. If other people repeat the experiment and get the same answer, then it's right. And if everybody else gets a different answer, then we all know the original author is an ass.

      I don't fault the journal for publishing this trash, but I certainly fault NASA for funding it.

      • On the other hand, there are definate failures of peer-review. I am a co-author on a paper that refuted another paper. The original paper should never have passed peer review. The most egregious error was that the energy of a collision was underestimated by something like 12 orders of magnitude. It appears that the error was both arithmetic (failure to convert all quantities to SI units before multiplying) and physical (failure to account for gravitational potential energy.)
    • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @02:07AM (#4836113) Homepage Journal
      I must slightly disagree with your statement. For science to be healthy, all research, in all journals, at all times, should be taken with a grain of salt. There is nothing ground breaking about fraud in science. It happens, and will continue to happen. Science is very complex, and any single paper, like any single data point, is nothing more than a guess. In this case, we have an anomaly, a hypothesis, and some research. Time will tell if this hypothesis is correct, or if the anomaly is real.

      In fact the validity of a paper is only determined after years of careful work to reproduce, understand, define the range, and provide a complete theoretical basis for the work. This was very pleasantly explained in Kim Stanley Robinson's [] Antarctica. The importance for patience was shown recently with the AT&T Jan Hendrik Schön fraud scandal among others. Most of the damage in these cases are caused by the treatment of science as a religion that provides instant truths, rather than a process that occasionally provides useful answers.

      It amazes me the number of people of people who equate 'published in a peer reviewed journal' with 'stamp of truth'. This mistake is often made in the 'health sciences' sector in which firms routinely create products based on single peer review studies and then abuse the findings of those studies to market the products.

      • Excellent points!

        NOVA presented a program several years ago called "Do Scientists Cheat?". In it, the NSF study mentioned reported that 48% of the reports published had false or misleading data. I.E., the data was cooked in some way.

        However, there are lots of examples of bad science, the most prominent being "Cold Fusion". A similar work was presented by Fran De Aquino, a scientist who has worked at Las Alamos, and has "published" an experiment on the Internet which supposedly demonstrated an anti-gravity device.
        Here is a popularization of his idea:
        No one has been able to reproduce his results.

        Then we have the two French brothers recently mentioned on /.

        Science is in such disarray right now.

  • Unfair comment (Score:4, Insightful)

    by soramimicake ( 593421 ) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @11:09PM (#4835544)
    From the article:
    "The proof is in the hydrino pudding. The question is, when are you going to have desktop hydrino pudding?"
    Regardless of the validity of the research, this comment sounds unfair to me. You can say the same about nuclear fusion, which is also being researched for a long time. When are we going to have desktop nuclear fusion?
    • Re:Unfair comment (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ParallelJoe ( 624814 )
      We have nuclear fusion. It's that bright ball in the sky during the day. Or the H-Bombs that hopefully will never be used against people. The physics of fusion are well understood. It is only the application that is proving difficult.
    • I think they make H-Bombs small enough to sit on your desk.
    • "The proof is in the hydrino pudding. The question is, when are you going to have desktop hydrino pudding?"
      Maybe Dalton wasn't wrong...
  • To control plasma (Score:2, Informative)

    by FosterSJC ( 466265 )
    See this slashdot thread [] for a complementary project working on the other half of the technology necessary to yield plasma-powered rockets. Plasma, essentially the fourth state of matter, is VERY hot and cannot be contained by normal means. A magnetic field, ostensibly impervious to temperature, is thought to be the way to contain the plasma and direct it. There is nothing really new here, except that this scientist is using a novel way to try to create this high energy plasma: the hydrino. Good luck to him... but I am also somewhat skeptical. He seems to be too much venture-capitalist, not enough scientist.
    • Physics is irrelevant for venture-capitalistsIt doesn't matter will the thing fly or not - it is much more important to get some funding, part of which is very essential for personal bonuses and loans.

      The time of Internet bubles is over. The time of bubles is not over yet.

  • Different Angle: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by l33t-gu3lph1t3 ( 567059 ) <> on Saturday December 07, 2002 @11:11PM (#4835553) Homepage
    Nasa OK'd the physics, and made sure that the scientists weren't fudging the data. Great, and too bad all this company has right now is "abnormally energetic plasma". So far we have an unexplained phenomenon. Genereally, unexplained phenomena get researched by scientists for years *before* a company and patents are formed, ne? Something stinks here, but I don't think it's a scam. It's mostly the smell of optimism ^+_+^ Who other than me predicts a "yeah, well, it's kind of like that antigravity effect - it happened, but no one can explain it or use it" type of situation arising from this research?
    • Exactly. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And what was that about Occam's razor? Is it not possible there are explanations for the observed phenomenon here (abnormal energy levels in plasmas) than "hydrinos" that fly in the face of very well established theories that (in their relevant domain and length scales) have been proved accurate in thousands of experiments in the past (E&M, basic QM principles)? I'm not saying that these formulae are absolute doctrine and cannot be refuted - by definition all science must be disprovable, or it's not science at all. But until there was not only evidence of abnormal phenomena, but also no other reasonable explanation posited by the scientific community AND several years of proven replication of the experiment AND similar experiments designed to test the "hydrino" hypothesis via other mechanisms, well, I wouldn't accept the otherwise quite outrageous claims.
  • by Raiford ( 599622 ) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @11:19PM (#4835576) Journal
    Having a paper accepted in the Journal of Applied Physics is no great feat. JAP is not considered as one of the more scholarly physics journals and often times publication in JAP translates to "you couldn't get the work published anywhere else." Folks who regularly publich in Phys. Rev or Phil Mag tend to look down on JAP publications.

    • by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @11:41AM (#4837605) Journal
      Having a quick look at impact factors (IF) for a few journals, I was surprised to note that papers in JAP (IF ~2.2) are more likely to be cited (taken collectively) than papers in any of Phil. Mag. A, B, or Lett. (IF 1.8, 1.2, and 1.5, respectively.) IF should never be used by itself to measure the quality or importance of a journal.

      Still, if you're purely interested in getting cited (for good or bad) JAP is a better bet. Now, some of those citations may be self-referential, and some may be refutations. Really, though, they're all third-tier journals. Phys. Rev. Lett. is definitely more prestigious, based on reputation and IF (6.46). I would lump it in loosely with the second-tier journals. The top-tier journals (for physics discoveries) are almost universally considered to be Science (IF 23.9) and Nature (IF 25.8). These last two are in a class by themselves.

      So what's the point of all this? Usually there is some correlation between the scientific importance of an article and the level of journal in which it is published. I have published a paper in a third-tier journal. It was good science and solid data, but not a particularly important result. I was happy with that--people in my field could find it and appreciate it, and I wasn't wasting too many people's time with something rather obscure.

      Any author will prefer a paper in Nature to a paper in a journal from one of the lower tiers. Shrinking hydrogen atoms has just the sort of gee-whiz factor appeal that journals (and their readers) love. Further, it suggests a new realm of science. Consequently, if the author in question had solid supporting data then he would have a paper in Nature right now. You need three things for a top-flight journal article: an interesting topic, an interesting result, and rock-solid data. He's got the first two. To quote Carl Sagan:

      "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

      Looks like that (admittedly and appropriately high) bar has not been passed.

  • From the link, "Randell Mills has pledged for a decade to spark a revolution in physics that will not only overturn much of the atomic science that been taught and rewarded since the early 20th century, but will also provide a source of clean and nearly limitless energy."

    Saddly, If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is...
  • people like Robert Park. Park even went so far as to falsely charge in Forbes magazine that Mills was claiming a cancer cure from hydrinos. In 1988, Mills published a paper on cancer therapy in the journal Nature that relied on conventional physics-- he hadn't conceived of the hydrino yet.

    With enemies like Park, Mills doesn't need friends. This is a really good way to get credibility with investors for Mills.

    • by Lucas Membrane ( 524640 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @12:16AM (#4835725)
      Park's latest newsletter says:

      NIAC (NASA Institute of Advanced Concepts) contracted with the Mechanical Engineering Department at Rowan University in Atlanta, to test the idea. Well, they just issued the final report for the 6-month Phase I study. They "successfully test fired" the thruster. "However, due to time and cost constraints successful measurements of the exhaust. velocity have not been completed." Not to worry. "These concepts will be proposed for an ongoing Phase II study."

      Park seems to be a freethinker. He's very conservative on some things, but he mocks a makery of idiocy like the SDI.

      • Park is a badass. He's primarily anti-bullshit; read his articles on what he calls "Voodoo Science" (or the book of the same name) to get a better idea. He can be absolutely vicious at times but I have yet to see a situation where it wasn't called for. He's sort of like Carl Sagan crossed with Jesse Ventura.

        He's been one of the few scientists (or journalists) to call the administration on its missile defense bluff, among other things; he's also repeatedly described the ISS as a waste of time and money- though he's clearly in favor of space exploration. His opinion of creationism is about as low as can be imagined.

        I'm sure the guy can be a dickhead, and I'm sure he can be wrong occasionally, but we need people like him. The mass media tends to give pseudoscientific bullshit far more credibility than it deserves, and too many legitimate scientists keep their mouths shut or ignore the problem. In a society where John Edwards is the SciFi channel's top rated show, skeptics are vital.
  • by Morgaine ( 4316 ) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @11:38PM (#4835637)
    Whether people believe or don't believe that this effect is real or non-existent is completely irrelevant. We have a perfectly good scientific method for distinguishing reality from fiction, and any "opinions" volunteered by experts and lay readers alike are not just irrelevant, but actually harmful to the success of that method.

    The company will in due course provide all the info necessary for independent verification, which may succeed or fail, or else it won't provide it, in which case it fails by default on the scientific front. Opinions are, quite literally, just a waste of time.
    • It's actually not irrelevant at all. At the end of the day, the scientific method is practiced by the "people" (and "experts") that you say don't matter.

      If no reputable member of the scientific community (ie expert) believes that this can possibly be true, then none of them will bother trying to replicate the experiment. And, as the advisors to the folks with the money, it probably won't be funded nearly as much as if the experts did believe in it. If it does happen to be true, then it does indeed matter to all of us that these experts take it seriously, since that's the difference between having this become reality in a year or in a few decades.

      That said, it doesn't really matter what the average slashdot reader's opinion is, since he/she is not going to replicate the experiment in any event.

      Also, I don't mean to imply that I think that the process is bad- it sure beats wasting a lot of everyone's time and money chasing down every crackpot perpetual-motion/free-energy theory that comes along. But, it does lead to situations where, as Pauli said, you need to wait for most of the current scientists to die off before your new really revolutionary theory is accepted by a majority of the scientific community.

    • Whether people believe or don't believe that this effect is real or non-existent is completely irrelevant.

      Actually, it all depends on their reasons - which may be good (hydrinos contradict more than a century of quantum mechanics; the second law of thermodynamics makes perpetual motion impossible) or bad (independent researchers can't possibly make interesting discoveries).

      any "opinions" volunteered by experts and lay readers alike are not just irrelevant, but actually harmful to the success of that method.

      I have trouble seeing how any Slashdot discussion could possibly have any impact on "the success of [the scientific] method" for good or ill. Meanwhile, we often have a pretty good time...

      The company will in due course provide all the info necessary for independent verification,

      Actually, since they're an independently owned private enterprise, I wouldn't count on it. As long as they can continue to either (a) generate themselves electric power for free; and/or (b) bilk naive investors out of millions of dollars, what incentive do they have to give away their secrets?

      Opinions are, quite literally, just a waste of time.

      As I said above, it all depends on what arguments those opinions are based upon. Personally, I would urge Slashdot and the wider world generally to carefully and painstakingly ignore Blacklight Power absolutely and categorically.

      While the spectrum of the hydrogen atom was cutting-edge research two turns of a century ago [], and Niels Bohr triggered a scientific revolution just thinking about it, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, and the rest pretty much put the baby to bed. By the time Feynman was done with the hydrogen atom [] and its associated E&M processes, it had no secrets left before the 13th decimal place. So please, if you want to turn up fundamental new physics, look somewhere else [].


  • by davecl ( 233127 ) on Saturday December 07, 2002 @11:39PM (#4835640)
    The details of the paper are:

    Journal of Applied Physics -- December 15, 2002 -- Volume 92, Issue 12, pp. 7008-7021

    The abstract is as follows:

    Comparison of excessive Balmer alpha line broadening of glow discharge and microwave hydrogen plasmas with certain catalysts

    R. L. Mills, P. C. Ray, B. Dhandapani, R. M. Mayo, and J. He
    BlackLight Power, Incorporated, 493 Old Trenton Road, Cranbury, New Jersey 08512

    (Received 11 April 2002; accepted 25 September 2002)

    From the width of the 656.3 nm Balmer alpha line emitted from microwave and glow discharge plasmas, it was found that a strontium-hydrogen microwave plasma showed a broadening similar to that observed in the glow discharge cell of 27-33 eV; whereas, in both sources, no broadening was observed for magnesium-hydrogen. Microwave helium-hydrogen and argon-hydrogen plasmas showed extraordinary broadening corresponding to an average hydrogen atom temperature of 180-210 eV and 110-130 eV, respectively. The corresponding results from the glow discharge plasmas were 33-38 eV and 30-35 eV respectively, compared to [approximate]4 eV for plasmas of pure hydrogen, neon-hydrogen, krypton-hydrogen, and xenon-hydrogen maintained in either source. Similarly, the average electron temperature Te for helium-hydrogen and argon-hydrogen microwave plasmas were high, 30 500±5% K and 13 700±5% K, respectively; compared to 7400±5% K and 5700±5% K for helium and argon alone, respectively. External Stark broadening or acceleration of charged species due to high fields can not explain the microwave results since no high field was present, and the electron density was orders of magnitude too low for the corresponding Stark effect. Rather, a resonant energy transfer mechanism is proposed.
  • by Cerlyn ( 202990 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @12:23AM (#4835756)

    Anthony Marchese [] is a professor at Rowan University [], where he teaches Mechanical Engineering. He is a rather nice, young, "cool" professor, as I used to have him.

    I'm guessing the reason NASA sent him out to research this is because among other things, he has done reasearch on how things combust (burn) [] in space. He has had his experiments taken up on the "vomit comet" as well as on the taken space shuttle mission STS-94 [], to which I recall a CNN reporter stating in an obviously overpitched tone, "Well, isn't that dangerous?"

    I shall now turn this into the first ever slashdotting with credits as I list the names of the network administrators I know run various servers, ALL of which are now non-accessable:'s administrators: (NOTE: an old Sun SPARC workstation box, will not survive any slashdotting, which it appears to be already getting!!!)

    • John Robinson [] (Head engineering network admin)
    • Dennis Dipasquale [] (Secondary engineering network admin, which is funny, since he was hired first) (in general) administrators: We must be fair - the school only had (has?) about a 4.5 Mbps total Internet connection (assuming no faster lines ever came through; they were waiting on a certain phone company for years...) - I'm timing out connecting to their stuff too...

    • Mark Sedlock [] (General all-around network administrator and good guy to know)
    • Patrick Ackerman [] (Primary generic * webmaster and graphics designer)
    • The rest of the general Rowan Information Resources Department

    All the above URLs are off the top of my head, as I can no longer access any of those servers. Of the above, only seems to be up.

    Congratulations to all the slashdotters who now have successfully flooded an entire campus' Internet connection. The students trying to stea^H^H^H^Hresearch their term papers but are now unable to get online will forever remember you.

  • It gets better:... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pVoid ( 607584 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @12:31AM (#4835792)
    From the refered article []:

    It's not just BlackLight Power's work in bombs, rockets, and rusty ships that has the military's attention. Mills has stacks of proprietary research on artificial intelligence. In what he calls Brain Child Systems, Mills has done the math for a reasoning machine with consciousness.

    The more I read this guy, the more the hairs on my back stand straight.

    My uncle had a saying, that I just can't keep out of my mind as I'm reading all this:

    "Someone who knows everything knows nothing."

  • OhNo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @12:43AM (#4835834)


    This guy is a con-artist taking you for a ride. Why are you feeding his ego. Utter nonsense!

    If you actually read the NASA study, you will immediately see that there the amount of experimental evidence in NO WAY justifies any of the claims made. Excess power generation based on microwave heating of two different gas mixtures invalidates millions of REPEATABLE experiments conducted over the past 80 years? I DON'T THINK SO. Much more likely is that the adsorbtivity of the gases wasn't the same.

    The NASA study didn't even get to the point where they measured exhaust gas velocity.


    • Re:OhNo (Score:5, Insightful)

      by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @08:53AM (#4837147)
      The NASA study didn't even get to the point where they measured exhaust gas velocity.

      NASA have a small project called the Breakthrough Physics Program [] whose job it is to give credible-sounding crackpots a go, on the offchance that one of them might be right. It's Pascal's Wager - though the chances of one of them being right are minimal, if one actually IS then the payoff is immense.

      So NASA pick up this Blacklight bloke who is peddling a perpetual motion machine that flatly contradicts the most accurate scientific model ever constructed of any system (the quantum-mechanical model of the hydrogen atom) and give him a fair go. They perform a few experiments to test his claims, and in the end they say 'Meh. Well, maybe, kind of, sorta, but not so as you'd notice. Results inconclusive.'

      Thing is, they have to say 'inconclusive'. If they didn't, they'd have to explain to their bosses why they've just spent a good deal of taxpayers' money on snake oil, and their funding is at risk. So they return the Scottish verdict, they stay in work, and the snake oil peddler goes away claiming that NASA scientists endorse his scheme and that the only reason they said 'inconclusive' was because Big Oil made them cover it up.

      • they'd have to explain to their bosses why they've just spent a good deal of taxpayers' money on snake oil,

        One good reason for this expenditure would be to get stories like "NASA proves xyz is a crackpot" onto slashdot and into the Village Voice.

      • the chances of one of them being right are minimal

        I'll take my chance on the lottery. The money ought to go to SETI; I think we are far more likely to get a space drive from a message from the stars than these crackpots.

        • I think we are far more likely to get a space drive from a message from the stars than these crackpots.

          1000 times zero still equals zero. :)
  • by Vertex Operator ( 100854 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @12:53AM (#4835857) Homepage

    You don't send a scientist to investigate questionable science, and what may or may not be a scam. You send a scientist *and* someone familiar with con artists, scammers, sleight of hand, misdirection, etc. How many times does this have to be said?

    • So, let's imagine the date is December 18, 1903. Someone posts an article on Slasdot (yeah, yeah, just go with it).

      "I heard about these two guys yesterday. They built this thing called an airplane! They get people to go in, and fly around like birds."

      Science Fiction, right? Now, before you go all knee-jerk on me, think about how people reacted to this development in 1903 and 1904.

      • In 1903, the development of the airplane was widely anticipated by scientific literature and scientific conferences. Several inventors were close to flight. Toy planes powered by rubber bands had been flying for years, and birds and bats somewhat longer. Much of the public didn't like it, but the demonstrations told the story.
  • I've done some reading on this subject, and the fundamental theory stems from an assumption that the electron assumes a non-classical (particle) and non-quantum (no probability wave) form of a two-dimensional shell (called an "orbitsphere"). This is where everything comes from, and nobody has been able to disprove the theory yet. The work presently being persued is seemingly discombobulated because it's being influenced by commercial applications. It is pushing to empirically prove the existence of hydrinos (i.e. lookie what I made, therefore they exist!) instead of forming a rock-solid experiment (in the eyes of the scientific community) to prove the existence of hydrinos (i.e. I did X and Y and got A, not Z or B, and here's my test setup and data which clearly shows that I took into account all the variables that you'd otherwise say I neglected, therefore they must exist. Now how can I make money off of this?).

    For those who would like to read more, please /. the following link. It's Dr. Mills' company's webpage which offers a free PDF "book" [] on the subject.
    • by Big_Breaker ( 190457 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @03:14AM (#4836327)
      I have read his work and brought it to the attention of my chemistry professor - a cautious optimist in the cold fusion search. He had also read Mills' book and declared it UTTER bunk. What I failed to catch as an undergrad was that his mathematics were totally flawed. I wasn't really reading it critically.

      He showed me errors which I could confirm from undergrad level physics, calc, chemistry. Remember Mills is a freaking MD not a PhD. His results may not be a fraud but he hasn't put together a cogent theory.

      The biggest problem wasn't actually with the math errors per say but that the math was totally mis-applied. The results were meaningless. Before you say I was just following along with the "establishment" I can tell you it wasn't a close call.

      At best he is an alchemist. At worst he is a fraud.

      It would be great if he comes up with a way of extracting energy from water (he claims to generate enough energy from hydrogen to extract it from water).

      Wanting something to be true though does not make it any more likely to be true, however.
  • Slashdotted. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Pig Hogger ( 10379 ) <pig.hogger@gmail.NETBSDcom minus bsd> on Sunday December 08, 2002 @02:16AM (#4836137) Journal
    Here is the text I was able to get:

    Research Project Funded by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts

    Principal Investigator

    Anthony J. Marchese, Ph.D. []
    Associate Professor
    Department of Mechanical Engineering []
    College of Engineering []
    Rowan University []
    201 Mullica Hill Road
    Glassboro, NJ 08028-1701

    Office: 235 Rowan Hall
    Email address: [mailto]
    Telephone: (856) 256-5343
    Fax: (856) 256-5241

    Project Summary

    During the past decade, several research groups have begun to report unique spectroscopic results for mixed gas plasma systems in which one of the species present was hydrogen gas. In these experiments, researchers have reported excessive line broadening of H emission lines and peculiar non-Boltzmann population of excited states. The hydrogen line broadening in most of these studies was attributed to Doppler broadening associated with high random translational velocity of H atoms (i.e. "fast hydrogen").

    Recent data have been published by scientists at BlackLight Power reporting similar phenomena that suggests the presence of a newly identified regime of energetic mixed gas hydrogen plasma systems. Specifically, the following phenomena have been reported:

    • Preferential Doppler line broadening of atomic hydrogen emission spectra,

    • Inverted populations of hydrogen Balmer series in microwave hydrogen gas mixture plasmas,

    • Novel vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) vibration spectra of hydrogen mixture plasmas, an

    • Water bath calorimeter experiments interpreted as showing increased heat generation in certain gas mixtures.

    Scientists at BlackLight Power, Inc. have explained the above phenomena based on a hypothesis that, under certain conditions, hydrogen atoms can undergo transitions to energy levels corresponding to fractional principal quantum numbers. However, since the theoretical explanation of the BlackLight Process has entailed a reworking of quantum mechanics, the theory has not been readily accepted in the scientific community. Regardless of the theoretical explanation, the experimental data suggests that these plasma systems have unique characteristics that warrant further exploration for propulsion applications.

    Accordingly, the objective of the recently completed NIAC Phase I study was to assess the potential of low pressure, mixed gas hydrogen plasmas toward the development of high performance space propulsion systems. The project was awarded to Rowan by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts [] in April 2002. Prior to the Phase I study, no attempt had been made to apply this type of plasma system toward the development of a rocket thruster. Preliminary calculations suggest that such a thruster could achieve performance several orders of magnitude greater than chemical rocket propulsion.

    During the period of May 1, 2002 to November 30, 2002, the following progress was made on the project:

    • Conceptual designs for two separate proof-of-concept thrusters were completed.

    • Configuration designs for thruster hardware were developed using SolidWorks 3D solids modeling.

    • A BlackLight Plasma Thruster (BLPT) was fabricated.

    • A BlackLight Microwave Plasma Thruster (BLMPT) was fabricated.

    • An experimental vacuum test chamber apparatus was developed for testing the BLPT and BLMPT thrusters.

    • A spectroscopic technique was developed for measuring thruster exhaust velocity using a Doppler shift of hydrogen emission spectra.

    • A 1 kW class arcjet thruster and power supply was obtained from NASA Glenn Research Center to benchmark Doppler shift velocity measurement technique.

    • Experiments on the BlackLight process were performed including:

    o Thermal characterization of a compound hollow cathode glow discharge apparatus,

    o Hydrogen line broadening measurements in low pressure microwave water plasmas,

    o Measurements of inversion of line intensities in hydrogen Balmer series,

    o Measurements of novel vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) vibration spectra of hydrogen mixture plasma, and

    o Water bath calorimetry experiments.

    • The BLPT and BLMPT were installed into vacuum systems and successfully test fired.

    • Preliminary experiments were performed to measure emission spectra of the exhaust gases of the BLMPT thruster.

    Each of these results is described in the Phase I final report [], which was issued on Dec. 2, 2002.

    The following presentation was given at the NASA Instituted for Advanced Concepts Phase I Fellows Meeting in Atlanta, GA on October 25, 2002. Download presentation here [].

    Rowan Project Personnel

    Anthony Marchese, PI

    John Schmalzel, Co-PI

    Peter Jansson, Co-PI

    Mike Muhlbaier, student

    Kevin Garrison, student

    Jennifer Demetrio, student

    Tom Smith, student

    Mike Resciniti, '02 (Graduated. Now at University of Michigan.)

    Test Firing BLMPT Thruster

    Last updated: Dec 4, 2002
  • by sohp ( 22984 ) <{snewton} {at} {}> on Sunday December 08, 2002 @03:18AM (#4836341) Homepage
    Sorry, until we have the current living heir to the intellectual tradition and rigor of Richard P. Feynman examine and confirm these claims, it's just so much snake oil.
  • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @05:30AM (#4836746) Journal
    So what if this guy's theory is wrong? As long as there is sufficient evidence of a new strange or unexplained phenomena it's probably worth investigating. Maybe scientists are too busy repeating experiments done by 1000 other scientists. People have already spent billions in hot nuclear fusion and when I last checked it's still the same number of years away. The ISS is not significantly more than an expensive Mir.

    You might as well call Columbus a crack pot and a conman - his theory was wrong, he took other people's money and practically lied to them, and he was far from being even the first.

    Same goes for cold fusion - even if it's not cold fusion, there seems to be some interesting phenomena in it.

    Tons of scientists make up theories without providing any evidence, but they still are lauded for it. Sure it's called "theoretical ......".

    To naysayers it's better to ignore stuff than be negative without evidence, at least you won't look like an idiot if you are wrong.
    • WHAT "interesting phenomena" are there in cold fusion?

      I followed that whole area very closely when it first came out (and was on the mailing list). I saw *no* interesting phenomena other than that of people willing to take sloppy experiments and create elaborate theories about them, and otherwise respectible scientists losing their cool about it.

      So I am genuinely curious. WHAT phenomena?
  • Rather, the report simply notes that these high-energy plasmas are created only with the company's catalysts.

    If the composition of those "catalysts" remains proprietary, then the work is effectively not independently reproducible and should not get published in any journal. Saying "buy this magic powder from company X and it will do something spectacular" just isn't acceptable.

  • by alian ( 128873 ) on Sunday December 08, 2002 @09:21AM (#4837200)
    I thought I recognized his name from an article a while back in Wired covering cold fusion. I was right.... (well, at least on the memory that he seemed like a quack.)

    From the search you'll see bios listing him as a publisher of a paper on the Grand Unified Theory.


    A better village voice article [] in 99 that was already skeptical. I like how he promised "I'll have demonstrated an entirely new form of energy production by the end of 2000".

Kill Ugly Processor Architectures - Karl Lehenbauer