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Science Technology

14 Years Later, Cold Fusion Still Gets The Cold Shoulder 561

segment writes "It has been 14 years since two little-known electrochemists announced what sounded like the biggest physics breakthrough since Enrico Fermi produced a nuclear chain reaction on a squash court in Chicago. Using a tabletop setup, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, of the University of Utah, said they had induced deuterium nuclei to fuse inside metal electrodes, producing measurable quantities of heat. That was the opening bell for one of the craziest periods in science. Cold fusion, if real, promised to solve the world's energy problems forever. Scientists around the world dropped what they were doing to try to replicate the astounding claim." The linked AP story (carried on is about the Tenth International Conference on Cold Fusion, which took place in the last week of August.
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14 Years Later, Cold Fusion Still Gets The Cold Shoulder

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  • by koreth ( 409849 ) * on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:18PM (#6895171)
    Maybe it still gets the cold shoulder because there didn't turn out to be anything to it? Nah, stilly me, must be some kind of conspiracy.
    • by naasking ( 94116 ) <> on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:29PM (#6895241) Homepage
      The whole situation was handled poorly by all parties involved. The politics doesn't mean there wasn't a phenomenon worthy of investigation.
      • by Noren ( 605012 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @09:28PM (#6896510)
        You're right.

        It was the irreproducability of the alleged results that meant that there wasn't a phenomenon worthy of further investigation.

        • Yet, it was a phenomenon worthy enough of a Keanu Reeves movie.
        • by naasking ( 94116 ) <> on Monday September 08, 2003 @09:26AM (#6899049) Homepage
          It was the irreproducability of the alleged results that meant that there wasn't a phenomenon worthy of further investigation.

          Don't be silly. The results were reproducible, and many labs around the world announced success. But the results weren't reliably reproducible. So those who couldn't reporoduce them on the first or second try immediately dismissed the whole claim as a hoax.
          • In science, reproducable means that anyone can do the same experiment and get the same result (within expected error margins.) This is fundamental.

            Taking a very difficult measurement(one in which experimental error is common and which the observations are barely above the noise level of the apparatus) and occasionally getting a positive result, and then not running any controls (after the initial media frenzy, several labs found the same minute energy increase was also sometimes observed while using non-

      • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Monday September 08, 2003 @03:46AM (#6897944) Journal
        I was working at Bell Labs back when the Cold Fusion hype happened, though not in one of the chemistry departments. About two days after the initial announcement hit the press, there was an Official Pronouncement that nobody was allowed to withdraw palladium from the company stockroom without their director's approval... A bit later, a researcher at some university was killed in a hydrogen explosion, and any cold fusion research inside the Labs became much more strictly controlled as a response to it - messing with electrolysis is too easy a way to get into chemical accidents.

        One of my jobs was sysadmin for a departmental computer lab that was in a big glass-fishbowl room (remember when computers were big?) I was heading off for a week to see a customer on another project, but I took a few minutes to print out a line-printer banner about "Cold Fusion Research Laboratory" and cobble together some random parts and wires and 5-gallon jars of liquid and set them up in the window before I left. They were gone by the time I got back :-)

    • > Maybe it still gets the cold shoulder because there didn't turn out to be anything to it?

      "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't."

      That's what I said to a friend the day after the "discovery" hit the news, and I haven't had any cause to reconsider my position since.

    • by LS ( 57954 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:34PM (#6895276) Homepage
      Did you RTFA or anything else on cold fusion in the last few years??? There IS something, though whether it is caused by cold fusion or not is the question. In fact, the article is specifically about people like you who deny things before they investigate them.

      • by d'fim ( 132296 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:42PM (#6895325)
        Whatever "it" is, it is NOT fusion.

        So call it something else already, and maybe those who study whatever "it" is may have a shot at being taken seriously.
        • by d'fim ( 132296 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @06:02PM (#6895444)
          .....adding to my own post:

          They have been studying "it" for 14 years now, and they are STILL at the "we suspect that something is there, but we don't really have a clue as to what it might be, nor do we even have any real evidence that anything is really there at all" stage.

          Nonetheless, cold fusion conspiracy theorists like to point out that a "major Japanese corporation" has a working model that is due to be demonstrated Real Soon Now.....

          and has been so due for 14 years so far.
          • Duke (Score:5, Funny)

            by zurmikopa ( 460568 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @08:54PM (#6896326) Homepage
            Why do I get the feeling that this fusion project has the codename "Duke Nukem Forever"
          • Actually they are at the point where they see clearly that there is something there, and the something is unexplainably generated heat. Since it is a chemical reaction, they expected to be able to explain the heat by a chemical process, but there was way too much heat generated for any known chemical process to explain it. The level of heat placed the reaction in the realm of nuclear processes, though there was (and is) no known way to initiate a nuclear reaction through chemical methods.

            They see what they
      • Scientist sees a wee spark in a test tube and starts ranting about free energy etc. Engineer thinks about real-world problems that need to be solved to scale the technology into real world applications.

        Well I remember the time when high temperature superconductivity was announced (little pill of material magnetically levitated in a cooled environment). Scientists started spouting on about lossless power lines using superconductors. Engineers skeptically thought that the energy required for the refridgeratio

        • by QEDog ( 610238 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @09:53PM (#6896643)
          It is unfair to critize the scientist saying that what they do doesn't have applications. Some of it does, some of it doesn't, but they ARE discovering new phenomena after all. You talk about High Tc Super Conductors, but forget about the transistor and many other. It is hard to predict what will be the big next thing. Scientist try to milk phenomenas as much as they can, sometimes with high hopes, and sometimes their expectations were not realistic. This happens in engineering too. The good thing about science that even if there isn't an immediate application, maybe in the far future there will be. And, you can always do science just because understanding the universe can't be a bad thing.
        • by SEE ( 7681 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @10:53PM (#6896954) Homepage
          First, although general lines are not, there are a few refitted power plants that use "high" temp superconductors for short (dozens of meter long), very high power lines. The losses to resistance and the cooling that would be required by the heat generated by the resistance are high enough in these short fat lines between generation and the grid that SC wires with liquid nitrogen coooling is a net gain on efficiency.

          Second, real point was that there was no longer a theoretical barrier to there being 50 deg. C superconductors. If and when those are discovered, they'll radically change things, even if they turn out to be a bastard to work with mechanically.
        • by donutz ( 195717 )
          Scientist sees a wee spark in a test tube and starts ranting about free energy etc.

          From what I hear, George W Bush strongly advocates further research into free energy and antigravity [].
      • Do _you_ understand what science is and how it works?

        The cold fusion-ists can't even agree amongst themselves what that "something" is! Heat? Neutrons? Helium? Alchemy? In the quantities they claim, all three are DIFFERENT and MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE of each other. Only the low-level, low-rate neutron claim is even consistent with nuclear fusion!!!!

        What seems to go over the article writer's head completely is that the claims _were_ looked at, scrutinized, dissected, analyzed and critiqued already FOURTEE

        • The cold fusion-ists can't even agree amongst themselves what that "something" is! Heat? Neutrons? Helium? Alchemy? In the quantities they claim, all three are DIFFERENT and MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE of each other.

          If there were any fusion taking place, there would be excess heat, released neutrons (posibly), and helium produced, which could be called Alchemy (H + H = He). We know fusion is possible, because the Sun can do it, and we can do it will intertial or magnetic confinement and simple thermal energy

    • I wouldn't call it a conspiracy, but I would say that there were a series of steps that occurred to turn Fleischmann and Pons' discovery into a joke when it was real, serious science.

      If you have a chance, check out the book The Scientist, the Madman, the Thief and Their Lightbulb: The Biggest Scandal in the History of Science. Other than greats like Tesla, it talks about the political maneuvering that took place at their university, and institutions and other scientists with which they worked.

      • Fleischmann and Pons' discovery may be considered a hoax by many, but in fact their research has been duplicated (and often with even better "cold fusion" results) by hundreds of scientists all over the world, including here in the US, Japan, and India.

        Certainly their results have been duplicated by many, but for every duplication that produced excess heat, their has been two that fail to do so. An experiment that can only be replicated by believers isn't science, it's charlatanism. (Testable propositio

        • by Kenneth ( 43287 ) on Monday September 08, 2003 @02:53AM (#6897807) Homepage
          Certainly their results have been duplicated by many, but for every duplication that produced excess heat, their has been two that fail to do so. An experiment that can only be replicated by believers isn't science, it's charlatanism.

          Not quite what's happening here. It's obvious that most people here haven't read anything about what's going on with those studying 'cold fusion'. Most of those who do study it agree that whatever is happening, it isn't fusion. It retains the name for historical reasons.

          What IS happening doesn't seem to conform to what anyone understands about physics. People performing (as far as they can tell) the exact same expierment will get different results. Even the same person doing the same expierment multiple times gets different results.

          Often there is a significant amount of heat generated, often not. Somtimes there are neutrons, sometimes not. Most of those who are looking into it will freely say that it isn't fusion, and that most likely it isn't going to be too useful. The fact that there are some anomolous results happening, that aren't easily accounted for, indicates that it's at least worth studying.
  • If real? (Score:4, Funny)

    by thinkninja ( 606538 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:19PM (#6895178) Homepage Journal
    What do you think powers my flying car?
  • by sonicattack ( 554038 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:26PM (#6895224) Homepage
    This is from the good ole' fortune file. It really has an answer to everything!

    - "Yo, Mike!"
    - "Yeah, Gabe?"
    - "We got a problem down on Earth. In Utah."
    - "I thought you fixed that last century!"
    - "No, no, not that. Someone's found a security problem in the physics program. They're getting energy out of nowhere."
    - "Blessit! Lemme look... Hey, it's there all right! OK, just a sec... There, that ought to patch it. Dist it out, wouldja?"

    -- Cold Fusion, 1989
  • by nacturation ( 646836 ) <> on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:28PM (#6895232) Journal
    Scientists for the International Society of Alchemy held their 284th annual conference next door to the cold fusion conference. Still under debate is: did Gaythorpe the Great really turn lead into gold?
    • by Izago909 ( 637084 )
      At least someone took the time to prove alchemy wrong. It's a travesty for a scientist to say cold fusion is wrong because of his faith. Be a scientist and use that damn method you've heard about since childhood. Since when does peer review mean you only test things that fit into your view of the universe?

      Say what you want, alchemists were very smart for their time. They made that one thing that produced energy around 2000 years ago, and it has held the human mind captive ever since. What did they call t
      • Re:In other news... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @07:03PM (#6895796)
        To be nit picky alchemy has been proven right since every element there is was formed in the heart of stars from other elements. And of course nuclear decay forms elements in the opposite direction.

        Obviously some crackpot mixing chemicals in his crucible isn't going to achieve the same (and may as well be pissing in the wind for all the good it would do him). But the underlying principle that you can make turn base metals or anything else into gold is true if you have a spare ten billion years and a star or two to do it with.

        • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @08:59PM (#6896355) Homepage Journal

          Obviously some crackpot mixing chemicals in his crucible isn't going to achieve the same

          Oddly enough, if he mixes the right sort of earth with quicksilver and then applies fire 'to drive away the excess water', he will in fact find gold has been left behind. Of course he'll also get a terrible case of mercury poisoning.

      • by DesScorp ( 410532 ) <DesScorp.Gmail@com> on Sunday September 07, 2003 @07:56PM (#6896006) Homepage Journal
        " It's a travesty for a scientist to say cold fusion is wrong because of his faith... Since when does peer review mean you only test things that fit into your view of the universe? "

        It's always been this way. Theres a big difference between the scientific method, and Science, Inc. And while you're at it, realize that Science Inc is as much a religion as any other faiths. It has its orthodoxies just like anything else. The Atkins Diet has always had its detractors. It took them, what, over two decades to admit that you can lose weight with it? And even now some doctors refuse to acknowledge that it can work. It violated the dogma of low fat/high carbs. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, science has its dogmas. Stephen Hawking is considered a genius now, but back when he was starting his career, the Steady State theory was the reigning dogma of physics. Some scientists simply refused to acknowledge any other possibilities.

        Revolutionary ideas in science are often met with skepticism at first.
        • Science is a religion based around these simple principles:

          1. Phenomenon may be measured.
          2. If phenomenon is observerd to repeat at least 19 times out of 20, then it will be considered repeating.
          3. Theories should be based on evidence, and when evidence is contrary to the theory, the theory should be suspect.

          I don't see any measurement of the phenomenon in any labs that I feel are credible (ie most of the world), and I don't see repeatability (either in the one lab that claims creation, or the other lab t
  • by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:29PM (#6895235) Homepage
    My neighbor had a cold fusion plant working like a charm, but he hasn't done much with it since the time he decided to connect to the electricity grid and give all his fellow Ohians free juice.
  • Chain Reaction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Wylfing ( 144940 ) <brian&wylfing,net> on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:29PM (#6895244) Homepage Journal
    I always liked the hidden commentary in the movie Chain Reaction [] that someone really did discover cold fusion but it has been massively covered up by existing power interests (e.g., oil, coal). Surely nonesense, because this is a genie that would not go back in the bottle if it was true, but if cold fusion really was developed you can bet your ass we'd see Congress trying to pass some kind of doublespeak like "Protecting Home Access to Electricity Act" which makes it illegal to purchase non-coal generated electricity.

  • Let us dream (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ihatewinXP ( 638000 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:30PM (#6895245)
    I know the popular thing to do is bash psuedo-sciences, and cold fusion because of its shaky introduction into popular thought quickly falls into this quagmire. But, let the human race dream before summarily dismissing the entire concept. I for one dont believe that all I have to look forward to as i grow older is a greater dependence on big oil, old money, and the like. Many groups (and by that I mean countries, companies, and current presidents) would love to convince us that there is no better way to live than under our present conditions. Not giving cold fusion and other radical departures from our current system an honest chance is not far from why were are stuck with Windows as the dominant platform in computers and oil as the backbone of our way of life.
    Im not saying that cold fusion itself is the future, but what we are presently using is certainly not the platform for all future generations. Hell, if Bush gets his way there might not even be enough sun left for solar energy so there has to be soemthing to fill the void.
    • Re:Let us dream (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mikedaisey ( 413058 )

      It *was* given a chance--many of them--and it failed to turn up. Dream if you like, and the rest of us will keep working toward power solutions that actually function.
    • Re:Let us dream (Score:5, Insightful)

      by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @06:58PM (#6895770)
      Personally, I am very skeptical that the perfect power source can ever be discovered.

      We already have plain old fission nuclear power, and the only think really wrong with it is that it works TOO well. Any relatively small package capable of releasing tremendous energy will be usable as a weapon, and that is exactly what's keeping nuclear power down.

      I realize there are environmental concerns too, but I think fear over the devastating potential of nuclear weapons is the root problem. Without that, pollution can be managed and contained.

    • by David Hume ( 200499 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @06:59PM (#6895772) Homepage

      I know the popular thing to do is bash psuedo-sciences, and cold fusion because of its shaky introduction into popular thought quickly falls into this quagmire. But, let the human race dream before summarily dismissing the entire concept.

      Carl Sagan addressed this issue in his essay, "The Burden of Skepticism." [] (See also lecture version []).

      Sagan explained:

      It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, whichever one it is, you're in deep trouble.

      If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress.

      On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones. If all ideas have equal validity then you are lost, because then, it seems to me, no ideas have any validity at all.

  • by ryen ( 684684 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:30PM (#6895250)
    by grabbing the domain before the 11th conference ;)
  • by saskboy ( 600063 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:32PM (#6895260) Homepage Journal
    "It has been 14 years"

    It been at least that long since we were promised Hydrogen fuel cells. Where's my fuel cell powered truck?

    I think consumers have been patient enough. Now it is time for companies to deliver something.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Chill. We're working on it. This is a tenth of what we do, the site is under construction yet:
      Argonne National Laboratory Hydrogen Research []
      Give us 0.1% of the money we spent on Iraq and we'll give you a hydrogen economy. The question is, do you really want a change, or will you ride your SUV into oblivion?
    • Theyre not rolling out cold fusion powered vehicles.Also fuel cell stacks are being used to generate intermittent power in more than a few cities.

      The thing that got me about the coldfusion people was when they started doing the calorimetry to prove it worked.

      The surest way you can spot bullshit power generation claims, is when their proponents pull out the calorimeter. Anything thats going to be a real power generation technology isn't going to need a calorimeter to prove it will work. The amount of he
  • Embarassed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Herkum01 ( 592704 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:36PM (#6895287)
    This is a pride issue. The cold-fusion scientists are trying to get recognition from their detractors but they don't want to have anything to do with it. There are two reasons,
    1. They got burned the first time because the conclusion, it was a hoax. Nothing makes a scientist burn up more than to have been tricked by some psuedo science experiment.
    2. They really would hate to admit that they are wrong a second time. If they look and find that they are wrong and it was not a hoax it looks bad for them. Worse, they back it up and they find out that it was still considered a hoax, they fell like fools for a second time.

    No win situation for their critics really. They are going to have a tough time getting any support.

    • Re:Embarassed (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Professor D ( 680160 )
      Mod the parent down. 'Insightful?' Hardly. It's pretty clear that what Herkum01 knows about scientists is learned from watching too many bad B sci-fi/horror movies.

      It is true that physicists can be a prideful lot, but that tends be truer than not for smart people in general. But to reject what would be remarkable new science because they 'got burned' would be beyond pride and well into hubris.

      Lots of physicists tried the experiments back in 1989 because the claims were so remarkable, the recipe so sim

  • by mlush ( 620447 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:39PM (#6895304)
    Just a Fleisch in the Pons
  • by RichardtheSmith ( 157470 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:40PM (#6895308)
    This was always my favorite re-telling of the story... From David Goodstein at Caltech... []
  • Pons and Fleischmann (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gribbly ( 39555 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:40PM (#6895313)
    [disclaimer: from memory]

    The Pons and Fleischmann "cold fusion" experiment was thoroughly discredited shortly after the press conference (in which they grossly overstated their results). Apparently they were spooked by another researcher working in a similar area. They had signed an agreement with him not to release any results, but got paranoid that he was going to "claim the credit", and went ahead and announced - kind of an "announce and hope the results back you up" gamble. Well, the results *didn't* back them up, although it is interesting that many reputable teams who sought to replicate the results initially did so, but one by one retracted their findings when they discovered various flaws in their methodologies.

    I think the basic problem with the original Pons and Fleischmann experiment was that their calorimeter (which they used to get their "excess heat" measurements) was either faulty, or inappropriate for the experiement they were performing, and they didn't control for it.

  • by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:41PM (#6895318) Homepage
    Using the techniques published in the paper, I've been developing a method a quantum communication over great distances. The possibilities of these innovations to the original deuterium breakdown system are staggering; among these breakthroughs are advances in communication.

    We all know the typical objection to unlimited data compression. One needs only to Google for "counting argument" to realize that further compression of essentially random (e.g., binary) data is impossible. Searches for better compression algorithms at best have minimal returns (1-2% reductions are considered remarkable) or at worst ineffective or outright hoaxes.

    My new technology builds upon quantum duality -- influence at a distance. From first year quantum physics we know that observation of a particle can fix its state. Should a particle and anti-particle be released, we can *at a distance* fix the identity of the opposite particle merely by observation. What does this mean? Well, for one, by sending a stream of anti-particles to a remote observer then observing its opposite, we can then fix the identity of the remote particles *no matter how much distance*. This means we can instantaneously send as a stream of quantum particles. Schroedinger's and Heisenbergs body of work more than amply addresses the mechanics of this remote communication so I won't bore you with the technical details here.

    How does my method overcome the inherent randomness of quantum identity? It doesn't. I rely upon a remote lookup table. The receiver will only need to be sent a key of several bits. The remote receiver can then index the key to a table of longer values. For example, a key code of 001 would correspond to a larger sequence such as 00100111. By performing a lookup on this table the receiver can then expand the key to arbitrarily large bit sequences. How are the keys transferred? Our new technology -- Extended Schroedinger Particle (ESP) -- bases itself upon the aforementioned work by Mr. Schroedinger. Of course, trade secrets and corporate lawyers prevent me from revealing the exact method.

    Anyhow, please send me money so that I can continue my research. It has the potential to obviate and obsolete all current telecommunications networks.

  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:44PM (#6895336)
    Stuff on the US Navy and Cold Fusion /t r/1862/tr1862-vol1.pdf
    • by blincoln ( 592401 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @09:39PM (#6896565) Homepage Journal
      Mod the parent post up. From the foreword:

      "We do not know if Cold Fusion will be the answer to future energy needs, but we do know the existence of Cold Fusion phenomenon through repeated observations by scientists throughout the world. It is time that this phenomenon be investigated so that we can reap whatever benefits accrue from additional scientific understanding."

      I am fairly skeptical of extraordinary claims, but if the US military has researchers writing things like this, I'm definitely willing to listen.
  • by forgotmypassword ( 602349 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:46PM (#6895349)
    we will use it to boil water

    (you have to know how a nukular power plant works to get this joke)
  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:52PM (#6895388)

    What the heck kind of shoulder did you expect cold fusion to get?

  • Things to remember (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cluge ( 114877 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:53PM (#6895393) Homepage
    Some quick facts:

    Science by press release is almost never ever good science.

    Big physics has been getting more money than big chemistry. Many chemists jumped on the bandwagon in the hopes of getting research grants in their discipline.

    The nature of fusion makes the whole idea of "cold fussion" an oxymoron.

    A lot of ameteur's have been getting closer to fusion in their homes [] than the cold fusion people have ever gotten.

    See sig for final thoughts on this subject.
    • by rjh ( 40933 ) <> on Sunday September 07, 2003 @07:29PM (#6895908)
      Not true--cold fusion is possible, just not like Pons and Fleischmann described. (Nothing like it, in fact.) The quantum mechanical description of the energy states of a hydrogen atom are identical whether you use electrons or muons; use either, the hydrogen atom doesn't care. (Now, when you ask the very important question "yeah, genius, now how do you create quintillions of muon-replaced hydrogen atoms?", I'll resort to the classic physicist's dodge: "that's an engineering issue; go ask an engineer.")

      QMech says that if you've got hydrogens with muon shells instead of electron shells, you'll see spontaneous fusion reactions at very low temperatures. The reasons why are hard to explain without going into a lot of math, but it's quite possible according to the Standard Model.

      Of course, there's a world of difference between possible and feasible. But physicists are only concerned with the possible. Feasible is for engineers. :)
  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @05:59PM (#6895427) Journal
    It has been 14 years since two little-known electrochemists announced what sounded like the biggest physics breakthrough since Enrico Fermi produced a nuclear chain reaction on a squash court in Chicago.

    Coincidentally, it's been 14 years since my Introductory Physics professor blew off pretty much the entire second semester to try to replicate the Pons & Fleischman findings. It worked out well -- he got a cover article in Nature and I got an A+ after he reused all the previous years' exams verbatim.

    (You'd think everyone else would have gotten old exams from their friends, but I, though hardly an Alpha Beta, was apparently one of the few students who _had_ friends. For that matter, I could never understand how people could be given a word problem with the force and mass, told to find the acceleration, and given the relevant equations, couldn't locate f=ma and plug the values in.)

    The same guy, when he talked about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse pronounced it "Tacomanaros". It was years before I learned that it wasn't in Uruguay or Bolivia...

  • by reporter ( 666905 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @06:02PM (#6895443) Homepage
    What is happening to the research in the cold fusion also happened to the research in neural newtorks. Please read the following.

    1. " Perceptrons: An Associative Learning Network []".
    2. "Single and Multi-Layer Perceptrons []"
    3. Perceptron [].

    To briefly summarize the tale of woe, Frank Rosenblatt invented the perceptron in 1957. It had one layer of artificial neurons and sparked an entire field of research in artificial learning. In 1969, Marvin Minsky at MIT wrote a book called "Perceptrons: An Introduction to Computational Geometry"; in it, he mathematically proved that the perceptron could not solve certain classes of problems. This book essentially decimated funding for neural-network research for about 15 years.

    In 1982, John Hopfield at Caltech revived the field with the invention of the Hopfield Networks. Further, several researchers invented backpropagation as a way to train neural networks with 2 or more layers or artificial neurons and overcame the limitations that Minsky indicated. Now, the field of neural networks has plenty of money to do research.

    So, there is a possibility that research into cold fusion will grow hot again.

    ... from the desk of the reporter []

  • by smoondog ( 85133 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @06:03PM (#6895453)
    There are two things that could be at work here. First, scientists may hate everything to do with cold fusion and not want to see it go anywhere. And/Or, Two, the media may be fueling the perception that scientists don't want anything to do with it.

    I spoke [] with a nobel laureate physicist about cold fusion. I found that while he didn't think there was much to cold fusion (it isn't his primary area of research, but if he can't comment on it, who can?), I didn't get the feeling he held the anomosity usually attributed to the scientific community at large. (I frankly don't either) I think that the media plays a significant role in blackening the field. Kind of like the kid on the playground who eggs on fights, but never participates in them.

    Scientists believe in publication, in particular good ones. If cold fusion-ites publish interesting/good research on the subject, they will be recognized. As pointed out in the above link, there was a seemingly cold fusion-like experiment that was published in science quite recently (it isn't quite cold fusion, because the events themselves are hot and very small).

    Most scientists deal with skeptical peers regularly, this isn't just a property of the cold fusion community. That said, just because there is a conference on it doesn't make it real or even interesting. I personally find it interesting, but I wouldn't bet on seeing commercial applications of this in our lifetimes.

  • by MADCOWbeserk ( 515545 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @06:26PM (#6895555)
    SCO has announced they sueing Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann.. "SCO owns all rights to bullshit from the state of UTAH. Cold fusion therefore meets our criteria for deritive works." Chris Sontag, VP of SCO..
  • Crackpot Index... (Score:3, Informative)

    by ewithrow ( 409712 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @06:28PM (#6895564) Homepage
    THE CRACKPOT INDEX by John Baez A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics. -5 point starting credit. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards). 5 points for each mention of "Einstien", "Hawkins" or "Feynmann". 10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence). 10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. 10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don't know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen. 10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory. 10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations". 10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism". 10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence). 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift". 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize. 20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence). 20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories. 20 points for each use of the phrase "hidebound reactionary". 20 points for each use of the phrase "self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy". 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.) 30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate. 30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by an extraterrestrial civilization (without good evidence). 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts. 40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.) 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions. Appendage: 100 points for anything involving cold fusion, tabletop fusion, or super fusion.
  • by ralphh ( 703108 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @06:28PM (#6895569)
    Cold Fusion was thoroughly beaten up in the old Compuserve Science & Math forum at the time.

    Seems there were a lot of complex things interacting, electrical, chemical, thermal and *mechanical*. The palladium electode absorbing hydrogen gets visibly larger as it pulls the ions in - there was speculation that a lot of energy was being stored this way via a spring-loading effect, but nobody on the forum knew or cared to calculate how much. Spontaneous collapse of many microscopic internal structures in the electrode could account for episodes of heat release IF enough energy is stored this way.

    The CFers also claimed elevated radiation near the experiments once. It turned out they were measuring radon levels in the basement where the experiment was being conducted.

    Wish I'd saved my Compuserve logs of this stuff, but I couldn't afford the floppies, $5 each at the time. :-)

    Anyway, once it became apparent the experiments had many possible flaws and were failing to produce any clear positive results, researchers who valued their career would have been crazy to waste the time.

    Anybody here participate in the Science & Math forum back then? I've always wondered what happened to the moderator, Emory Kimbrough.

  • by xplenumx ( 703804 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @06:46PM (#6895691)
    Simply because the cold fusion hypothesis is not dead does not make Dr. Pons and Dr. Fleischmann any more correct in their findings. The scientists weren't ostracized because they claimed to have experimental evidence to support cold fusion - had the evidence proved true, the world would have been ecstatic. The problem was in how the scientists presented their results.

    Anyone who presents their data to the popular press prior to being peer reviewed should be heavily criticized. Even the most senior and brightest scientist make mistakes, become too enthusiastic, or may fail to run the proper controls. Furthermore, given that their data changed over time (from one Watt in, four out to one Watt in, ten out) with no reasoning, backing or explanation, one has to question the accuracy of their data.

    Great scientists sometimes make big mistakes, such as with Dr. Atassi and his experiment with pepzymes. Unlike the cold fusion scientists, Dr. Atassi went through the peer review process and later didn't play the ego game. Personally, I think Dr. Pons and Dr. Fleischmann were greatly mislead by their enthusiasm (I wouldn't go nearly so far as to call them frauds). Just as the mistakes of these two scientists don't invalidate the field of cold fusion, the successes of the field don't make their claims any more accurate.

    • Going public at that time was not the idea of Drs Pons & Fleischmann - it was that of the University where they worked at the time, eager for some publicity. They were basically forced to go along. Unfortunate for them, as it pretty much destroyed their careers.
  • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @07:07PM (#6895815) Journal
    The Pons and Fleischmann "cold fusion" experiments where reproduced by several labs(including my university). However, it has nothing to do with cold fusion, that is the resume. As fusion, cold or not, creates measureable amounts of neutrons. Those did not get detected.
    What remains is a heat producing aparatus with unknown reaction.

    There are a lot of other ways to get a cold fusin reaction. And that is old science from the late 70th. One is "myon catalised fusion". In that case you bombard H atoms with myons. Myons are particls with similar behaviour likel electrons. Those can replace the electorns of an H atom. As a myon has about 300,000 times the mass of an electron it orbits the H atom very close. When two H atoms with their electrons replaced by myons form a mulecule, the two H cores are brought so close together that a fusion can happen.

    There are likely other ways for "cold fusion".

    Interesting, that a "geek net magazine" where posters/readers are supposed to have a clue about computers and related sciences behave like inquisitors when it goes about cold fusion and behave like experts when it goes about asteroid deflection or near earth misses ....

    Probably it would be at least nice, if not wise, to open up your mind.

    • by rjh ( 40933 ) <> on Sunday September 07, 2003 @07:57PM (#6896009)
      Muon-catalyzed fusion is real and comes within a factor of 15 of being commercially viable--muon-catalyzed reactions became self-sustaining in a theoretical sense in the 1980s (generating more energy out than was put in), but there's a long way between theoretical and practical self-sufficiency.

      They hit the theoretical; they're within a factor of 15 of practical. This makes muon-catalyzed fusion the closest to viability of any fusion method so far. On the other hand, people have been throwing themselves at it for 20 years now trying to close that factor-of-15 gap and haven't gotten anywhere. Nowadays it's thought that there are some physical limitations on muon fusion which will prevent it from closing that factor-of-15 gap, and muon catalysis is no longer considered to be the most promising light on the horizon.

      Muons are not 300,000 times the mass of an electron; they're 207 times the mass of an electron (or appreciably close to the mass of a proton).
  • by Ezmate ( 641054 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @08:22PM (#6896102)
    While I attended Texas A&M, I spent 2 (93-94) years as a personal assistant (gofer, typist, etc) to James Bockris (Distinguished Professor of Electro-Chemestry - the first scientist to "confirm" Pons & Fleischmann). As such, I had full access to his corespondance (I had to open it all, sort it by subject, & reply to some of the simplier inquiries) & was able to learn quite a bit.

    Although it's now been 10 years since I've done any serious research on the subject (every now & then I read the symposium notes), I can give you my opinions of the whole Cold Fusion uproar:

    -There is something strange & new going on in these experiments
    -This something strange & new has been very difficult to reproduce consistently (much of the research focuses on certain types of atomic level imperfections in the cathodes)
    -Pons & Fleischmann screwed the pooch by announcing their results before they could reproduce them. This basically had the effect of turning 95% of the scientific community against them. This has led to many people assuming the entire field of study as bogus.
    -Many scientist around the world have reported "good results" - ranging from melted cathodes (excess heat) to extra helium (fusion of hydrogen atoms?).

    My guess is that there is some new type of reaction occuring in these experiments. It may or may not be able to produce excess heat. Regardless, I'd bet in 10-20 years, a paper will be published that will explain it all.

    As a side note, Dr. Bockris was a very "interesting" fellow to work with - he was the epitomy of the absent minded professor; one day he came in to work with his button down dress shirt on INSIDE OUT (think about how much effort it would take you to button a dress shirt in such a fashion); he frequently would put a MARKER in his front pocket without the cap on - leading to a HUGE ink stain on many of his dress shirts. And yes, I know he's done some weird stuff in his life (alchemy, anyone?! -
    • Although it's now been 10 years since I've done any serious research on the subject (every now & then I read the symposium notes), I can give you my opinions of the whole Cold Fusion uproar:

      -There is something strange & new going on in these experiments

      I've no doubt this is quite possibly true. Regardless of what "it" turns out to be (or whether we'll ever know) I think it makes an excellent case study of why the system of peer review and formal publication exists, and the costs of electing to

  • by Sphere1952 ( 231666 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @08:23PM (#6896105) Journal
    and go for nano-fusion. How hard would it be to etch an accerator onto a chip?

    I saw a paper once which even offered up the possibility of non-radioactive nano-fusion -- boron and carbon, I think.
  • by mshiltonj ( 220311 ) <mshiltonj @ g m a> on Sunday September 07, 2003 @09:24PM (#6896497) Homepage Journal
    Nobody uses Cold Fusion anymore, now that Macromedia bought it. Everyone has switched to PHP.
  • Cold fusion is the poster boy for what is wrong with modern science practice.

    Like the cart pulling the horse, agenda is leading all aspects of investigation. The end result doesn't function.

    Now, I'm not densedly supposing that agenda (bias, philosophy ... call it what you will) can't serve a purpose in science. Facts don't decide how to investigate ... people have to sift facts and decide how to pursue things. That decision process is biased.

    But ... as one other poster pointed out, doing "science by press release" is an extraordinarily bad practice. It oozes political need while letting sharp investgation fall by the wayside.

    In addition, I often wonder if the majority of scientists today are simply too badly trained to even begin to address their serious lack of objectivity. As their mentors become progressively more whores for government and industry grants, that agenda-rich attitude can only pervade their students. The developing product is what we clearly see today: cold fusion is still an "I don't know" topic when all they had to do was run some arguably cheap and computationally simple experiments. Forgetting to take into account mass and heat loss from evaporation? These people aren't scientists.

    Let's not forget the brouhaha over Pons's and Fle.'s legendary reluctance to be forthcoming about methods in order to have their experiment duplicated. That alone should have had the claim laughed off the press (non full disclosure is a hallmark of a hoax). But it wasn't ... since once again, agenda oozed into the picture and certain scientists could milk grants on the basis of uncertainty and greed.

    Cold fusion is right freakin' up there with perpetual motion. PM claims are easy to debunk ... on non-disclosure terms alone. We should be relegating CF to the same graveyard of fraud.
  • by Frobnicator ( 565869 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @10:27PM (#6896802) Journal
    The headline is misleading, saying they were "of the University of Utah". It was originally independant research being done on the Campus, not work for the University. Only after the announcement did the University adopt it in exchange for further resources.

    Stanly Pons and Martin Fleischmann were both separately employeed by the University, but the research was not sponsored by the school. They were using some of the school's facilities with permission, basically because of the high cost of the equipment.

    See ory.pdf [] for some of this:

    "Stan Pons did his doctoral dissertation research at Southampton University, where he developed a scientific collaboration with Professor Martin Fleischmann. In the 1980's Martin was a frequent visitor to Utah and had been given a
    courtesy visiting professorship at the University of Utah. On March 23, 1989, a press conference was convened at the University of Utah ... to announce the discovery by Stan and Martin of cold fusion. The euphoria and disillusionment that followed that event have been told in many subsequent newspaper articles and books. A recent 365 page book [Charles G. Beaudette, Excess Heat: Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed, Oak Grove Press, South Bristol, Maine, 2000] does a balanced job of recounting the story." (emphasis added)
    Because the original press conference was conveniend at the University, and because both professors were affiliated with the U of U, and that further research was taken up by the University at the time of the press conference, many journalists jumped to the conclusion that it was the University's project.

    Other than the /. error, the article iteself is rather interesting, including this answer from a professor: "The question I get more than any other is, 'Are you still doing this?', " says Prof. Jones. "The answer is yes, and what we are seeing is very difficult to explain outside of cold fusion. The repeatability of these experiments now approaches 80 percent." [Insert comparison to Microsoft here.]


  • Other countries (Score:3, Insightful)

    by lonesome phreak ( 142354 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @10:39PM (#6896865) Journal
    Other countries are still working on it, as the article states about Japan. What is the chance that it is just ostrasized in the US, or maybe even "blacklisted" media-wise? It's alot like the stem-cell debate in a way.

    We are just ignoring something that might be possible "out of hand". The MIT prof said several times "I wish some physicist would prove us wrong now", but they don't. It's just completly ignored, even though there is some current evidence. But other countries continue work.

    There is a vested intrest against cold-fushion and pro hot-fushion in the US. Hot fushion is a hard thing to do, therefor it's not really profitable as an energy source for the public. Plus, the US already is against nuclear plants after three-mile island and such. So, we stay dependent on...coal. Oil for the initial energy source.

    Other countries don't need to be tied to oil like the US is, and are moving on. Just as our prohibition on stem-cell research is mostly religious based. Someone else will figure it out, and we will have some problems dealing with someone else with the upper technological hand for once...especially if they don't like us.
  • by Laplace ( 143876 ) on Sunday September 07, 2003 @11:57PM (#6897235)
    The organizers always schedule it to be coincident with the annual Perpetual Motion Machine conference.

Did you hear that two rabbits escaped from the zoo and so far they have only recaptured 116 of them?