Turning Up the Heat on 'Cold Fusion'
By Jerry E. Bishop
Wall Street Journal
November 7, 1990
Researchers Find Hints of Nuclear Reactions
Scientists doggedly pursuing "cold fusion" research are turning up new hints that some kind of nuclear reactions may be occurring in their experiments.
In recent days researchers from two laboratories reported detecting positively charged atomic particles that could be the products of fusion reactions in "cold fusion" experiments. At the same time, three other laboratories described growing evidence of low levels of neutrons from "cold fusion" experiments. Such neutrons also could come from nuclear reactions.
And analysis of a palladium rod used in a University of Hawaii experiment that produced heat revealed the presence of helium atoms that could have been produced in a fusion reaction.
The reports, delivered at a little-publicized meeting several days ago at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, come amidst yet another tempest involving the two chemists who ignited the "cold fusion" controversy 18 months ago. Last month, some members of the State of Utah's Fusion Energy Advisory Council expressed chagrin that chemists B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann missed the regular quarterly meeting of the council that monitors state expenditures for the National Cold Fusion Institute.
The parties differed on whether Messrs. Fleischmann and Pons had received notice of the meeting in time to attend. In any case, Mr. Pons is expected to show up for a scientific review scheduled today.
The newly reported experiments continue to fall short of confirming Messrs. Pons' and Fleischmann's original claims. In March 1989, they asserted that sending an electric current through a simple, tabletop apparatus produces up to four times more energy, as heat, than is consumed electrically. The excess heat, they asserted, came from the fusion of heavy hydrogen atoms.
In their "cold fusion" experiment and most others, an electric current is passed through a platinum wire encircling a palladium or titanium rod. All are immersed in "heavy" water whose molecules comprise a doubly-heavy form of hydrogen known as deuterium.
At issue is whether deuterium atoms soaked up by the palladium or titanium during the electrical charging are, in fact, fusing and releasing energy, as Messrs. Pons and Fleischmann claim. A second and more controversial question is whether such fusions, if they are occurring, can produce the amount of excess heat the two chemists claim to have measured.
But last week's meeting in Provo, attended by more than 150 scientists, encouraged a small but stubborn group who think some kind of previously unknown nuclear reactions may be taking place in "cold fusion" experiments.
Their hopes were heightened by the reports of charged particles being emitted by two experiments. Positively charged particles would be nuclei of atoms including helium and hydrogen nuclei that can be created by nuclear fusions.
Reached at his laboratory at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, physicist Edward Cecil says he reported an experiment in which extremely thin foils of titanium that had been soaked with deuterium were hung in a charged particle detector. An electric current was applied to the titanium foils while they were being alternately cooled to liquid nitrogen temperatures and warmed to room temperatures. Such extreme temperature changes had produced neutrons during "cold fusion" experiments at Los Alamos National Laboratory and might be one way to trigger fusion reactions.
"Our rationale was that if you take the excess heat reports at face value and if the source of the heat is a nuclear reaction, but there are no neutrons or gamma rays, then there has to be charged particles," Mr. Cecil explains. Such charged particles or atomic nuclei haven't been detected before because they would have been trapped inside the palladium or titanium rods. But Mr. Cecil's titanium foils were thin enough to allow the particles to escape.
During experiments with half a dozen titanium foils, 24 bursts of charged particles, lasting from a few seconds to two hours, were detected, Mr. Cecil says. Rough estimates indicate the particles are heavier than a proton (the nucleus of a hydrogen atom) but lighter than the nucleus of a helium-4 atom, Mr. Cecil says. Thus, the particles could be nuclei of tritium atoms or helium-3 atoms created by fusions of deuterium atoms.
But what excited other scientists was Mr. Cecil's report that the energies of the particles were four to five million electron volts, considerably more energetic than particles that would be produced by known deuterium fusion reactions. "It could be something different" than known fusion reactions, Mr. Cecil says. But he warns, "You have to be careful in this business" not to jump to conclusions.
"We still have to greatly improve the experiment before we can have a high degree of confidence that the effect is real," cautioned David Worledge, a scientist at the Electric Power Research Institute.
One key "cold fusion" player, physicist Kevin Wolf at Texas A&M University, disbelieves Mr. Cecil's results. "Ed Cecil is a good physicist," Mr. Wolf says, "but his electronic systems (for detecting charged particles) weren't set up properly." The Texas researcher repeated Mr. Cecil's experiment with different electronics and has failed to detect any charged particles.
Detection of similar charged particles under different conditions was reported by physicist George Chambers of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., according to scientists at the Provo meeting. However, like many institutions the NRL is sensitive about any link to "cold fusion." The NRL press office refused to permit Mr. Chambers to describe his experiment to a reporter. Mr. Chambers reportedly detected the particles when he bombarded titanium and palladium targets with deuterium nuclei from an atomic accelerator.
Ironically, the skeptical Mr. Wolf at Texas A&M is one of three scientists whose detection of neutrons shooting out of "cold fusion" experiments is being cited as the strongest evidence yet that fusion can occur at room temperatures. He and physicists Howard Menlove at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Stephen Jones at Brigham Young University each have detected neutrons from the experiments. Recently, all three carried out their experiments in a mine in Colorado to rule out the effects of cosmic rays and all three detected neutrons.
Many researchers are anxiously awaiting new results from a University of Hawaii team that has picked up a new kind of hint of "cold fusion." Physicist Bruce E. Liebert and his colleagues reasoned that fusions might occur faster if the experiment were heated up. This summer they immersed their palladium and titanium rods in a deuterium-rich molten salt that was heated to almost 700 degrees Fahrenheit and then applied an electric current.
At least twice, the experiment showed an unaccountably large temperature surge. In one instance, the molten salt temperature rose by nearly 180 degrees Fahrenheit. They calculated that if the electric current alone were heating the salt the temperature should have gone up only by 40 degrees or so. They concluded that the excess heat must be coming from "a nuclear process or, maybe, several processes, which are unknown as yet."
The Hawaii scientists are now running side-by-side experiments that are identical except the molten salt in one is rich in deuterium while the salt in the other is rich in ordinary hydrogen which doesn't fuse. If analysis finds helium-4 in the rod from the deuterium salt but not in the rod from the hydrogen salt it would bolster the possibility that deuterium fusions are, in fact, the source of the helium-4.
(In accordance with Title 17, Section 107, of the U.S. Code, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest
in receiving the included information for research and educational
purposes. New Energy Times has no affiliation whatsoever with the
originator of the original text in this article; nor is New Energy Times
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)
"Go to Original" links are provided as a convenience to our readers and allow for verification of authenticity. However, as originating pages are often updated by their originating host sites, the versions posted on New Energy Times may not match the versions our readers view when clicking the "Go to Original" links.