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Physical Chemistry

Cold fusion

November 28, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 47

The article “Cold Fusion Lives On” does readers a disservice when it says that the term “low-energy nuclear reactions” (LENR) is simply a rebranding of the term “cold fusion” (C&EN, Nov. 7, page 34). The distinction is, in fact, crucial because the data, as my book “Hacking the Atom” shows, do not look anything like fusion. They never have.

It was a mistake to label this research “fusion” 27 years ago, and it is a mistake to continue doing so. LENR is non-fusion-based nuclear reactions that occur at or near room temperature. Cold fusion is the incorrect hypothesis of nuclear fusion reactions that occur at or near room temperature. Even Robert Park, a former spokesperson for the American Physical Society, recognized this distinction in 2009 in his newsletter. This year, the Library of Congress recognized the distinction when it created a new subject-matter heading for LENR. Martin Fleischmann, part of the duo who announced fusion in a test tube in 1989, conceded that he and Stanley Pons made a mistake by calling it fusion. Of course, as C&EN found, there are scientists who still believe that LENR might be the result of room-temperature fusion, but science should not cater to believers.

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Low-energy nuclear reactions most likely are explained by the creation of ultra-low-momentum neutrons followed by subsequent neutron-capture processes, not deuterium-deuterium nuclear fusion. Regardless of the possible explanation, such experimentally observed phenomena are, understandably, difficult for many scientists to accept. For the past 100 years, nuclear effects without the use of radioactive sources, high-energy accelerators, or nuclear reactors have been considered impossible. Be that as it may, researchers have observed isotopic shifts, elemental transmutations, melting of metals, and a variety of other anomalies that offer new understanding of nature. In fact, some of these anomalies were observed 100 years ago, as my book “Lost History” reveals.

Beyond the smoke and noise created by hucksters and believers, there is valid research and credible data in the LENR field. C&EN would do well to explain the distinction between the terms and to help its readers see the mystery behind an unfolding new field of science with unknown possibilities.

Steven B. Krivit
Publisher, New Energy Times
San Rafael, Calif.

I read with interest C&EN’s article on cold fusion. When Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann made their original announcement in the popular press in 1989 and technical details were initially absent, I assumed it had something to do with muon-catalyzed fusion. Muons are a massive relative of the electron and can be produced by high-energy collisions in particle accelerators. Their short half-life—somewhat in excess of two microseconds (although quite long as compared with some other subatomic particles)—and difficulty and expense of production make muon-catalyzed fusion highly uneconomic.

But perhaps the type of cold fusion announced by Pons and Fleischmann actually does have its roots in muon catalysis. Cosmic rays striking the upper atmosphere generate a particle shower producing, on average, about 10,000 muons per square meter per minute arriving at Earth’s surface. By chance, an occasional muon must strike a given cold fusion apparatus, catalyzing the process. This would account for the reproducibility and variability issues.

This also suggests a potential experimental verification. Victor Hess, in 1912, found that what was later shown to be cosmic ray shower particle density increases with altitude. He observed a fourfold increase at 5300 meters in a free balloon flight. A cold fusion apparatus operated at altitude should then likely show an increased probability of “excess energy” production. Similarly, an apparatus operated deep in an underground mine should hardly ever work at all.

Greg Konesky
Hampton Bays, N.Y.

Regarding C&EN’s story on cold fusion, consider Lord Kelvin’s quote “X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” Within about a year of Wilhelm Röntgen’s 1895 discovery, a thousand confirming papers were published and the phenomenon commercialized. In contrast, cold fusion/low-energy nuclear reactions/hydrinos and Randell Mills’s efforts regarding the latter have nothing (as in zero) to show after a quarter-century.

It is one thing to note that advocates “had no generally accepted theory to guide them,” but another more germane issue is that they had no way of explaining why several existing, well-established physical theories had to be trashed to accept otherwise inexplicable observations of excess energy generation. Citing that Mills’s “ideas seem less far-fetched when compared with ... muonium ... [a] short-lived exotic entity made of an antimuon particle ... and an electron,” is a curious misdirection. There are multiple thousands of peer-reviewed scientific papers on muonium and applications of muonium in chemistry, physics, and materials science.

Quoting my former colleague Ludwik Kowalski’s view that “social stigma” against the phenomena was the problem is nonsense. The initial scientific response was complaints about the poor experimental design followed by a flood of independent investigations, probably 90% of which were never published because of the clearly negative results. Why is C&EN flogging a dead horse?

Paul J. Karol
Palo Alto, Calif.


Oct. 31, page 25: In C&EN’s feature on 10 start-ups to watch, the founders of two companies were presented incorrectly. The founders of Kyulux are Chihaya Adachi, Junji Adachi, Akira Minakuchi, and Christopher J. Savoie. The founders of NuMat Technologies are Omar K. Farha, Benjamin Hernandez, and Christopher Wilmer.



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