April 27, 2004

Cold Fusion gaining credibility?

Last March I wrote here that the Energy Department was giving Cold Fusion one last careful look. It had been written off as a laboratory mistake and pseudo-scientific quackery. From my March 25th entry: bq. Despite being pushed to the fringes of physics, cold fusion has continued to be worked on by a small group of scientists, and they say their figures unambiguously verify the original report, that energy can be generated simply by running an electrical current through a jar of water. Well -- in the April 23rd issue of the MIT Technology Review, Jeff Hecht writes: bq. Fifteen years after the first controversial claims hit the headlines, cold fusion refuses to die. A small cadre of die-hard advocates argues that experiments now produce consistent results. The physics establishment continues to scoff, but some scientists who have been watching the field carefully are convinced something real is happening. And now the U.S. Department of Energy has decided that recent results justify a fresh look at cold fusion. bq. "The heat effect has been replicated many times," Hagelstein. It works only when deuterium is loaded into palladium cells, and never when normal hydrogen is used instead of the heavy isotope. Exacting measurements with heat-measurement instruments have answered criticisms of the original experiments. Excess heat has been measured beyond what Hagelstein considers any reasonable doubt. bq. Experiments that produce excess heat also have yielded helium-4, one potential product of the fusion of two deuterium nuclei, in amounts that correlate with the excess heat. Theory predicts that the fusion reaction should generate 24 million electron volts (MeV) of energy per helium-4 nucleus. An analysis by Michael McKubre of SRI International detected energy of 31 MeV— a match within the experimental uncertainty of plus or minus 13 MeV. Skeptics had doubted the reaction was possible, but Hagelstein says McKubre's analysis of the experiments, reported at last year's cold fusion meeting, shows that fusion of two deuterium to yield helium-4 "is not as nutty as it initially seemed." Still a long long way to go but fascinating to see. There is a definite love of big science -- building these huge contraptions for creating hot fusion. It would be neat if they were trumped by a couple of bottles on a lab bench... Posted by DaveH at April 27, 2004 12:44 PM