I returned home Saturday night to find a copy of condensed matter nuclear science: proceedings of the 10th international conference on cold fusion, edited by Peter L. Hagelstein (MIT) and Scott R. Chubb (Naval Research Laboratory). Weighing in at 4.25 pounds, this is no small book addressing a big big topic. I had attended the 10th ICCF, which was held in Cambridge, and hence a copy of the proceedings showed up on my doorstep.
What can be said about cold fusion? First, I'm not a physicist and cannot fully evaluate the science presented in this collection of papers, or elsewhere for that matter. That said, let me report what others say based on many informal interviews during ICCF10 and subsequently.
You may remember that in the 1980s, chemists Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann created a sensation when they announced they had produced excess energy -- more out than went in -- in a table-top experiment. The source of this excess energy was cold fusion, sometimes referred to as Low Energy Nuclear Reactions ("LENR"). If verified both experimentally and theoretically, cold fusion would be a world changing scientific breakthrough.
Many then tried to duplicate the Pons and Fleischmann results. Some at MIT failed to reproduce the results. In fact, there has been a long running battle over falsified data, misrepresentation, the intrusion of funding politics, and the defense of scientific reputations related to the negative MIT results. Based on these and other negative results, the Department of Energy has for a long time not taken serious any of the positive cold fusion results. And for the most part, the US Patent Office has refused for a long time to grant patents explicitly relating to cold fusion, although a few patents did issue following publication of the original Pons and Fleischmann results.
Turns out that it's not easy to do the proper experiments and for a couple of reasons. First, calorimetry - roughly the science of heat measurement - is a difficult, and some would say, dying art. More important, most CF experiments did not use controls. In the experimental sciences, results are always evaluated in comparison to something.
Many papers, books, and publications have been written about all this. Some of the best include Fire From Ice by Dr. Eugene Mallove (who was murdered, under questionable circumstances according to some), and Excess Heat by Charles G. Beaudette. Cold Fusion Times, edited by Dr. Mitchell Swartz, has information and links. Google searches will reveal other sources.
[One example of a generally negative view is the Wiki article here that repeats much of the standard anti-cold fusion reasoning. It would be good to update that article taking into account Hagelstein's theoretical work and the work of Swartz and other experimentalists.]
So what about Cold Fusion ("CF")?
Here's what I believe to be the consensus views of those working in the field:
- Cold Fusion is real and has been reproduced many times in several labs around the world.
- The hurricanes that blow against the reality of CF are driven in large part by those whose economic interests are threatened if CF is in fact real, namely, carbon-based energy industries and the hot fusion research community.
- Regardless of experimental results, one needs a convincing theory of CF. Many believe that the work of MIT's Peter Hagelstein--a tenured professor of electrical engineering--is exemplary and if verified experimentally, stands in line for a Nobel prize.
- Regardless of theory, one needs strong experimental confirmation and demonstrations that the effects scale into commercializable products. Many point to the work of Dr. Mitchell Swartz as exemplary for two reasons. First, Swartz reliably reproduces excess heat and, more importantly, does so with appropriate experimental controls, the sine qua non of experimental science.
- Research continues to accumulate on both the experimental and theoretical fronts. The open question seems to be when the CF community will reach the tipping point.