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59) To be published in a local newsletter
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ
In March 1989, two reputable chemists, Fleischmann and Pons, announced the discovery of an unexpected heat-generating phenomenon at the University of Utah. This effect, labeled cold fusion, was immediately investigated by many researchers, not all of whom were able to confirm it. A controversy ensued; some scientists became skeptical about the reality of cold fusion while others continued to study it. A highly unusual formal investigation of cold fusion, initiated by the US Department of Energy, took place several months later. The report resulting from the investigation was mostly negative and, like most people, I accepted its conclusions. But today, thirteen years later, I am no longer comfortable saying that cold fusion is voodoo-science.
What caused me to become more open-minded? It was the 2002 International Conference on Emerging Nuclear Energy Systems (New Mexico). Several papers presented there were devoted to cold fusion research. After the conference I gathered a large number of recent cold fusion papers (available at www.lenr-canr.org) and several books devoted to the phenomenon. Critical evaluation of that material was facilitated by my nuclear physics background. Using the Internet I was able to communicate with scientists who have been studying cold fusion since its premature announcement by Fleischmann and Pons. I was highly impressed by what I read, and by the credentials of many authors. A Nobel prize laureate, J. Schwinger, for example, was trying to construct a theoretical model of cold fusion in the last year of his life.
Conducting research in cold fusion became very difficult in the US after the scientific establishment (NSF, DOE, leading journals, etc.) declared the field pseudoscientific. Financial support for research was cut and many journals no longer offered peer review of submissions in the discredited area. Despite these difficulties some Americans continued to explore the field. Very significant discoveries were made by them, and by scientists from other countries, such as Japan, Italy, Russia and France. It turns out that cold fusion is very complex; no generally acceptable theoretical model has been advanced, as far as I know, to explain the experimental data. The absence of an accepted theory is a great weakness. The term cold fusion usually refers to two kinds of observed phenomena: generation of unexpected heat, and occurrence of highly unusual nuclear reactions. Practical applications of these effects may be possible in the future; speculating about them seems to be premature.
The major criticism of cold fusion studies is that results are not always reproducible. Initially only about 50% of researchers were able to confirm generation of excess heat. The situation is much better today but one still cannot be sure that all experimental results obtained in one laboratory will be confirmed in others. The outcomes of experiments seem to depend on difficult to identify conditions, such as presence or absence of some impurities (at the ppb level) or surface irregularities of metals. It is remarkable, however, that perfect reproducibility in a single laboratory has often been reported when essential materials, such as palladium, originate from the same manufacturer and from the same production batch.
In my opinion, the absence of qualitative reproducibility is a clear indication that the cold fusion field is still a mixture of art and science. But this is not sufficient reason to declare it pseudoscientific. Cold fusion scientists trying to make their field scientific should be supported by government agencies (such as NSF, DOE, etc.); why should they be treated differently than scientists working in other fields? Their papers should not automatically be rejected by our leading journals; they should be given the same chance to be published as papers in other areas of science and technology. How can this be accomplished? If it were up to me I would suggest another formal evaluation of the entire cold fusion field by a group of appointed experts. That group would visit existing cold fusion research centers, study the reports and participate in experiments. Then, after a year or two, it would issue a report based on data which were not available to the first investigating team.
It is unprecedented that an area of research, conducted by recognized experts, has been officially declared an outcast of mainstream science. Are experimental cold fusion data fraudulent? Are we dealing with a mass-scale self-deception involving hundreds of scientists in several countries? It is difficult to answer such questions; they would be totally irrelevant if the cold fusion field were rehabilitated. An authoritative report by a group of experts would help teachers deal with this unusual situation in the history of modern science.
In order to reach my own conclusion I plan to go to the 2003 International Cold Fusion Conference (Massachusetts). Hopefully, this will result in an invitation to participate in an essential experiment conducted by a recognized expert. As a nuclear physicist I would seek an invitation to confirm the reality of a nuclear transmutation process due to a chemical process. Witnessing one such phenomenon would be sufficient for me to be able to claim that cold fusion is not a self-deception or fraud. For the time being I will continue studying papers available over the Internet and sharing with others what I learn. Feel free to examine my items at http://csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf/
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