Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cold Fusion 2: Return of the Neutrons

When you major in physics at BYU it is impossible to not hear the stories of the supposed discovery of cold fusion by a group including Stanley Pons at the University of Utah in the late 1980's, which famously turned out be a case study in research ethics. Since then cold fusion has been a sure-fire way to sink any funding proposal and cause any "serious physicist" to run away from you as fast as humanly possible. However that hasn't stopped a very brave pair of chemical physicists/physical chemists from the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego from working on cold fusion. Those Navy people sure are brave.

In fact, they've gone one step further. These two brave souls have announced that they have evidence for low-energy nuclear reactions which is simply code for cold fusion as far as I can tell, and what's more they did so at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Salt Lake City last Monday (you can read their abstract here). As evidence they point to observations of higher-than-normal neutron fluxes coming out of a piece of palladium enriched with deuterium. Could this be a source of cheap, clean energy?

Don't hold your breath says Dr. Paul Padley, a physicist at Rice University in Huston, Texas. The Associated Press quote Dr. Padley as saying that the paper "fails to provide a theoretical rationale to explain how fusion could occur at room temperatures. And in its analysis, the research paper fails to exclude other sources for the production of neutrons." This sounds surprisingly like the results from the last incarnation of cold fusion but without the academic dishonesty.

Just in case anybody else is thinking that they too have discovered cold fusion, please remember that unexplained neutrons do not equal a source of clean, cheap, and virtually limitless energy.


  1. What!?!?, unexplained neutrons will not solve all the worlds problems? So much for my big "We have no more worries as mankind" party I was organizing.

    I'm glad you wrote about this. I have mixed feeling about funding cold fusion research. More recently I have been thinking it may be best to connect a long extension cord to this probe we are sending to the sun. Then the earth could be plugged into a fusion source 24/7.

    I haven't worked out the angular momentum effects an extension cord from here to the sun would have, so don't get too excited over it yet. (Though there might be room in the stimulus to fund this.)

    PS. Why do all the cold fusion claims always come out of Utah?

  2. Personally if I was going to make a big announcement about cold fusion, I would do it as far away from Utah as I could to avoid the association. But then again I know very little about working on a topic that has been dead for 20 years, so maybe that makes sense to them.


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