Wednesday, March 25, 2009

science seeking stimulus?

EETimes | Cold fusion was first reported in 1989 by researchers Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, then with the University of Utah, prompting a global effort to develop the technology. Normal fusion reactions, where hydrogen is fused into helium, occur at millions of degrees inside the Sun. If room temperature fusion reactions could be realized commercially, as Fleishchmann and Pons claimed to have achieved inside an electrolytic cell, it promised to produce abundant nuclear energy from deuterium--heavy hydrogen--extracted from seawater.

Other scientists were unable to duplicate the 1989 results, thereby discrediting the work.

The theoretical underpinnings of cold fusion have yet to be adequately explained. The hypothesis is that when electrolysis is performed on deuteron, molecules are fused into helium, releasing a high-energy neutron. While excess heat has been detected by researchers, no group had yet been able to detect the missing neutrons.

Now, the Naval researchers claim that the problem was instrumentation, which was not up to the task of detecting such small numbers of neutrons. To sense such small quantities, Mosier-Boss used a special plastic detector called CR-39. Using co-deposition with nickel and gold wire electrodes, which were inserted into a mixture of palladium chloride and deutrium, the detector was able to capture and track the high-energy neutrons.

The plastic detector captured a pattern of tiny clusters of adjacent pits, called triple tracks, which the researchers claim is evidence of the telltale neutrons.

Other presenters at the conference also presented evidence supporting cold fusion, including Antonella De Ninno, a scientist with New Technologies Energy and Environment (Rome), who reported both excess heat and helium gas.

"We now have very convincing experimental evidence," De Ninno claimed.

Tadahiko Mizuno of Japan's Hokkaido University also reported excess heat generation and gamma-ray emissions.

Houston Chronicle | If such experiments did produce fusion reactions, they would generate highly energetic neutrons as a byproduct. These are what Mosier-Boss says her San Diego-based group has found.

“If you have fusion going on, then you have to have neutrons,” she said. “But we do not know if fusion is actually occurring. It could be some other nuclear reaction.”

Today’s announcement is based partly on research published by Mosier-Boss’ group last year in the journal Naturwissenschaften. In this sense, she has not repeated the mistake of Pons and Fleischmann, who announced their findings before they had been tested by the peer-review process and published in a scientific journal.

But that does not mean the results indicate cold fusion, said Paul Padley, a physicist at Rice University who reviewed Mosier-Boss’ published work.

“Fusion could produce the effect they see, but there’s no plausible explanation of how fusion could occur in these conditions,” Padley said. “The whole point of fusion is, you’re bringing things of like charge together. As we all know, like things repel, and you have to overcome that repulsion somehow.”

The problem with Mosier-Boss’ work, he said, is that it 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.

“Nobody in the physics community would believe a discovery without such a quantitative analysis,” he said.

Still, the announcement may turn heads, given its stage at the American Chemical Society’s big meeting and the fact that the organization promoted it to science journalists in advance.

“It’s big,” said Steven Krivit, founder of the New Energy Times publication, which has tracked cold fusion developments for two decades.

Krivit said the neutrons produced by Mosier-Boss’ experiments may not be caused by fusion but perhaps some new, unknown nuclear process.

“What we’re talking about may be more than anybody actually expected,” he said. “We’re talking about a new field of science that’s a hybrid between chemistry and physics.”