from the International Symposium on
Low-Energy Nuclear Reactions,
Williamsburg, VA July 1-3, 2012
You read OEN -- you won't be
surprised to hear about government censorship. I've learned a
great deal about political censorship in the MSM over the last few
years, but scientific censorship is newer to me, and perhaps I
wouldn't have believed how devastatingly effective it can be, in
the face of stunning experimental results and tantalizing
technological possibility. I attended a conference this week that
opened my eyes.
Dismissed by mainstream scientists, denied funding and space in the scientific journals, Cold Fusion has occupied a scientific backwater for 23 years. Meanwhile, demonstrations have been repeated again and again, a great deal of know-how has been acquired and shared over the internet. The scientists who stuck with it have been vindicated, and once again people are saying that a solution to the global crises of pollution and climate change may be within our sights.
Cold Fusion is a concept that was announced with fanfare in 1989 by a world-class electrochemist -- not a household name, perhaps, but a scientist at the top of his field. Fusion energy is the power source of the sun and the thermonuclear bomb. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent searching for ways to "tame the hydrogen bomb" for "cheap, limitless energy". Huge machines with giant superconducting magnets and dozens of the most powerful lasers on earth have been tried. But in 1989, Martin Fleischmann told the world he had done it in a test tube. The world's energy problems were over.
Six months later, at a press conference, scientists from prestigious labs around the world lined up to announce they had tried to duplicate what Fleischmann had reported with no success. The results were un-reproducible. Cold Fusion was dead, and the very word was to become a joke about junk science.
Along with the vast majority of scientists, I gave up on Cold Fusion and moved on. 22 years passed. Imagine my surprise when I read last year that an Italian entrepreneur had demonstrated a cold fusion boiler, and was taking orders for 2012 delivery. What a bizarre situation!
For a physicist, there are good, sound reasons to doubt the possibility of Cold fusion. It is well-known that two atoms of heavy hydrogen can come together to form a helium atom, and release 5 million times more energy than if that hydrogen had been burned in a chemical fire. But this can only happen if "the pump is primed'. An enormous activation energy must be supplied. The goal is to get the two hydrogen nuclei close enough to merge, but each of them has a positive charge, and like charges repel. In order to overcome the electrical repulsion between the protons, you need 4 million volts, or a temperature as hot as the center of the sun. This can't happen in a test tube.
No physicist would say it's impossible, however. 4 million volts sounds like a lot of energy, but it's actually much less energy than it takes to blink an eye. The energy is plentiful enough at room temperature, but the problem is to concentrate it all in one pair of atoms. Left to its own devices, energy will spontaneously spread itself out -- that's what the science of thermodynamics is all about. To concentrate an eyelash worth of energy in just two atoms is therefore unexpected and unusual. But things like this have been known to happen, and a few times before they've taken physicists by surprise. Quantum mechanics plays tricks on our expectations. A laser can concentrate energy, as billions of light particles all march together in lock step. Superconductivity is another example of what's called a "bulk quantum effect'. Under extraordinary circumstances, quantum mechanics can leap forth from the tiny world of the atom and hit us in the face with deeply unexpected, human-scale effects that we can see and touch.
This is the reason that a physicist would say "Show me!" rather than "No way!" Cold Fusion could possibly be another such bulk quantum effect, unexpected but not in violation of any basic physical law.
Has this promising technology
been overlooked, or was it actively suppressed?
If you're not a conspiracy buff, it sounds like a plausible explanation for the oblivion in which Cold Fusion has languished: First, it was so improbable theoretically. Then it could not be reproduced. No wonder scientists thought that they had better things to do than to follow the newest claims and results concerning Cold Fusion.
This is where the political story begins to take over the scientific story. At the conference, this weekend, I heard one story after another about censorship and suppression -- all whispered between conference presentations.
- A Nobel prize-winning physicist writes his own theory of how Cold Fusion could come about. He sends it to the straight-arrow Physical Review, where he has never had a paper rejected for publication in his life. But Phys Rev sends it back to him -- they will not consider it or send it out for review. The Nobelist -- a towering figure in physics, named Julian Schwinger -- resigns from the American Physical Society in protest. (This was back in 1992.)
- A mainstream physicist with a large working group in Illinois lands a $50 million contract for research in Cold Fusion, and after his work has already begun, he gets a call from his project manager saying that the project has to be canceled.
- An MIT researcher lands a grant from a private entrepreneur (60% of which goes to the MIT Administration, as is standard), but gets a call from the Administration telling him they will not accept the funding, and he has to give it back.
- Another MIT professor has stunning experimental results concerning a new and reliable way to kick-start cold fusion, and even the specialized engineering journal where he submits the article tells him they will not accept the article, as a matter of policy.
- The US Patent Office has a backlog of dozens of applications on which it is not acting, demanding cumbersome and expensive on-site demonstrations in addition to the usual paper filings.
- A Stanford researcher works around the blockade to get earmarked funding directly from his Congressman, using pork barrel channels, until a mysterious phone caller from the Department of Energy tells the Congressman that DoE would "prefer" if the funding did not go through.
- Researchers who write about Cold Fusion results find that they are transferred from their departments, their lab space is cut, and all the rest of the work they do (unrelated to Cold Fusion) has been de-funded. Scientists have been ex-communicated. Careers have been poisoned.
The devastating results of
The blackout at mainstream journals, combined with similar prohibitions at professional meetings and funding blocks at every turn have crippled the professional communications process on which science depends. At the meeting this week, the field was clearly in disarray, with some scientists proposing experiments that had been done decades ago, and others continuing to promote long-discredited ideas. The cumulative effect had been devastating. Communications had been effectively disrupted, and progress impeded.