Buzz Blog

NASA's Cold Fusion Folly

Friday, April 19, 2013
I am sad - horrified really - to learn that some NASA scientists have caught cold fusion madness. As is so often the case with companies and research groups that get involved in this fruitless enterprise, they tend to make their case by first pointing out how nice it would be to have a clean, cheap, safe, effectively limitless source of power. Who could say no to that?

NASA Langley scientists are hoping to build spacecraft powered with cold fusion. Image courtesy of NASA.
Here's a word of caution: anytime anyone, especially a scientist, starts by telling you about glorious, nigh-unbelievable futuristic applications of their idea, be very, very skeptical.

NASA, for example, is promoting a cold fusion scheme that they say will power your house and car, and even a space plane that is apparently under development, despite the fact that  cold fusion power supplies don't exist yet and almost certainly never will. And if that's not enough, NASA's brand of cold fusion can solve our climate change problems by converting carbon directly into nitrogen.

The one hitch in the plan, unfortunately, is that they're going to have to violate some very well established physics to make it happen. To say the least, I wouldn't count on it.

To be clear, cold fusion does indeed work - provided you use a heavier cousin of the electron, known as a muon, to make it happen. There is no question that muon-catalyzed fusion is a perfectly sound, well-understood process that would be an abundant source of energy, if only we could find or create a cheap source of muons. Unfortunately, it takes way more energy to create the muons that go into muon-catalyzed fusion than comes out of the reaction.

Cold fusion that doesn't involve muons, on the other hand, doesn't work. In fact, the very same physics principles that make muon-catalyzed fusion possible are the ones that guarantee that the muon-less version isn't possible.

To get around the problem presented by nature and her physical laws, NASA's scientists have joined other cold fusion advocates in rebranding their work under the deceptively scientific moniker LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reactions), and backing it up with various sketchy theories.

The main theory currently in fashion among cold fusion people is the Widom-Larsen LENR theory, which claims that neutrons can result from interactions with "heavy electrons" and protons in a lump of material in a cold fusion experiment. These neutrons, so the argument goes, can then be absorbed in a material (copper is a popular choice) which becomes unstable and decays to form a lighter material (nickel, assuming you start with copper), giving off energy in the process.

At least one paper argues that Widom and Larsen made some serious errors in their calculations that thoroughly undermine their theory. But even if you assume the Widom-Larsen paper is correct, then there should be detectable neutrons produced in cold fusion experiments. (Coincidentally, it's primarily because no neutrons were detected in the original cold fusion experiments of Pons and Fleischmann that physicists were first clued into the fact no fusion was happening at all.)

Some proponents claim that the neutrons produced in the Widom-Larsen theory are trapped in the sample material and rapidly absorbed by atoms. But because the neutrons are formed at room temperature, they should have energies typical of thermal neutrons, which move on average at about 2000 meters a second. That means that a large fraction of them should escape the sample, and be easily detectable. Those that don't escape, but instead are absorbed by atoms would also lead to detectable radiation as the neutron-activated portions of the material decays. Either way, it would be pretty dangerous to be near an experiment like that, if it worked.  The fact that cold fusion researchers are alive is fairly good evidence that their experiments aren't doing what they think they're doing.

But if you're willing to believe Widom-Larsen, and you suspend your disbelief long enough to accept that the neutrons exclusively stay in the sample for some reason, and that the energy released as a result dosn't include any radiation, it should still be pretty easy to determine if the experiments work. All you'd have to do is look for nickel in a sample that initially consisted of pure copper. If published proof exists, I haven't found it yet (please send links to peer-reviewed publications, if you've seen something).

Instead, people like NASA's Dennis Bushnell are happy with decidedly unscientific evidence for cold fusion. Among other things, Bushnell notes that " . . . several labs have blown up studying LENR and windows have melted, indicating when the conditions are "right" prodigious amounts of energy can be produced and released."

Of course, chemical reactions can blow things up and melt glass too. There's no reason to conclude nuclear reactions were responsible. And it certainly isn't publishable proof of cold fusion. Considering that most of these experiments involve hydrogen gas and electricity, it's not at all surprising that labs go up in flames on occasion.

On a related note, a recent article in Forbes magazine reported that Lewis Larsen, of the above-mentioned Widom-Larsen theory, claims that measurements of the isotopes of mercury in compact fluorescent bulbs indicate that LENR reactions are taking place in light fixtures everywhere. If only it were true, it would offer serious support for the Widom-Larsen theory.

It's too bad the paper Larsen cites says nothing of the sort. According to an article in Chemical and Engineering News, the scientists who performed the study of gas in fluorescent bulbs were motivated by the knowledge that some mercury isotopes are absorbed in the glass of the bulbs more readily than others. The isotope ratio inside isn't changing because of nuclear reactions, but instead by soaking into the glass at different rates. Sorry Lewis Larsen, nice try.

Added note: I want to thank Steven Corneliussen of Physics Today for his timely summary of  the recent cold fusion coverage in Forbes. I am even more grateful to Jeff McMahon of Forbes for his shockingly credulous reporting of the NASA Langley cold fusion program - it would have been nice if he'd interviewed someone with conventional views of physics, but at least he got the word out.



Posted by Buzz Skyline

243 Comments:

Anonymous said...

I have lots of doubt, as do the vast majority of physicists. Only the lunatic fringe is grasping at straws. Get a real job.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 3:04 PM


Alain Coetmeur said...

We see some, but few neutrons, and that pushed WIl to imagine that they are absorbed quickly, because ultra-low.

On the opposite ther are many transmutation identified that let som (like Kozima) imagine that the process involve neutrons absorption, and not proton fusion...

This is why they say you cannot detect them... no real discrepancy countrary to your claim.

anyway WL have many hole, especially assumption of high energy heavy electrons... Some missing point, like each proposed theory...

anyway the experiment results let no doubt a nuclear phenomenon happens.
few Tritium, much He4, much heat, few transmutations, few gamma and particles...

He4 and heat seems coherent with H+H+H+H or D+D fusion
tritium seems coherent with minor D+H fusion
neutrons and transmutation rather propose a neutronic reaction, probably from electron capture like CEC or WL or Kim...

Hard period for theorist, because we have a fact that they cannot explain, nor honestly deny.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 3:01 PM


Anonymous said...

Fission was, and is, written about in the big 3 all the time, nitwit.

http://publish.aps.org/search?c[][value]=fission&c[][operator]=AND&c[][field]=abstitle&x=0&y=0

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 9:44 AM


Anonymous said...

Well said

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 9:41 AM


Anonymous said...

Submitted to the Arxiv? Yes. Accepted for publication? No. Idiot.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 9:40 AM


Anonymous said...

Widom-Larsen theory predicts the production of easily detectable, and plentiful, neutrons in situations where no exist. that proves it wrong.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 9:38 AM


Anonymous said...

Thats what they said about Newtonian physics back in the day. "there is nothing new in physics to be discovered". Then Einstein came along and turned the physics world upside down. They could not prove the physics of Einstein until a few decades later so whats to say that the Widom-Larsen LENR theory is wrong. Maybe there is some missing physics involved. No science should be shunned, it should only be disproven by experiments.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 8:01 AM


Dr Bob said...

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/156393-cold-fusion-reactor-independently-verified-has-10000-times-the-energy-density-of-gas

Hope to see some more measurements and test.
Not only on the rossi reactor but on other cold fusion technology such as the Nanor, the Phusor, Defkalion etc

Also EU will host a event on cold fusion 03 Jun 2013

/ Dr Bob

Friday, May 24, 2013 at 4:00 AM


Hamilton said...

Buzz Skyline you mention here, but I don't believe in your article above, a violation of electroweak physics. Could you please provide specifics as to what this violation is?

Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 5:13 PM


Alain Coetmeur said...

Time to change position
http://arxiv.org/abs/1305.3913
maybe late
http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-cities-to-propose-its-project-to-neuchatel-switzerland/

Monday, May 20, 2013 at 9:32 AM


Blaster Man said...

Not a scientist here but I read on cold fusion because I want it to be true. That said, the evidence clearly indicates that cold fusion IS NOT HAPPENING in experiments. Peer reviewed journals are important but lets forget that for a second. Look at Rossi (who is a convicted criminal) and others, they create an experiment. They make radical claims and collect money from investors (suckers). These people refuse to release their proprietary "research" because they want to make money supposedly. What's more important, making a couple of bucks or helping BILLIONS OF PEOPLE? Wow either these guys are massive frauds or the absolute worst human beings on the planet. FYI: If their experiments panned out, they would have no trouble finding places to make money.

Lets put aside the fact that these people are either frauds or the most selfish and worst people of all time. Fact: These people will not allow skeptics to perform tests to verify that these experiments are working. If these things work, then why not let the biggest skeptics of the field come in and prove to them that they're wrong? You know, there's such a thing as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). In fact, they're extremely common. So again, we're left with the fact that these people are MASSIVE FRAUDS or the WORST HUMANS ON THE PLANET.

1. Help all humans on the planet for the rest of the Earth's life.
2. Try to make a few million dollars (or Euros) and withhold knowledge that could help billions of people.
3. You're a fraud.

So, which is it?

Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 6:21 PM


Anonymous said...

Seemed like a vary objective article from a vary objective person :-)

Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 3:08 PM


Anonymous said...

Yes that is sad and amazing that the evidence, that Gerisher, previously skeptical, found sufficient, were still not enough in 97 (when CEA in Grenoble validated F&P experiments), neither in 2005 when uni Tsinghua validated Fraclick&al, then 2008 for NASA GRC… SPAWAR, ENEA, …

In fact it is impossible , IMPOSSIBLE, NO NO NEVER, to convince that LENR is reality, like it is impossible to convince a Catholic priest that the Virgin was not a virgin.

So effort to build good experiments is WORTHLESS.
SCIENTIFIC METHOD DO NOT WORK IN A PSYCHIATRIC ASYLUM.
When papers are not rejected, when peer-review is not manipulated, the paper are simple ignored, dismissed by Ad Hominem reasons, if not by recursive reasoning.

NO HOPE.

The hope came simply from industrial application. this is the needed change that will allow science to accept LENR. because if it is industrial, there will be funding, and scientist in the real world prove what they are paid for, not necessarily the reality… even scientists need food. Where there is a budget, ther will be many scientists confirming the reality of what is funded (any similarity with others affairs is not a mistake).

So yes, now LENR WILL BE ACCEPTED… only if it work industrially, and after it is used industrially, and have allowed a company to make money and thus propose funding.

Thus we could say that science will be, AS USUAL, WORTHLESS for real disruptive innovation…

Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 12:49 PM


Anonymous said...

"I will read (and have read) EVERYTHING about LENR that appears in the Physical Review, Science or Nature."

This is why science in this country is at all time low. According to Buzz, if it not published in these journal, it is not science.

Fine, On 22 December 1938, Hahn and Strassmann sent a manuscript to Naturwissenschaften reporting that they had discovered the element barium after bombarding uranium with neutrons.

This was the first path for nuclear fission reaction.

In 2009, the us navy research publshed neutron production from LENR in the Naturwissenschaften magazine.

If using Buzz's logic, we should forget about nuclear fission because it wasn't published in the "Big 3" magazine.

OMG!!!!!

Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 12:28 PM


Anonymous said...

The Arata and Zhang experiment using Pd nanoparticles has been replicated and published in Physics Letters A, Volume 373, Issue 35, p. 3109-3112. It is called Anomalous effects in charging of Pd powders with high density hydrogen isotopes, with "The sample charged with D2 also showed significantly positive output energy in the second phase after the deuteride formation."

Even with a great paper in Physics Letters A (one of the best physics journal) , this crazy a** skeptics will say LENR is a hoax.

People like Buzz Skyline are destroying science and using science orthodoxy from mainstream acceptance of LENR.

As for the Widom-Larsen theory, read the damn literature. Dr. Alan Widom is a theortical physicst from Northeastern University with a PHD for Cornell.


There seems to be a lack of good understanding of the Widom-larsen theory. People assume that a K electron is going to increase in mass, but it the surface plasmon electron on the surface of metals that increases in mass.



Fusion is not truly happening in this experiments (CLF included).

I am sick of the crap phrase of lack of replication.

If People other countries can reproduce and publish in good magazines (Physics Letters A, Volume 373, Issue 35, p. 3109-3112.), why can we be open-mined and start to think that weak interaction can cause nuclear reaction in modest conditions.

As for making electricity, there is still lack of control in these experiments (recall nanotechnology and plasmonics didn't EXIST in 1989)

But we know that is a surface effect and if the make the surface able to stimulate surface electron plasmon, maybe we can truly reproducbile heat.

The real purpose of grants is to study things we don't understand. It seems that our scientific community is too closed-mined and lazy to reproduce Arata and Zhang experiment.

If the Chinese can do replication, why can we?

Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 12:26 PM


Anonymous said...

There seems to be a lack of good understanding of the Widom-larsen theory. People assume that a K electron is going to increase in mass, but it the surface plasmon electron on the surface of metals that increases in mass.



Fusion is not truly happening in this experiments (CLF included).

I am sick of the crap phrase of lack of replication.

If People other countries can reproduce and publish in good magazines (Physics Letters A, Volume 373, Issue 35, p. 3109-3112.), why can we be open-mined and start to think that weak interaction can cause nuclear reaction in modest conditions.

As for making electricity, there is still lack of control in these experiments (recall nanotechnology and plasmonics didn't EXIST in 1989)

But we know that is a surface effect and if the make the surface able to stimulate surface electron plasmon, maybe we can truly reproducbile heat.

The real purpose of grants is to study things we don't understand. It seems that our scientific community is too closed-mined and lazy to reproduce Arata and Zhang experiment.

If the Chinese can do replication, why can we?




Friday, May 3, 2013 at 9:12 PM


Anonymous said...

So, get rich and make us all eat crow. Why all the sound and fury when all you have to do is sell electricity - or build your own fusion powered car (http://coldfusionnow.org/cold-fusion-powered-car-engineer-has-history-of-discovery/)?

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 7:32 PM


Anonymous said...

Fission was, and is, written about in the big 3 all the time, nitwit.

http://publish.aps.org/search?c[][value]=fission&c[][operator]=AND&c[][field]=abstitle&x=0&y=0

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 7:27 PM


Anonymous said...

Reading Widom's resume is not the same as reading the literature. And a PhD is not an amulet against stupidity.

The Widom-Larsen theory is easily tested by looking for thermal neutrons. It's this sort of insanely bad science that leads Larsen to say fusion is taking place in CFLs. If that were true, we'd be bathed in (dangerous and easily detectable) neutron fluxes every day.

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 7:25 PM


Anonymous said...

Well said, Kemo Sabe!

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 7:21 PM


Anonymous said...

Funny,

At first, Buzz said,

"Steven, as I said, I'm happy to look at peer-reviewed experimental research. Just post the links and I'll check them out"

Mr.Steven Krivit did link some peer-reviewed research. However this wasn't good enough.

Next, Buzz moved the the goal post and claimed to need to read from the three magazines.

However, that guy must know that there is a "Cuban embargo on Cold fusion research", and no research will be published in the three magazines.

To the LENR researches, we need to get a working device on a commercial market. Luckly, Brillion has a patent in China.

Dr. Iwamura filed U.S. patent applications for his process. In these applications, he cited a proposed mechanism based on his “Electron-Induced Nuclear Reaction” model, which he published in Fusion Technology. ( nuclear waste transmuation?)

Just image that public hears about "Heavywater gate", just image want would have to the APS.


Friday, May 3, 2013 at 7:13 PM


Anonymous said...

"I will read (and have read) EVERYTHING about LENR that appears in the Physical Review, Science or Nature."

This is why science in this country is at all time low. According to Buzz, if it not published in these journal, it is not science.

Fine, On 22 December 1938, Hahn and Strassmann sent a manuscript to Naturwissenschaften reporting that they had discovered the element barium after bombarding uranium with neutrons.

This was the first path for nuclear fission reaction.

In 2009, the us navy research publshed neutron production from LENR in the Naturwissenschaften magazine.

If using Buzz's logic, we should forget about nuclear fission because it wasn't published in the "Big 3" magazine.

OMG!!!!!

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 7:00 PM


Anonymous said...

The Arata and Zhang experiment using Pd nanoparticles has been replicated and published in Physics Letters A, Volume 373, Issue 35, p. 3109-3112. It is called Anomalous effects in charging of Pd powders with high density hydrogen isotopes, with "The sample charged with D2 also showed significantly positive output energy in the second phase after the deuteride formation."

Even with a great paper in Physics Letters A (one of the best physics journal) , this crazy a** skeptics will say LENR is a hoax.

People like Buzz Skyline are destroying science and using science orthodoxy from mainstream acceptance of LENR.

As for the Widom-Larsen theory, read the damn literature. Dr. Alan Widom is a theortical physicst from Northeastern University with a PHD for Cornell.

Friday, May 3, 2013 at 6:51 PM


kemo sabe said...

chuck wrote: "Julain Schwinger (Physicist and Nobel Laureate) was a supporter of cold fusion. Of course he resigned from the APS in protest over Physical Review Letters reject of cold fusion. Editorial position that Physical Review Letters took to Schwingers theory "Cold Fusion: A hypothesis" was scandalous."

When cold fusion broke, Schwinger had long since stopped making significant contributions. In fact, his work had been irrelevant to physics since about the 60s, and he was bitter about it. His ideas of QED kind of diverged from the community after his Nobel prize, and his work on source theory from the 70s to his retirement was largely ignored, whereas one of his co-winners became more relevant as Feynman diagrams were embraced. Schwinger left Harvard in the 70s under less than amicable conditions, suggesting some bitterness already then. His papers on cold fusion were regarded as unpublishable by the APS, and the cold fusion fiasco brought the bitterness to a head.

Schwinger's cold fusion theory predicts He-3 products, which would be rather easy to observe compared to He-4, but have never been claimed. And obviously, his theories have not held sway, or Hagelstein would not have needed to propose about a hundred different theories since then. So, the decisions on Schwinger's paper(s) seem to be vindicated.

And anyway, beside the believer laureate Schwinger, there are the skeptical laureates Gell-Mann, Weinberg, Glashow, Lederman, Seaborg, Riess, Schmidt, Mather, and undoubtedly others who have not actually expressed an opinion.

chuck: "Pathological Skepticism creates a witch hunt mentality. I think you see that with Brockis, with Schwinger, with Flieshmann and Pons attacks, and now your attack on Robert Duncan."

True belief produces a witch hunt mentality. I think you see that with labeling the likes of Close (and all those laureates) as pseudoskeptics.

But really, as I argued before, 1989 proved that science is extremely open to the sort of breakthrough everyone hoped P&F had made. Thousands of scientists took them seriously, did experiments, and stood and cheered, without even seeing the details of their sad work. It was only when the evidence didn't stand up to scrutiny that people became skeptical. And good evidence would wipe away the skepticism in a heartbeat.

Chuck: "And the slander of reputation by the cold fusion psuedoskeptic witch hunters "

Wow. Labelling all of mainstream scientists pseudoskeptic witch hunters, because they're skeptical of something you really want to be true, is far more slanderous.

chuck: "I'm really disappointed that after all of these years it is felt by a few necessary to attack cold fusion when clearly there is some profound phenomena being exhibited in these experiments."

I don't think your disappointment matters to anyone. But the easiest way to counter skepticism is with good evidence. Rhetoric in on-line forums will not do the field any good, contrary to the apparent beliefs of the many non-scientist advocates like Krivit and Rothwell and Carat…..

Friday, April 26, 2013 at 11:44 PM


kemo sabe said...

Chuck wrote: "Also, you claim about Dr.Bockris "He was almost certainly deluded. And possibly dishonest as well." He was persecuted in the press for his cold fusion studies and what apparently where positive results. 
New York Times (1990-11-20), "Texas Panel Finds No Fraud In Cold Fusion Experiments" of Dr. Bockris."

Right. That's why I said "possibly". As it happens, in 1998, McKubre was quite confident that tritium is not observed in cold fusion experiments. And in the last decade, no one has claimed tritium. Tritium is one of the easiest of the possible reaction products to detect, so one would expect that if it were present in cold fusion experiments, it would be one of the first things experimenters would try to nail down. Instead, there are no reports for a decade, and meanwhile people chase after trace levels of helium against a comparable atmospheric background, and ridiculously low neutron fluxes using CR-39, which is tailor-made for confirmation bias.

Chuck: "It was a real assault on Academic Freedom and slander of his reputation."

No it wasn't. There was reason for suspicion, and it would be a disservice to the scientific community not to try to resolve the issue. Fraud does happen in science, and the world can't be expected to ignore suspicions for fear of offending someone, or endangering academic freedom. As such, some suspicions will be wrong; it's a small price to pay to deter rampant dishonesty.

Friday, April 26, 2013 at 11:42 PM