The Greatest Scientific Discoveries are Not Accompanied by “EUREKA!”
But rather they are most often heralded by a muttered “That’s interesting . . .”
By Mark Anderson
First Published March 2009
Telltale neutrons appear, but skepticism remains
25 March 2009—On Monday, scientists at the American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting in Salt Lake City announced a series of experimental results that they argue confirms controversial “cold fusion” claims.
Chief among the findings was new evidence presented by U.S. Navy researchers of high-energy neutrons in a now-standard cold fusion experimental setup—electrodes connected to a power source, immersed in a solution containing both palladium and “heavy water.” If confirmed, the result would add support to the idea that reactions like the nuclear fire that lights up the sun might somehow be tamed for the tabletop. But even cold fusion’s proponents admit that they have no clear explanation why their nuclear infernos are so weak as to be scarcely noticeable in a beaker.
The newest experiment, conducted by researchers at the U.S. Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, in San Diego, required running current through the apparatus for two to three weeks. Beneath the palladium- and deuterium-coated cathode was a piece of plastic—CR-39, the stuff that eyeglasses are typically made from. Physicists use CR-39 as a simple nuclear particle detector.
After the experiment, the group analyzed the CR-39 and found microscopic blossoms of “triple tracks.” Such tracks happen when a high-energy neutron has struck a carbon atom in the plastic, causing the atom to decay into three helium nuclei (alpha particles). The alpha particles don’t travel more than a few microns, though, before they plow into other atoms in the CR-39. The result is a distinctive three-leaf clover that, to physicists, points to the by-product of a nuclear reaction.
“Taking all the data together, we have compelling evidence that nuclear reactions [are happening in the experiment],” says physicist Pamela Mosier-Boss of the Navy group.
If you find this sort of thing interesting, by all means read the whole article.
I was aware that DARPA had begun funding Cold Fusion research a while back, but I was not aware, as this month’s WIRED magazine reported, that:
The Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) has long been known to harbor cold fusion enthusiasts; they’ve often managed to fit in their experiments in down time between other projects, and without official funding.
Wired further reports:
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and it will take more than a few stray neutrons to shift the balance in favor of cold fusion when there is a formidable array of theoretical reasons to doubt that it is possible. Build a laboratory fusion reactor which generates endless free energy and people will sit up and take notice. Until then, the cold fusion club are better off keeping their heads down and avoiding attention.
Darpa may be home to many crazy ideas, but they don’t talk about cold fusion, either. At least not openly. However, a close look at their budget documents under “Alternate Power Sources” reveals that in 2007 they “Completed independent evaluation of recently reported experimental protocol for achieving excess heat conditions in Pd cathodes.”
Excess heat being generated by Palladium (Pd) cathodes is a signature of cold fusion. And in the 2008 research budget we find that Darpa are set to “Determine the correlation between excess heat observations and production of nuclear by-products.”
This sounds suspiciously as though Darpa has been getting involved in the cold fusion club – without mentioning it in a way that might attract undue attention.
Are we close to a breakthrough? I certainly hope so.