COLD FUSION IS BACK… WELL, SORT OF…November 2, 2012
It seems that "cold fusion" is back, this time in mainstream science. Or at least, it is sort of back, but not really. The article is here, and I share it because it contains a lot of hidden lessons, for virtually everyone with an interest in science, from amateurs to "academics":
I like this article for several reasons, because of the lessons it contains for all an sundry interested in science. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann did indeed perform an experiment in which they observed some anomalous production of heat, returning more energy in the form of heat than they were putting into the experiment in the form of electricity. This over-unity coefficient of performance led them to theorize, as the article rightly points out, that the excess heat was being caused by fusion at room temperatures.
And there, indeed, was the rub, for scientists attempting to repeat the performance achieved mixed results. Sometimes the procedure worked, sometimes it didn't. And there's the first lesson, for what the article states is at one level untrue: not all attempts at replication failed. There were enough failures to convince some scientists that the whole thing was bunk and disproven, and there were enough successes to convince others - mainly outside of the United States - that there was something to it. The first lesson? Don't believe everything a scientist says, especially if it concerns an alleged new discovery, for old ideas die hard.
But there's a second lesson here as well and it is this: Lewis Larsen did two things, that much of the rest of the scientific community at large back then, did not do: (1) he did not jump on the debunking bandwagon (after all, why would any scientist continue to pay attention to "cold fusion" if the failure rate of replication were as extensive as the article itself suggests!?) and (2) he attempted to formulate an explanatory hypothesis that did not fly completely in the face of known theory.
The result was a wholly new kind of low energy nuclear reaction which, when one reads the article carefully, involves three basic steps: (1) the creation of neutrons by the fusion of electrons and protons; (2) the absorption of neutrons by an atom (in this case, lithium), and (3) because the absorbed neutrons create instabilities, the spontaneous decay into different elements, with the release of heat in the form of radiation. We have in effect a process that begins not as nuclear fusion, as Pons and Fleischmann thought, but as particle fusion, absorption, and subsequent decay.
So the second lesson is an important one: don't reject an anomalous observation just because the proposed explanatory mechanism flies in the face of contemporary theory, but rather, attempt to rationalize a process or model behind the phenomenon that might be new but workable within an accepted larger theoretical model. (The implications, here, I suggest, might also be possible explanations for the similar results (and explanations) being observed by Dr. Ronald Richter in his "fusion" experiments in Argentina.)
And there's a third lesson here, and it's suggested by these words in the article: the new explanation, it notes, "proposed a phenomenon permitted by the known laws of physics, no new science required." In other words, sometimes a new theoretical model, a radical one, is needed. One need only think of relativity here. But, one shouldn't rush to such models if a model that explains a phenomenon can be constructed from existing concepts.
Is it practical? Well, if you've been following the Andrea Rossi story, you might be interested in this paper:
It may not be "practical" yet, but it has every appearance of quickly approaching that status... As for the lessons, they are simple: let science do its job, and let the theoretical dogmatist, who dismisses observations because they apparently conflict with the theory, or because the explanations given for an anomaly conflict with the reigning theory, be cautious, but let the dogmatists who also question the entire development of the standard model also take caution, for not every anomalous observation is, in the end, a challenge to it.
(I am very grateful to those of you who shared these articles and many more such papers with me.)
See you on the flip side...