Every now and then I get a really intriguing article about science and physics that I just have to pass along. In this case, A. I. passed along a very interesting article from 2013 about a little known exchange between a relatively unknown scientist,Ernst Sternglass, and Albert Einstein, that began in the late 1940s and carried on through the 1950s.
Low Energy Nuclear Reactions, or LENRs, one of the more popular models advanced to explain "cold fusion." But in this case, there's more implications locked up in those details:
Now what has me intrigued here is the similarity of the experiment that first raised the possibility of low energy neutrons creating nuclear reactions, to what subsequently would fuel the cold fusion debate; Ernst Sternglass, a comparative unknown at the time, had performed experiments in the photo-electric effect, for which Einstein had won his Nobel Prize (not, as many people assume, for his relativity theories). Sternglass's strange results won him a meeting with the world's most famous physicist:
Sternglass had contacted Einstein because his lab in Washington was investigating how electrons are ejected from a metal when hit by a beam of electrons. The Navy wanted to understand this process better so they could develop night vision cameras, photography, and video that would be sensitive to the infrared light given off by body heat.
The reason why the science was overlooked is plain enough: It was at least a generation ahead of its time.
At first blush, Sternglass’ findings might seem like just a military curiosity, hardly worthy of reaching out to the architect of space-time itself. But Einstein had won his Nobel Prize for a theory explaining a phenomenon related to the Navy research: the ejection of electrons from a metal illuminated by a beam of ultraviolet light, a process called the photoelectric effect. Sternglass had begun to suspect that the theory that explained his process—called secondary electron emission—was simply wrong.
According to the article, what was wrong, in this instance, concerned neutrons:
Sternglass’ neutron experiment consisted of an evacuated glass tube less than a foot long filled with hydrogen gas. He fired an electron gun, not unlike the type found in old tube TV sets, through the gas and at thin foils of silver and indium at the end of the tube. There was no known way that an electron beam of the energies he was studying (about 35,000 electron Volts) could have induced any radioactivity in the foils. Nevertheless, time and again, that is what he observed. When he ran a control experiment with the beam passing through regular air, the foils did not become radioactive.
The radioactive signature suggested that the two stable isotopes that make up silver (silver-107 with 60 neutrons and silver-109 with 62 neutrons) were undergoing transmutation. Adding a neutron to each would produce silver-108 and silver-110 isotopes, which are unstable. When silver-108 decays, it gives off an electron (or beta particle) in, on average, 2.3 minutes. The leftover atom becomes the stable isotope cadmium-108. Silver-110 is more short-lived, beta decaying into cadmium-110 in just 24 seconds. “I should expect to observe a decay lasting of the order of 3-4 minutes,” Sternglass wrote in his lab notebook. He’d seen just that. His silver foil was acting precisely as if it’d been bombarded by low-energy neutrons.
But this flew in the face of conventional models of particle and nuclear physics. Electron beams may glance off silver atoms in a metal foil. They may, as Sternglass himself had studied, knock other electrons out of a silver atom. However, the electrons in Sternglass’ tube, propelled by just 35,000 Volts, were moving far too slowly to yield any nuclear reactions. Einstein pointed out to Sternglass in a letter dated just four days later, “In order to form a neutron, an electron is needed that has passed through 780,000 Volts.”
In other words, Sternglass had discovered a Low Energy Nuclear Reaction using slow neutrons, and these were causing the unusual effects, not to mention some odd low energy transmutations, and this long before Pons and Fleischmann announced their cold fusion findings:
But, in an unexpected convergence, a completely independent line of research begun 25 years ago has resurrected interest in Sternglass’ low-energy neutrons. In 1989, two chemists at the University of Utah caused a worldwide media storm when they announced at a press conference that they’d invented a method of sparking nuclear fusion in a simple, tabletop apparatus. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann had found that running electric current through a specially prepared palladium electrode immersed in heavy water produced copious amounts of heat, more than what would be expected from a chemical reaction. “Cold fusion,” the headlines blared.
But physicists then responded much as they do today: Cold fusion is simply a non-starter. There was none of the radioactivity, gamma rays, or high-energy neutrons that are expected to accompany a fusion reaction. What, then, could explain the data? As cold fusion became a pariah field, a few made the connection to low-energy neutrons. In May of 1989, just one month after Pons and Fleischmann published their data, someone named Larry A. Hull wrote a letter to the editor of Chemical & Engineering News speculating that they may have been observing not fusion but transmutation, brought about by the same low-energy neutrons that Sternglass had claimed to observe.
And this brings me at last to the fascinating bit:
This interpretation lay on the periphery of the cold fusion research community (which was itself on the periphery of the broader scientific community) for more than a decade. It was only in 2006, with the publication of a landmark paper in the European Journal of Physics C, that neutron-induced transmutations, as something distinct from cold fusion, began to emerge as a viable theory. The paper predicts that electrons on a metal surface coated with hydrogen, deuterium, or tritium atoms can behave collectively (as Einstein had predicted) when driven by an oscillating electromagnetic field at a particular frequency. This collective behavior can give them enough energy to combine with the hydrogen, deuterium, or tritium to make neutrons.
The paper goes on to say that the resulting neutrons travel very slowly—slow enough, in fact, to get gobbled up by a nearby atom before they can even leave the microscopic vicinity of their birthplace. The atom then becomes unstable and might burp out radioactive decay byproducts like a gamma ray or energetic electron. A separate paper by the same authors calculates that microscopic surfaces of electrodes, like those that tend to produce low-energy neutrons, are efficient absorbers of radioactive gamma rays. So radioactive decay can be transformed into a bath of innocuous heat. And of course heat energy can readily be converted into electricity.
The above picture does not involve fusion, which would require blazing energies on the scale of the so-called “strong force” which holds together neutrons and protons. Instead, it requires lower energies on the scale of the nuclear weak force, which mediates the capture of an electron by a proton.
In other words, the "cold fusion" phenomenon might have been completely misunderstood all along, because it was not fusion of any sort that was being observed, but rather, interactions involving not the strong force but the weak nuclear force, which at one level looked like or could mimic fusion reactions, but which really were interactions between protons and electrons to produce slow neutrons. One was looking at particle interactions and creation, rather than at atomic interactions; one was looking at transmutations at very low energies.
With that, we arrive an at intriguing implication in today's high octane speculation, for one of the main complaints against alchemy was that it's claims involving transmutations could not possibly be true because its experiments operated at energies far too low. But might the growing pile of evidence for reactions of this type (coupled with observations of biological systems able to transmute - another topic for another day I'm afraid) perhaps be a basis for explaining those experiments? Might they, by accident, have created some of these effects, but, lacking the science of modern times, been unable to explain why they sometimes did, and some times did not, obtain the results which they sought?
It's a fascinating hypothesis, one which would require a careful examination of various alchemical experiments and their apparatus to see if they might indeed have accidentally configured something similar.
And while we're at it, I might as well take a flying leap off the end of the twig of speculation, and recall a few more oddities of history that have no adequate explanation. Alchemy is, of course, from "Al Khem," the ancient name for Egypt, a place where there is indication that their gold jewelry may have been electroplated, and where there's a massive structure of granite and limestone which can produce photons and phonons under stress, which structure, if one follows engineer Christopher Dunn's Giza Power Plant hypothesis, was filled with hydrogen gas, and has a structure - the so-called coffer - which in his opinion might have been the optical cavity for a maser...
Just a thought.
See you on the flip side...