Krivit is a co-author of this Scientific American article, but this is mostly about Krivit’s point of view. Ravnitzky is relatively unknown, he is an editor for Krivit’s new book series. The new books are published by Pacific Oak Press. I find no books other than Krivit’s published by this publisher. All it takes is money.
This is a review of the article.
It’s Not Cold Fusion,…But It’s Something
An experiment that earned Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann widespread ridicule in 1989 wasn’t necessarily bogus
By Steven B. Krivit, Michael J. Ravnitzky on December 7, 2016
The Pons-Fleischmann work was flawed; the press conference claimed sustained fusion, but they had only circumstantial evidence for fusion: heat release beyond what they knew to be possible from chemistry, plus they found, possibly in a rush and with insufficient care, some neutron radiation, they thought. They were mistaken about the neutrons, and much of the rejection was about that. Neutrons would be expected from fusion, but there was a huge problem: the levels of neutrons reported were far, far below what would be expected from ordinary fusion generating the levels of heat they found.
They were in error about the neutrons, there essentially weren’t any, and the lack of neutrons was a major argument used to claim that their heat measurements were also faulty. However, the latter was never shown, and their calorimetry, when studied, was confirmed.
A surprising opportunity to explore something new in chemistry and physics has emerged. In March 1989, electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, at the University of Utah, announced that they had “established a sustained nuclear fusion reaction” at room temperature. By nearly all accounts, the event was a fiasco. The fundamental reason was that the products of their experiments looked nothing like deuterium-deuterium (D+D) fusion.
This is a shallow description. The March 1989 press conference was part of what created a fiasco, but the event itself was by any reasonable standard a success. According to Taubes, over the next year about $100 million was spent attempting to confirm the results. The problem, instead, was that
- The announcement was premature, they were not ready. The experiment was difficult, not simple as the press conference made it seem. They had been lucky to see the effect, as later developments showed
- The specific conditions of the experiment were not disclosed, so would-be replicators were often guessing.
- The theoretical basis, presumed high density of deuterium, packed in the palladium lattice, was defective and later evidence has shown that the effect is a surface effect, not taking place in the bulk as they thought.
- They did not know what the ash was, the reaction product. That no product was clearly identified and correlated with the heat was a huge obstacle to acceptance.
In the following weeks, Caltech chemist Nathan Lewis sharply criticized Fleischmann and Pons in a symposium, a press release, a one-man press conference at the American Physical Society meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, and during his oral presentation at the APS meeting. Despite Lewis’ prominence in the media spotlight, he never published a peer-reviewed critique of the peer-reviewed Fleischmann-Pons papers, and for good reason. Lewis’ critique of the Fleischmann-Pons experiment was based on wrong guesses and assumptions.
Indeed. The entire affair was a massive departure from academic norms, on all sides.
Richard Petrasso, a physicist at MIT, took Fleischmann and Pons to task for their claimed gamma-ray peak. Petrasso and the MIT team, after accusing Fleischmann and Pons of fraud in the Boston Herald, later published a sound and well-deserved peer-reviewed critique of what had become multiple versions of the claimed peak.
Pons and Fleischmann were not experts in measuring neutrons and gamma rays. This was shooting a sitting duck. But the core claim, and what they had originally found, was not radiation, but heat.
From this dubious beginning, to the surprise of many people, a new field of nuclear research has emerged: It offers unexplored opportunities for the scientific community. Data show that changes to atomic nuclei, including observed shifts in the abundance of isotopes, can occur without high-energy accelerators or nuclear reactors. For a century, this has been considered impossible. In hindsight, glimpses of the new phenomena were visible 27 years ago.
What is the evidence for this? Transmutations have indeed been reported, but at levels far below those of what is now known to be the major reaction product, helium. The production of helium is a mystery, but the correlation with heat is unmistakable.
In October 1989, a workshop co-sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute took place at the National Science Foundation headquarters, in Washington, D.C. Among the 50 scientists in attendance was the preeminent physicist Edward Teller. After hearing from scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Naval Research Laboratory who had observed isotopic shifts in room-temperature experiments, Teller concluded that nuclear effects were taking place. He even had a hunch about a possible mechanism, involving some sort of charge-neutral particle.
A major problem with this hunch or theory is that such shifts only result in very small quantities of the new isotopes; that some neutral particle might be involved cannot be ruled out, but the one that is most often suggested, neutrons, i.e., slow neutrons, would produce a host of effects that are not observed. There is essentially no evidence for such neutrons being active in these experiments.
By October, tritium production and low-levels of neutrons in such experiments had been reported from a few reputable laboratories, including Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Bhabha Atomic Research Center in India. Moreover, BARC researchers observed that the tritium production and neutron emissions were temporally correlated. Outside reviewers selected by the Department of Energy and tasked with examining the worldwide claims included this data in a draft of their report. Before the document was finalized, however, they removed the tables containing that data.
Yes. However, later work showed that neutrons were about a million times lower in level than tritium, low enough to be very difficult to distinguish from background, and neutron detection remains controversial. Tritium is found, but about a million times lower in level than helium.
I would assume that the DoE removed the tables because the results were completely mysterious to them, and the levels involved are far too low for this to be relevant to the theory Krivit and Ravnitzky propose.
In the early 1990s, several researchers in the field strongly favored neutron-based explanations for the phenomena. By the mid-1990s, a vocal contingent of scientists attempting to confirm Fleischmann and Pons’ claims promoted the room-temperature fusion idea. Other scientists in the field, however, observed evidence—isotopic shifts and heavy-element transmutations—that pointed not to fusion but to some sort of neutron-induced reaction.
Krivit has been telling the story this way for about eight years. Almost nobody in the field supports a naive concept of “room-temperature fusion.” However, the experimental evidence is strong that the reaction somehow accomplishes fusion as a result, that is, deuterium is being converted to helium, and even if this were done using neutrons in intermediate steps, that is a fusion result, and calling it “not-fusion” as Krivit routinely does, is a semantic trick. There are, however, severe problems with the neutron theory, and Krivit simply glosses them over, ignores them.
In 1997, theorist Lewis Larsen looked at some of this data and noticed a similarity to elemental abundances he had learned about while a student in Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s astrophysics class at the University of Chicago. Larsen suspected that a neutronization process was occurring in low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR). Physicist Allan Widom joined Larsen’s team in 2004, and in 2006 they published a theory in the European Physical Journal C – Particles and Fields.
Lewis Larsen had no training that would qualify him as a theorist. What he had was money, and he started a company, and he created relationships with scientists in the field, such as Edmund Storms, who still mentions that he owns shares in Larsen’s company, Lattice Energy. But Storms covered the problems with the theory and that collaboration ended, apparently. Widom is a physicist, all right, with a reputation; however, his papers show no serious awareness of the cold fusion experimental work, only certain results that have been cherry-picked out of the huge mass of work that has been done. The most solid and central and widely confirmed repeatable result, measurement of the heat/helium ratio, is generally attacked by Krivit and Larsen.
The Widom-Larsen theory has nothing to do with fusion;
This is highly misleading. The theory involves the conversion of protons to neutrons by fusion with an electron, a process that requires very high energy, more than fusion itself. A mechanism is proposed that has no experimental evidence behind it, and that is radically different from what is expected and known. Other physicists have analysed this work and find it heavily defective. Then the theory has these neutrons fuse with other nuclei which are present, creating the transmutations described. The result if this is, among other things, that the proton has been injected into the new nucleus, that’s obviously fusion, it is just that normally the word isn’t used for neutron activation, because the neutrons were not made from protons. The electron would be essentially acting as a chaperone, neutralizing the charge. But this is not happening, not this way, anyway.
The term “cold fusion” was misleading, to be sure, which is why “LENR” became popular. An even more neutral term is Anomalous Heat Effect. However, in the Fleischmann-Pons experiment, there is now strong evidence that the original AHE was created by the conversion of deuterium to helium, mechanism unknown. So some researchers in the field are returning to the name “cold fusion,” because, by the preponderance of the evidence, it actually is some kind of fusion. The name was misleading at the beginning because “fusion” was immediately interpreted to mean “d-d fusion,” which is not what Pons and Fleischmann claimed in their first paper, they called it an “unknown nuclear reaction.” Krivit often claims that cold fusion researchers believe in “d-d fusion.” While some researchers involved with theory are still looking at d-d models, it is not a general belief. Most theories now look at something more complex, and almost all are considering collective and multibody effects.
the key steps are based on weak interactions and are consistent with existing physics.
This is only true if most of the physics of the work is ignored, and one only looks at the round outlines of the idea. Each step may seem somewhat plausible, though some of them are … actually not plausible at all. For example, if the neutron captures described take place, they will create radioactive elements that will emit gamma rays over a substantial period of time. This is waved away by positing yet another effect, a “gamma shield,” which has never been observed and which would itself be astonishing. The theory is a collection of such odd assumptions, but somehow “not fusion” is enough to make it attractive to some people.
The theory explains how nuclear reactions can occur at or near room temperature through the creation of ultra-low-momentum neutrons and subsequent neutron-capture processes. Such neutrons, according to the theory, have a very large DeBroglie wavelength and therefore have a huge capture cross-section, explaining why so few neutrons are detected.
The creation of ultracold neutrons is explained by a Mossbauer-like collective effect; itself Nobel-Prize-worthy if confirmed. However, a basic fact has been ignored. Such neutrons would be cold with respect to the matrix where they were formed, they would have very low momentum relative to the full mass of this matrix. (It’s really low, the figure I’ve seen from Widom and Larsen is equivalent to a temperature of about 100 microkelvins.)
But the material in the experiment is not cold, it is room temperature, say maybe 300 K. They use, I’m sure — I intend to verify this — formulae for capture cross section that look at the supposed wavelength of the neutron, but an individual neutron, to be captured, will be interacting with a specific nucleus, which will have motion in all directions, relative to that mass of the region, that formed the neutron. The capture probability is related to the *relative momentum,” momentum is not an absolute characteristic of a particle, but is relative to the motion of other particles or some defined reference frame. That the neutron may be “ultracold” with respect to the whole mass is misleading, it is not ultracold with respect to the “target nuclei” and it is the relative velocity that determines absorption or an elastic collision where the neutron bounces, and ultracold neutrons would rapidly be thermalized.
Effects that may exist at very low levels are proposed for Widom-Larsen theory as if they can simply be declared to operate with much higher probability. The Mossabauer effect was originally proposed, in relation to cold fusion, to explain the transfer of energy from fused nuclei to the lattice, as was thought to be possibly happening. The problem is that the collective effect in the Mossbauer effect is at energies far, far below those involved here, and in cold fusion, and, again there is no evidence that these effects actually exist.
Many-body collective quantum and electromagnetic effects are fundamental to Widom and Larsen’s explanation for the energy required to create neutrons in LENR cells. Crucially, such reaction-rate calculations are based not on few-body interactions but on many-body interactions.
Translation: it’s too complicated to calculate, but we can wave our hand and suggest results. LENR is very likely based on multibody interactions, the conditions of condensed matter, not plasma conditions, where two-body analysis may be used; but there is, again, no evidence for the energy collection required. It’s massive. A jump from normal energies in the range of tenths of an electron volt, perhaps, to the 780,000 electron volts needed to make a neutron, from a proton and an electron, is an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary evidence, and the only evidence is the say-so of Widom and Larsen and very few others. This theory is generally rejected by LENR researchers. However, it is here presented triumphantly, as if proven and accepted, and as if the proposal of a theory is some kind of big news or transformation.
After 2006, the scientists who remained wedded to their belief in the idea of room-temperature fusion rejected the Widom-Larsen theory. A few of these fusion believers began making unsupported claims of commercially viable energy technologies.
This, again, is Krivit’s yellow journalistic drumbeat.
This is a major clue as to what Krivit is doing. There are many scientists who have examined Widom-Larsen theory and who have rejected it as implausible. So …. attack them as fanatic believers!
To Krivit, it’s all about those fanatic believers. Never mind actual experimental evidence, fusion is impossible and any one who thinks the evidence shows it must be a fanatic. Krivit looked at the experimental evidence for the heat/helium correlation — which is not good news for W-L theory — and worked hard to impeach it, attacking scientists for data fabrication (a very serious charge to level against any scientist). If the evidence doesn’t fit the theory, there must be some chicanery going on!
This has absolutely nothing do with claims of commercial viability. There are a few researchers and entrepreneurs making claims of possible commercial viability, but only one worker, now heavily discredited, has been claiming major success, he is currently involved in a lawsuit he filed against the investors who gave him a full opportunity to demonstrate his work, and he failed. (Rossi et al v. Darden et al.)
Hidden in the confusion are many scientific reports, some of them published in respectable peer-reviewed journals, showing a wide variety of experimental evidence, including transmutations of elements. Reports also show that LENRs can produce local surface temperatures of 4,000-5,000 K and boil metals (palladium, nickel and tungsten) in small numbers of scattered microscopic sites on the surfaces of laboratory devices.
There is such evidence. Again, the authors neglect rate and quantity. Transmutation is often reported, but is difficult to tease out from possible contamination, electrolysis will move elements and collect materials present anywhere in the cell on the cathode, and often very surprising sources are eventually found; as well, in some cases fractionation might be possible, where elements are isotopically enriched or depleted. There is no confirmed correlation of transmutations (other than to helium) with heat. Krivit picks weak evidence and neglects strong evidence. That’s characteristic of pseudoscience. His work is obvious: he is trying to promotion and prove that Widom Larsen theory is true, and often does it by denigrating the work of researchers in the field.
(Anyone who studies cold fusion will find the transmutation claims. Often, though, the claims are simply for detection, and levels are neglected.)
For nearly three decades, researchers in the field have not observed the emission of dangerous radiation. Heavy shielding has not been necessary.
That is correct. It is a known characteristic of cold fusion that radiation is absent at high levels. There is evidence for low-level radiation, yes, not dangerous.
The Widom-Larsen theory offers a plausible explanation—localized conversion of gamma radiation to infrared radiation.
This could seem plausible until one looks at the details. This is a reference to the “gamma shield,” posited to arise from the “heavy electron patches” proposed. No independent physicist has accepted this part of the theory, as far as I’ve been able to find. Richard Garwin was clearly contemptuous, but Krivit, reporting this, framed it very differently, making it look like Garwin approved — or didn’t “find anything wrong.” Actually, Garwin would have found plenty wrong, and suggested that it should be easy to test this, which it should, and asked Larsen if he had any evidence. Larsen declined to answer, citing “proprietary,” revealing what is really going on here: an effort to promote investment in Lattice Energy, Larsen’s company, and Larsen personally as a ‘consultant,” as shown in the most recent Larsen slide presentation. This is not science, it’s business, and that was Larsen’s expertise, he was not a theoretical physicist as Krivit implies. Widom was the theorist, but obviously did not have a comprehensive knowledge of cold fusion experimental results.
Widom is no longer at Northeastern University, his pages were dropped a couple of months ago and I’ve been unable to find any information about what is happening with him. The heavy promotion has all been Larsen and Krivit.
Many theories suspect low-energy gamma radiation that will be converted to heat in the experiment. The problem is that activation gammas, from the copious transmutations that would occur if there are high levels of slow neutrons, would be too strong to be trapped like that, so Widom and Larsen need a hand-wave to get rid of this. It doesn’t work as an idea, even, it literally falls apart at the edges, both spatially and in time. These gammas would be emitted for days or longer, but the “heavy electron patches” are, by Larsen admission, transient. There are hosts of reasons to impeach Widom-Larsen theory, I’m only giving a few.
The implication is that immense technological opportunities may exist if a practical source of energy can be developed from these laboratory curiosities.
This has been noticed, and extensive funding is beginning to be applied to the research, but most of it is bypassing Lattice Energy and Larsen, so Krivit is engaged to promote the theory. I don’t think it will work, because anyone putting in substantial funding will study the field, will read what other researchers have written about Widom-Larsen theory, and will review this carefully, perhaps hiring their own consultants.
[paragraph about early transmutation reports, not really relevant to present-day results, omitted.]
In 1966, physicist George Gamow wrote, “Let us hope that in a decade or two or, at least, just before the beginning of the 21st century, the present meager years of theoretical physics will come to an end in a burst of entirely new revolutionary ideas similar to those which heralded the beginning of the 20th century.” LENR may very well be such an opportunity to explore new science.
LENR is such an opportunity, but the exploration must begin, not with implausible theory — and at this point all theories appear implausible — but with experimental evidence and the careful interpretation of it. Widom-Larsen theory was announced over ten years ago and has no success at quantitative predictions, nor any new confirmed phenomena that it predicted. It would seem to predict many results that would have been seen, but have not.
Yet it is steadily promoted by Steve Krivit as if it were phenomenally successful. It is not. I have, instead, called it a hoax. The claim is that it is consistent with existing physics, when it is not. It is claimed to explain all cold fusion results, when it does not. It is placed in opposition to alleged beliefs of the rest of the LENR community, when, to the extent those beliefs exist, they are only the beliefs of a few, and when researchers study evidence and come to hypotheses and propose them for test, that is not called “belief.” It is called “science.”
That deceptive promotion is a hoax.
Widom-Larsen theory is “on the table,” with many others. Until we know what is actually happening, from clear experimental evidence, no theory can be completely rejected, but the crucial issues at this time are not theory, but experimental. To develop solid theory will very likely require much more evidence..