Widom-Larsen part 1: Overview

Subpage of Steven Byrnes

The blog page: May 6, 2014.

The Widom-Larson theory of cold fusion started with this paper:

“Ultra Low Momentum Neutron Catalyzed Nuclear Reactions on Metallic Hydride Surfaces” by A. Widom, L. Larsen, 2005.

A follow-up paper with more mathematical details is here, while a follow-up with slightly more qualitative discussion is here.

This is apparently the most popular theoretical explanation of cold fusion. For example, it was the theoretical justification supporting NASA’s cold-fusion program. Apparently, lots of reasonable people are convinced by it.

It could be called the CYA theory, and it was used that way for the NASA program. That program went nowhere fast. It is popular, but with whom? Not with the active cold fusion research community, which most needs a theory to better guide experiment. It is strongly supported by Steve Krivit, who became an embarrassment to the community, most cold fusion scientists won’t talk to him any more. If one looks carefully, there are “reasonable people” who looked casually at the theory and did not immediately see the glaring defects, and so they were happy that someone had finally given an “explanation” that was — allegedly — consistent with standard physics. I call the theory a “hoax” because, when examined closely, it can be seen as intensely misleading. Starting with the promoted idea (by Krivit) that the cold fusion community rejects W-L theory because they are “believers in fusion.” And it’s very clear that Krivit thinks of fusion as d-d fusion, and that the CF community is very aware that “d-d fusion” is extremely unlikely to be the explanation.

As to where it started, Larsen started a company, Lattice Energy, and it was some years before he retained Widom. His goal was profit, and all his activity has been seeking that. Not science. ‘Nuff said for now.

On the other hand, we have things like Ron Maimon’s post railing against the theory (“…a bunch of words strung together with no coherent relation to known weak interaction theory, or to energy conservation, or to surface theory of metals, or to known nuclear physics of neutrons…”), a critical paper by Tennfors (with a 4-sentence reply here at newenergytimes), and this paper by Hagelstein that suggested that the Widom-Larsen calculation is wrong by 17 orders of magnitude, which then solicited this angry and sarcastic response by Widom et al., and this critical paper by Vysotskii, and another critical paper by Hagelstein

Krivit is not a scientist, doesn’t think like a scientist, and is unqualified to issue the judgments he freely spews. As to the Hagelstein critique, what is 17 orders of magnitude among friends?

Most cold fusion theory is not being intensely criticized by other theorists. Why the exception with W-L theory? Because it’s a hoax, and physicists, in particular, if they give it a little time, can see through it. Because it is promoted with deception about the actual state of the field and what others think.

(I regret the lack of critique, and when I came into this field, I was encouraged by the strongest researchers, with the highest reputations, to support skepticism and to express it when appropriate. And they backed that up. I am community-supported for my expenses, I’m living on social security.)

(Lots more papers related to Widom Larsen theory, both for and against it, are listed here at newenergytimes.com.)

I want to get to the bottom of this. If Widom-Larsen theory is right, I want to clearly explain and justify every detail. If it’s wrong, I want to understand all the mistakes, what the authors were thinking, and how they got led astray. There is a lot of ground to cover. It will take many blog posts. Let’s get started!

We have all the time in the world, and this “ink” is cheap. I don’t know how many people are watching now, but the future is watching. We are blazing trails through mountains of junk, mixed with gold or at least something to learn.

Very quick summary: The paper makes two claims:

  • The electron-capture process e + p+ → n + νe  (electron plus proton turns into neutron plus electron neutrino) can and does happen on the palladium hydride surface. (Discussed in Sections 1-3 of the paper.)
  • The neutrons can enable a variety of nuclear reactions which indirectly turns [deuterons] into helium-4:
    D + D + ⋯ → ⋯ → He4 + ⋯ . (Discussed in Section 4 of the paper.)

One of the weakest aspects of W-L theory is that LENR must be a low-rate phenomenon, which then means that sequential reactions become extraordinarily unlikely. W-L theory almost entirely ignores rate. So if reaction X could happen, and reaction Y could happen, and reaction Z could happen, why, we can make the product of X from the fuel for X, it’s possible, after all. But if each reaction requires a ULM neutron, and those are only being formed at a certain rate, unless somehow the new neutron matches up with an intermediate product, the intermediate products will build up until they are common enough to catch neutrons. It doesn’t make sense. With D -> He, one might imagine a dineutron from electron capture by D, creating 4H with another D, which then beta-decays to 4He, perhaps, but …. it is all quite a stretch, and that is not what W-L have proposed for making helium.

(This, by the way, could be considered electron-catalyzed fusion. By grabbing an electron first, the deuteron can then fuse with another, no Coulomb barrier, then it spits out the electron. But … we would expect some other effects, and loose very slow neutrons are promiscuous, the will fuse with about anything. We would expect transmutations at much higher levels than observed. Especially tritium. Lots of tritium in a deuterium experiment.)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email