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Wikiversity/Cold fusion/Excess heat correlated with helium/Sources/Biberian (2007)

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This is a critique of Biberian (2007), by Abd. Others may contribute to this page or comment on it on the attached discussion page, but, aside from correcting obvious errors, other contributors should sign contributions to this page. If alternative reviews are to be created, this review may be moved to a subpage.

Condensed matter nuclear science (cold fusion): an update. published in International Journal of Nuclear Energy Science and Technology, Vol. 3, Number 1, 2007.

Jean-Paul Biberian is well-known in the field of low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR).

This review by Biberian, however, has some problems. I will point some of them out. This is not an overall judgment of what Biberian presents, but I am only noticing issues with the review that might lead some to reject the review's conclusions.

The abstract[edit]

  • Seventeen years after the announcement by Professors Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann of the discovery of cold fusion in March 1989, the scientific community does not acknowledge this field as a genuine scientific research theme. However, the scientific demonstration of cold fusion was made long ago by showing the evidence of excess heat production in electrolytic cells and other devices. Also, nuclear ashes have been observed, mainly the formation of helium-4 along with the production of excess heat. What makes this field difficult to accept is the lack of the usual particle emission observed in nuclear science or high-energy physics. In some instances low-level neutron production, X-ray emission and transmutation of elements have been measured. At this point there is no satisfactory theory explaining the unique characteristics of condensed matter nuclear science. Many models have been proposed, several of them using textbook physics.

The scientific community[edit]

The "scientific community" is not a well-defined entity, and it has no clear spokesperson. There is something loosely called the "mainstream," and opinions within the mainstream differ. In the review of LENR by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2004, half of the 18 reviewers considered the evidence for anomalous heat to be conclusive, and about one-third considered the evidence for a nuclear origin to be "convincing" or "somewhat convincing." This is not how a field "not acknowledged ... as a genuine scientific research theme" would be seen, by such a panel. Rather, what is accurate is that some scientists consider cold fusion to be an example of Bad Science, with the results being caused by poor procedure and artifact. It is very clear that others consider the field of research legitimate. As the parent page shows (by omission, please fix any omissions), there are many reviews of cold fusion, published in mainstream scientific journals (entirely aside from the work published in the Journal of Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, edited by Biberian), that accept the field as legitimate and the discoveries as real, and none that, by consideration of experimental evidence, reject it. All that I have been able to find of rejection is tertiary, papers not about cold fusion, per se, but giving it as an example of poor science. All this shows is that there remains substantial opinion of bogosity, but not that this opinion is "scientific."

By stating, in a peer-reviewed journal, and in the abstract, that the "scientific community does not acknowledge this field," Biberian provided fuel for skeptics, who have quoted this text as proof of the rejection of cold fusion. What was actually true was that many scientists did reject the work, and individuals were harassed and suffered injury to careers, based on impressions of the research being legitimate. Those impressions remain, but are by no means universal or a true scientific consensus, which would, as happened with N-rays and polywater, be founded on experimental identification of artifact, not mere suspicion of error or alleged theoretical impossibility.

However, both U.S. Department of Energy reviews recommended research in this field, and merely decided against a massive crash program to develop practicality, and I agree with that position. There is certain work that any prudent caretaker of public funds would want to see funded first.

Demonstration of cold fusion[edit]

What was initially "demonstrated" was anomalous heat. Anomalous heat is not conclusive as to nuclear origin, but a nuclear origin was speculatively claimed based on two factors: the levels of heat observed, compared to the mass or volume of the presumed reactants, were higher than chemists could explain through chemistry, and nuclear products were claimed, though the quantities were wonky, and, in fact, the main claim of neutron production by Pons and Fleischmann was artifact. The demonstration was difficult to replicate, and was not reliable even in the hands of experts. It was replicated, but exact replications were rare, and quantitative predictability remained -- and remains -- elusive.

Other nuclear products were reported, but only one was reported at levels commensurate with the reported heat, and that was helium. It appears from the evidence that helium is the only product observed at levels indicating that the product is involved in the main reaction. We do not know what the main reaction is, but it can be strongly inferred from the evidence that deuterium, in the originally discovered effect, is being converted to helium. That conversion is called "fusion," generally, but it is obviously not the reaction that is ordinarily understood by the word, which ordinary reaction would produce copious tritium, neutrons, and gamma rays (experimentally the same as X-rays_. By not even mentioning helium, explicitly, and by mentioning neutrons and X-rays, Biberian has helped perpetuate the misunderstanding of cold fusion.

Tritium and radiation are a million times down from what would be expected, compared to helium, and neutrons are a million times down from that.

The discovery of the heat/helium correlation (helium is not merely "found," but is found at close to the value expected from deuterium conversion to helium) is the only discovery that, so far, clearly and straightforwardly establishes the Fleischmann-Pons Heat Effect as nuclear in nature. It is possible that other evidences will appear, but none, so far, are established and confirmed in ways strongly resistant to allegations of some systematic artifact. Absent the heat/helium correlation, most of those who accept cold fusion as real do so on the basis that "so many scientists could not be wrong." Yet, one way or another, many scientists have been wrong about cold fusion. It's not a convincing argument, to skeptics.

Textbook physics[edit]

While some proposed cold fusion theories use what could be called "ordinary physics," none, so far, have been developed that actually predict, with accuracy, the conditions and results of cold fusion experiments. And most assume conditions that are far from ordinary thinking. For example, the multibody reaction 4D -> Be-8 -> 2 He-4 would produce helium at the observed ratio to heat, but most thinking about multibody reactions would make the rate of this reaction be so low as to be far from the possibility of observation. Takahashi suggests that conditions in or on palladium deuteride may allow the formation of a multibody condensate at some (low) rate, and, based on an assumption that condensation takes place, predicts from quantum field theory that such a condensate would fuse 100% within a femtosecond or so. However, there would then be, normally expected, pairs of hot alpha particles, at up to 24 MeV, and these are not observed. Something else must happened that is extraordinary, for this theory to be explanatory.

Cold fusion is a mystery, and is better presented that way, until we have theory that passes muster, that is not merely plausible, but that is useful for making quantitative and useful predictions.

Biographical notes[edit]

  • "Jean-Paul Biberian is an associate professor of physics.... He has been working for the past 13 years [as of 2007] in the field of cold fusion and biological transmutation."

If cold fusion is real, if chemistry and material conditions can set up nuclear reactions, it would not be surprising to find that living organisms may have found a way to catalyze such reactions. There are reports of biological transmutation, most notably, recently, in the work of Vladimir Vysotskii. Unfortunately, none of this work has been confirmed. It's a bit of a shame, because Vysotskii's reported methods, in themselves, seem sound. Absent confirmation, mentioning biological transmutation in establishing the credentials of an author will have a negative effect, as would, say, mentioning research into flying saucers or water memory. It can be predicted that, when cold fusion is more widely accepted, as seems practically inevitable, given the evidence that exists, there will be serious attempts to confirm reports of biological transmutation, but, for now, that field remains widely rejected, without having the solid and confirmed experimental basis that is the case with cold fusion.

The review itself[edit]

Helium detection[edit]

  • "At the initial press conference, Pons and Fleischmann claimed that they had measured helium-4, thereby proving that the reaction was D + D -> gamma24MeV."

Yes, they claimed helium production, but not correlated with heat, and the gammas were not observed. If, in fact, that had been the main reaction, generating gammas like that, the radiation, at reported power levels, would have been fatal to the researchers. Pons and Fleischmann dropped their claims of helium production, perhaps because an assay of one of their cathodes found no trapped helium. In hindsight, that assay removed the outer 25 microns of palladium to avoid atmospheric contamination (helium is found in the atmosphere, naturally, at levels higher than is normally found as a cold fusion reaction product); we now know that the FPHE is a surface reaction, and helium either escapes or is trapped within a few microns of the surface).

A finding of helium would not "prove" that the reaction described is the actual reaction. Normal fusion, as well, has three branches, with the helium production branch being about four orders of magnitude down from the other two (which produce neutrons and helium-3, in one case, and tritium and protons, in the other. Those products are not observed at levels even close to commensurate with the heat.

Biberian does mention Miles as having found a "good correlation between excess heat and amount of helium detected," but does not mention the value of the correlation, and he mentions Gozzi has having confirmed this. However, Gozzi's report is difficult to interpret, and Gozzi himself did not consider it conclusive. The fact is that about a dozen research groups have confirmed the heat/helium correlation, with the most accurate work having been done by Michael McKubre at SRI. This is covered in Storms, "Status of cold fusion (2010)," published in Naturwissenschaften. All this work was extant and reported well before Biberian's review was published. So while Biberian correctly reports the substance of the finding, there is little detail, and this is buried among much other material that readily confuses rather than enlightening.

Lumping together the vast array of reported effects as "cold fusion," implies that a single phenomenon explains all of them, thus, quite possibly, complicating the search for explanatory theory. What we know is that, in the FPHE, deuterium is very likely being converted to helium, and the energy released corresponds closely to that expected from that conversion. But "conversion" is not a precise reaction, and the energy ratio does not establish the mechanism. All other products are at levels six orders of magnitude, a million times down. Biberian mentions neutrons, which are a million times down from tritium, which is a million times down from helium.

There is an elephant in the living room, and we are talking about minute details of elephant flies, trying to explain the elephant by studying the flies.

There may well be more than one kind of low energy nuclear reaction; indeed, it's obvious that there are. It appears that in palladium deuteride work, helium is *always* found correlated with heat, in that if there is no anomalous heat, there is no helium beyond background. However, there are persistent reports of anomalous heat from nickel and hydrogen, where helium could not be the product -- or at least it seems extraordinarily unlikely. Further, there are two experiments in the original Miles series that did not find helium, but that did find heat. The cathode was a different composition, a palladium-cerium alloy. Cleaner work would not have blended results from cathodes with a different composition, but the constant tempation in the cold fusion field has been to try many variations in an attempt to improve reliability.

Heat/helium cuts through the reliability problem, by using the very unreliability to create controls, "dead cathodes," i.e., cathodes that were otherwise identical, outwardly, but that produced no heat.

We know how that these cathodes are different, that even the same cathode produces different results, depending on the condition of the material. Palladium, loaded with deuterium, cracks and deforms, and, in the electrochemical experiments, the surface becomes extraordinarily complex chemically. However, again with ordinary palladium cathodes, and with many instances, and setting aside one readily identified artifact, where calorimetry shut down due to a power failure, there has been no measurement of anomalous heat that was not accompanied by commensurate helium.

The solidity of this result has been buried in a mass of quite possibly unrelated fact.