or How “fusion” created confusion.
We now have strong evidence that the Fleischmann-Pons Heat Effect, sometimes known as the Anomalous Heat Effect, is nuclear in nature and accomplishes the transmutation of deuterium into helium, as the main reaction generating heat, but this evidence was not available in the early days of the field. Skeptics and “believers” conspired (albeit not realizing what they were doing) to call what was actually observed — or claimed, and the two were heavily confused — by Pons and Fleischmann, “cold fusion.” Even when a little careful thought would have exposed the distinction.\
What Pons and Fleischmann observed, in experiments with extreme loading of palladium with deuterium, was anomalous heat, with an apparent energy density or net energy production higher than they could explain with chemistry. They also saw weak signals associated with fusion, specifically, they believed they had seen evidence of neutrons, they detected tritium, and also helium. They did not have quantitative correlations, and the quantities found of tritum and neutrons and the ratio of heat to tritium and neutrons, and tritium to neutrons, was far different from that expected if they had succeeded in creating normal fusion.
So what they had found, if it was nuclear in nature, was not “d-d fusion,” almost certainly, which is very well known, and which is believed to necessarily produce those products.
I just came across some remarkable language from 1990 that shows the issue. This is in a report to ICCF-1, by Iyangar and Srinivasan, from BARC, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Bombay, India. These were nuclear experts, and there was, for a time, a massive effort to investigate cold fusion.
Wait, to investigate “cold fusion”? What’s that? Getting little details like exactly what one is investigating and why can be, ah, let’s call it useful.
From the abstract, and, remember, I have the benefit of an intervening three decades of history, a huge dollop of hindsight. What I’m seeing here as a misunderstanding that fostered confusion and conflict was something that many, many thought, it was language in common use. From the abstract:
A wide variety of experiments have been carried out by twelve independent teams employing both electrolytic and gas phase loading of deuterium in Pd and Ti metals to investigate the phenomenon of cold fusion first reported by Fleischmann and Pons in March 1989. The experiments were primarily devoted to the study of the emission of nuclear particles such as neutrons and tritium with a view to verify the“nuclear origin”of cold fusion.
Did Fleischmann and Pons report “cold fusion”? It was quite unfortunate that they mentioned the classical fusion reactions in their first paper, because it was totally obvious that what they were seeing, whatever it was, was not those reactions. The evidence that a nuclear reaction was happening was circumstantial, not enough to overcome strong expectation that such reactions would be impossible in the conditions of their experiments
That is, there was heat that they could not explain. If the heat were regular and predictable and reproducible, that could have been enough. But it wasn’t. The heat effect was elusive. “I can’t explain these results with chemistry” is not evidence with which one could convince a physicist. One would first need to convince the physicist that the evidence is clear and not artifact, because if one has telegraphed that you think this is something the physicist will think is impossible, they will examine all the evidence with a jaundiced eye. It’s just human nature.
So “cold fusion” started off with a handicap. It really didn’t help that the neutron evidence that Pons and Fleischmann adduced was artifact. What we know now is that very few neutrons, if any, are generated with their experiment.
(We need to realize that many difference kinds of experiments get lumped together as “cold fusion,” but different experiments may actually show different results, different reactions might be happening under conditions that are sometimes not adequately controlled. By conceptualizing the object of study as “cold fusion,” an assumption is created of a single phenomenon, and then when results differ, the reality of the alleged phenomenon comes into question.l)
What was reasonably being investigated was the possibility of nuclear phenomena in certain metals loaded with deuterium. The first issue to investigate was, for most groups, heat. But groups with a particular interest in nuclear physics often investigated neutrons, and when it was found that many replication attempts produced very few neutrons, this strengthened skepticism. There was also a common assumption that if nuclear reactions were happening, there must be neutrons. That is simply false, but the absence of neutrons from what was being assumed to be deuterium-deuterium fusion, that’s actually a very dificult puzzle.
The first order of business was to detect, measure, and correlate phenomena, not to interpret the results, but this was all pre-interpreted. They were investigating “cold fusion.” Not, say, “the Fleischman and Pons reports of anomalous heat.”
Ask a physicist, could there be deuterium fusion in palladium deuteride at room temperature, and he or she is likely to tell you, straight out, “No.” But ask this scientist if there could be a heat effect of unknown origin, and if they are worth their salt, they would tell you, well, we don’t know everything and sometimes it can take time to figure out what is happening.
Tbe report desperately needing confirmation was what Pons and Fleischmann had actually observed, once the confusion over their neutron reports was cleared up. “Cold fusion” was an interpretation, not an experimental fact, or certainly not yet.
Tritium was widely observed, it wasn’t just BARC. But was the tritium connected with the prime Fleischmann=Pons effect, the heat? And then things really got crazy when reports started to show up of a heat effect with light hydrogen. Again, the concept of a single phenomenon caused confusion. It is not that we know there is more than one reaction, we don’t know that yet. But it is quite possible, the “law of conservation of miracles” is not a law, and cold fusion is not a miracle. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often, and while I use the tern “cold fusion,” often, I would not use it academically without clear definition. At least I hope not!
By “cold fusion” i mean the FP Heat Effect and other possible affects commonly associated with it or believed or claimed to be related. I justify the use of the term because the known product from the FP Heat Effect is helium, which is, Ockham’s Razor with the evidence we have, coming from the conversion oi deuterium to helium. That is fusion in effect, which must be distinguished from “deuterium fusion,” i.e., two deuterium nuclei fusing. Why? That reaction is very well known and the products are well known, and there are reasons to consider that even if this happens somehow at low energy, the products will be the same.
(When a physicist claims that “cold fusion” is impossible, because of the Coulomb barrier making the fusion rate be so low as to be indetectable, they are being sloppy, because muon-catalyzed fusion takes place at extremely low temperatures. Muons act as catalysts, so the immediate question arises, could something else catalyze fusion. An inability to imagine it is, again, not evidence. The universe is vast and possibilities endless, we cannot know all of them, only what is common.)
In 22 different electrolytic experiments whose cathode surface areas ranged from 0.1 to 300 cm2 , large bursts of neutrons and/or tritium were measured. Some of these gave clear evidence that these two nuclear particles were being generated simultaneously. The neutron-to-tritium yield ratios in the majority of these experiments was in the range of 10-6 to 10-9.
“Large bursts” is suspicious. Large compared to what? I have not read the report in detail yet. (I will). But tritium is a minor effect associated with the FP Heat Effect. It may be the case that tritium is enhanced if there is substantial light hydrogen in the heavy water, but even a little light water tends to suppress the FP Heat Effect. Even if there is some single mechanism, it behaves differently when presented with different fuels. The norm with cold fusion experiments, though, is that high-energy radiation and radioactive products are found only at very low levels. The rule of thumb, I state as tritium being a million times down from helium, and neutrons a million times down from helium. Helium production, with deuterium fuel (helium is not reported with light hydrogen as fuel, and we don’t know the product of light hydrogen “cold fusion.”
Those ratios are strong evidence that “cold fusion” is not d-d fusion, because the operation of d-d fusion, how and why the nucleus normally fragments, is well understood. I.e, the fused nucleus, the product of that fusion, is highly energized, it’s hot. That is true even if the reaction is not hot fusion (and the kinetic energy involved with fusion from the velocity of impact is dwarfed by the energy of collapse, as the nucleons collapse under the influence of the strong force. (Very strong force!) There is so much energy that normally the nucleus breaks into two pieces and there are only two ways it can do that. It can eject a proton or it can eject a neutron, to carry away that energy and leave the nucleus in the ground state, cool. That’s the two branches, and it is mostly equal which nucleon ends up being odd man out. Hence the two common branches,
1H2 (deuterium)+ 1H2 -> 1H3 (Helium-3)+ 1H1 (light hydrogen, a proton) + energy
1H2 + 1H2 -> 2He3 (Helium-4) + 0N 1 (a neutron) + energy
And then the third branch is very rare. If the nucleus happens to be exactly balanced (I think, maybe balance is not an issue, just the odds), and manages to live intact long enough to generate a photon, the nucleons can stay together and almost all the energy is dumped into the photon, which is very high energy, 23.8 MeV. (The rest of the energy is in the recoil of the helium nucleus.) I think the branching ratio for that is one in 10^-7 reactions. One in ten million.
So that becomes another miracle that exercised Huizenga. If somehow the fusion happens (spectacularly unlikely!), and somehow it manages to produce helium (very unlikely), there must be a gamma ray, a very energetic one. This would be, at the heat levels reported, very dangerous. It’s not observed. That’s strong evidence that d+d fusion is no happening.
Something else is happening. In that context and with that understanding, and given the mishegas about “cold fusion” it was important to be investigating phenomena, not explanations. Tritium was actually contradictory to the FP Heat Effect, in general. It was lumped together with it because if tritium was being produced, “something nuclear” was happening. But what is the evidence that the heat was nuclear. Maybe if we look carefully, we will see nuclear reactions happening at low levels in unexpected places.
A unique feature of the BARC electrolysis results is that the first bursts of neutrons and tritium occurred (in 8 out of 11 cells) on the very first day of commencement of electrolysis, when hardly a few amp-hrs of charge had been passed.
This is evidence that the effects they are seeing are not the FP Heat Effect! It doesn’t happen that early, in FP type electrolysis experiments. There are rapid effects reported with codeposition, a different approach.
But the occasion for this post was the linguistic anomaly here. I’ll repeat it:
The experiments were primarily devoted to the study of the emission of nuclear particles such as neutrons and tritium with a view to verify the“nuclear origin”of cold fusion.
“Fusion” is a nuclear reaction. So they are looking to verify the nuclear origin of a nuclear reaction. It’s a tautology. As to looking for nuclear particles associated with what was called “cold fusion,” the FP Heat Effect, they are missing, mostly. What BARC found was at very low levels. Helium was suspected early on, but (because of no gammas) was not given a great deal of credence, and there was an additional reason to doubt helium evidence: helium is present in the atmosphere at levels normally greater than those expected if the FP Heat Effect were producing helium. So in many experiments (not all), leakage can be a possible artifact. It took careful work (beginning with Miles as to what I know so far) to actually show that helium is the main product of the FP Heat Effect.
That has been done, and confirmed many times. Tritium, however, is interesting, scientifically, and there is much work still to be done with tritium, and in particular, investigating tritium correlations with other products and conditions.
3 thoughts on “Being right is not enough”
Abd – it may be premature to dismiss the liquid environment (Visotskii). Apart from that, I totally agree.
It normally takes a while to convince people when there’s a paradigm change. It’s hard to discard the rules you’ve known were right until the proof becomes overwhelming that the rules have loopholes. While the experiments remain *difficult* and even then don’t always work, it’s going to take some pretty solid proof to convince the mainstream. There’s always the excuse of “unknown systematic errors” to fall back on, which by its nature is unanswerable.
The appearance of Tritium seems to be a certain indication that *something nuclear* was happening. It’s not like you’ll see any Tritium as a result of a chemical reaction, or that you’ll mistake the decay signature. To dismiss the results as “there must have been a mistake” thus seems more a matter of belief than of science.
Volcanic emissions also seem to contain Tritium. With a half-life of around 12 years, it seems it must be being manufactured somewhere internally. Measurements may imply some other source than LENR though – see https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/003192019190159F . It’s also possible to find people for the idea, of course. Still, that Tritium doesn’t last that long means that if you measure it in an experiment and can’t otherwise see any in the background radiation, then it must logically have been newly-produced in the experiment. I can’t see any other reasonable explanation.
Funny thing here is that LENR is characterised by mainly producing anomalous heat that seems not to be of chemical origin, and any radiation seems to be a low-probability result that may not be correlated with the heat produced. Designing an experiment to look specifically for the radiation and ignoring the heat seems like looking for something that shouldn’t be there. Given that it’s hard to achieve absolute absence of radioactive isotopes, and that we can’t be certain that such isotopes may not be encouraged to decay under the conditions we are using, then we can’t be certain that any radiation seen is from the desired LENR reaction and not from some decay of an impurity that is triggered by the conditions. There are various patents around for accelerated beta and alpha decays by applying high voltages or electric fields. These of course go against the belief that nuclear decay is not affected by electrical or chemical conditions of the atom.
It was an error to focus on what was “desired.” The crucial question once the FP Heat Effect was observed was what was causing it. Because of the nuclear explanation advanced, the primary research question more or less got shoved aside, frantically searching for “nuclear.” Tritium happens to be relatively easy to measure, and is an expected nuclear product from d-d fusion. It was very obvious (from the absence of the dead graduate student effect) that whatever was happening in FP cells, it was not “d-d fusion.” If it was, it was totally unlike what was known, and d-d fusion was very well known. One of the possibilities with earth-tritium would be hot fusion, as with, for example, fracto-fusion. It has long been known that the chemical environment can influence some nuclear decays, specifically electron capture. But the “explanations” were premature, and then the lack of satisfactory explanations was used as an excuse to ignore research, by journals, etc. The sane response was to postpone judgment, until more was known, and reading all those early papers, some were sane. Some were not so sane, and this included skeptics and “believers.”
I suspect that what is happening is fusion, all right, caused by interactions that become possible with stable environment, i.e., condensation, and this requires confinement, hence it only happens in condensed matter, probably in the solid state, not in liquids. However, reaching that confined state probably requires some energy. There is a barrier to overcome, but it’s a chemical barrier, i.e., based on the gross behavior of atoms with electrons. There are also rate issues, the rate is obviously very low. 10^12 reactions per second, a ballpark figure for modest “cold fusion” experiments, is still a very small fraction of the 6.023 x 10^23 atoms per mole.
We don’t have enough evidence yet to assert any theory with confidence, my opinion. Rather, at this point, the outreach effort must be to communicate the experimental evidence that there is a real effect, first, and secondly that it is nuclear in nature, without insisting on specifics more than we know. I.e., helium is correlated with heat, and tritium work has not been adequate, yet, to determine correlations. Neutrons are very rare, so rare that they might as well be neglected in ordinary work. (With ordinary fusion, neutrons and tritium are equally balanced.)