Cold Fusion – A Cautionary Tale……

13 Jan

Overview……

Nuclear Fusion is the process of fusing the nuclei of atoms together, releasing large amounts of energy.  It is the process which keeps our Sun burning and in nature requires temperatures of over one million degrees in combination with the huge forces of gravity acting upon massive bodies such as stars.  This is a very different process to that of  Nuclear Fission in which the nuclei of atoms are spit apart leading to the onset of a chain reaction and is the method used in nuclear weapons and nuclear power stations……

The History of Fusion on Earth……

In March 1987, Professors Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons announced that they had achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature, giving rise to the phrase “cold fusion”.  In the Fleischmann/Pons experiment they submerged the element Deuterium in a flask of water containing a metal coil, applied an electric current and claimed to have generated more energy than they had put in, attributing the reaction to nuclear fusion.  When this experiment was repeated by other scientist it was proven not to be the case.  For the moment at least cold fusion remained one of the “Holy Grails” of physics……

Other experiments with nuclear fusion have been carried out using plasma contained within a strong magnetic field inside a donut shaped apparatus called the “Tokamak”.  Although fusion has been achieved using this method, the power input has always been higher than the output at a ratio of 65% and was sustained for only 4 seconds.  Another approach using lasers is being tested by a consortium of 7 countries.  The ITER experiment is based at Cadarache in France but has yet to produce any useful results……

During the late 1990’s, Professor Rusi Taleyarkhan was working on different approach to achieving cold fusion using a technique called Sonar Luminescence, dubbed “the star in a jar”.  In January 2001 he detected Neutrons which are the signature that fusion has taken place.  In March 2002 he published his results in the respected journal, Science magazine……

Experimental Results should be Repeatable……

Although initially met with scepticism, the paper was well written and the data seemed to indicate positive results.  The prospect of a source of free, clean and unlimited power could not be ignored by science and $100 million dollars was allocated to replicate and research Professor Taleyarkhan’s results.

The first problems arose from the method used to verify that fusion had indeed taken place.  To achieve Sonar Luminescence a Pulse Neutron Generator was used in the experiment.  The Neutron Generator produces 1 million Neutrons per second.  There is also the background Neutrons which surround us everyday.  It is the accuracy of the measurement which was questioned.  Dr. Mike Saltmarsh found no evidence of fusion when repeating the experiment, finding the Neutrons detected were from either the Neutron Generator or from the background radiation.

Professor Taleyarkhan then repeated his experiment, confirming his original findings which he again published, on this occasion in the Physical Review.

In October 2004, Dr. Seth Putterman isolated the defining issue in settling the argument.  The problem was with the timing of the measurement used to detect the Neutrons produced by the experiment.  If Nuclear Fusion had taken place, the Neutrons would be released at the precise moment of Fusion.  By employing incredibly accurate timing measurements Seth Putterman was able to demonstrate that the Neutrons being detected were indeed not from the experiment but rather from the Neutron Generator or the natural background radiation, proving beyond doubt that “Cold Fusion” had not been achieved…..

Conclusion……

 

Research continues into sustainable Nuclear Fusion which, if achieved, may offer a clean, renewable and an almost inexhaustible source of power to humanity……

Even genuine scientists acting in good faith can make a mistake which is why we have the peer review system.  Watch this space for any future developments in the hunt for a self sustaining nuclear fusion reaction and the Nobel Prize which will surely follow such an important discovery……

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2 Responses to “Cold Fusion – A Cautionary Tale……”

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes January 13, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    Very very interesting. Do you actually write these yourself – or do you paraphrase from research? Just curious, because it’s very plainly written & I appreciate that! 🙂

    • Steve Walker January 14, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

      Hi H, I do check my references carefully but it is all my own writing. Politics & physics are my main interests, both have their misteries!!!

      S..x

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