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1) Introducing Cold Fusion to Students

Ludwik Kowalski, <>
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, N.J.

I think that cold fusion is worth discussing in the context of introductory physics and chemistry courses, even in high school. What follows is an outline on how I plan to introduce cold fusion next time I teach electricity.

1) Let me summarize what we learned last week. We demonstrated that the amount of heat (Q) generated in an electric circuit is equal to U*I*t., where U is the applied voltage, I is the constant current and t is the duration. To verify this we used a calorimeter, a voltmeter, an ammeter and a timer.

2) Now imagine a situation in which someone claims to discover an electric circuit in which Q is larger than U*I*t. How would you interpret this? How can the amount of thermal energy released exceed the amount of electric energy supplied? The only reasonable answer is that some kind of heat-producing process is going on inside the calorimeter. What is the nature of this process? To answer this question one would have to design additional experiments. In 1989 two electro-chemists, Fleischmann and Pons, made a similar claim (1). Additional experiments, however, were far from being credible.

3) Their electric circuit was a little more complicated than a single wire loop in our calorimeter. It was a glass container filled with heavy water in which a small amount of salt was dissolved. Two electrodes were inserted into the container, one made from platinum and another made from palladium. Platinum was connected to the positive terminal of a car battery while palladium was connected to the negative terminal. The current flowing through the electrolyte and the voltage between the electrodes were measured, as we did in our experiment. The entire container, called the electro-chemical cell, was inserted into a calorimeter and Q was measured. The scientists claimed that the Q significantly exceeded the U*I*t. The difference (megajoules), they announced, was much larger than what could possibly be due to any conceivable chemical process.

4) The electrochemical cell connected to a battery can be viewed as a resistor. For example, if I is 0.1A and U=12 V, then R is 120 ohms. Under such conditions the cell would be receiving, in each minute, the energy of U*I*t=72 joules. Part of this energy would be used to produce chemical changes, mostly breaking molecules of water (bubbling hydrogen and oxygen), while the rest would become heat. In other words, the rate of heating should be smaller than 72 joules per minute and not larger. That is why the experimentally observed excess heat was paradoxical.

5) In my opinion the discovery of excess heat, after being verified several times, should have been announced, more or less, in this way: "we know that the excess heat, sometimes several megajoules, is really produced but we have no idea what process is responsible for it." But that is not how the discovery was presented. The two scientists declared, without having any evidence for it, that the process responsible for the excess heat was nuclear fusion of heavy hydrogen. This was an enormous mistake. Nuclear fusion has been studied for decades and it was well known that a neutron or a proton is nearly always emitted from each fusion event. The number of neutrons emitted to generate megajoules of heat would be more than sufficient to kill researchers observing the cell. Numerous attempts to detect the expected large flux of neutrons (emerging from a similar cell) were not successful. It soon became clear that the heat-generating process, if real, could not possibly be caused by what is commonly called nuclear fusion.

6) Some think that discovering an experimental fact without giving some kind of explanation is not a scientific event. I cannot agree with this. Many important discoveries were made long before they were theoretically explained. Finding something that seems to contradict our current knowledge, and being able to convince others that the effect is real, is always an important scientific event. It stimulates further investigations and, sooner or later, leads to better understanding of nature.

7) Here is how the first thermal manifestation of nuclear energy (2) was described (in 1903) by Pierre Curie and Albert Laborde: "We have discovered that the salts of radium constantly release heat. . . . One gram of radium develops a quantity of heat of the order of 100 small calories per hour. . . The continuing development of such a quantity of heat cannot be explained by an ordinary chemical transformation." After presenting these facts, and after describing the experimental setup, the authors suggested the possibility that atoms of radium either change slowly or have an ability to use "the external energy of unknown nature." They had no way of anticipating ejection of alpha particles (carriers of energy) from atomic nuclei; the existence of atomic nuclei was discovered much later (E. Rutherford, 1911).

8) I suspect that the discovery of excess heat would have been much less controversial if its announcement had not been accompanied by unjustified speculations about fusion and about practical applications of the phenomenon. These speculations, and other factors (described in 3,4,5,6,7,8,9), created a situation in which the discovery itself was prematurely rejected as invalid. Fortunately, a small group of dedicated scientists did not accept the early condemnation of so-called "cold fusion" and continued to study the phenomenon. They finally identified conditions under which any qualified scientist could observe excess heat (10). The situation was very different 13 years ago; at that time success or failure was a matter of luck; sometimes excess heat was observable and sometimes it was not. Fortunately, the experimental situation has improved significantly. But a process, or processes, through which the unaccounted heat is generated, has not yet been identified. Here is an area of science to which some of you may contribute in the future
1) M. Fleischmann, B.S.Pons and M. Hawkins, J. Electroanal. Chem.,
261, 301, 1989.
2) P. Curie and A. Laborde, "On a Heart Spontaneously Released
by the Salts of Radium," Comptes Rendus de l'Academie des
Science, Paris, 1903, 136: 673-675. The English can be found
in "The Discovery of Radioactivity and Transmutation" by
A. Romer, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1964.
3) J.R. Huizenga, "Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century,"
Oxford University Press, 2nd edittion, Oxford, 1993. (The November
1989 ERAB report to the DOE, called "Cold Fusion Research. A
Report of the Energy Research Advisory Board to the United States
Department of Energy," is available at
4) F.D. Peat, "Cold Fusion", Contemporary Books, Chicago, 1989.
5) E.F. Mallove, "Fire from Ice: Searching for Truth Behind the Cold
Fusion Furror," John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1991.
6) F. Close, "Too Hot to Handle: the Race for Cold Fusion," Princeton
University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1991.
7) G. Taubes, "Bad Acience: the Short Life and Weird Times of Cold
Fusion," Random House, New York, 1993.
8) T. Mizuno, "Nuclear Transmutations: The Reality of Cold Fusion,"
Oak Grow Press, Concord, NH, 1998.
9) C. Beaudette, "Excess Heat. Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed."
Concord, NH, 2000.
10) Many recent findings are described in documents downloadable
from the Internet site:
I strongly recommend the 1996 article of M.H. Miles et al.,
"Anomalous effects in deuterated systems," and the 2001
article of E. Storms, "Cold fusion: an objective assessment,"

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