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176) Very convincing results

Ludwik Kowalski (September 19, 2004)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

Two days ago I received an e-mail message from a cold fusion researcher, Dr. Richard Oriani. It was prompted by my letter to the editor of Physics Today.

“I read your recent letter to Physics Today with interest. I hope that the DOE panel will answer questions to your satisfaction. I presume that you know that I for one am certain that the phenomenon that is poorly labeled as cold fusion is real. I would like to send you two papers for your consideration, having to do with alpha particle generation. I need your full address for that mailing. I remain highly frustrated by irreproducibility despite having tried hard. I regard the solution of this problem as very important for acceptance of cold fusion by the nuclear community. I suspect that progress in developing reproducibility depends on developing understanding of the basic physics, and this in turn depends on developing reproducibility so that control of the relevant parameters will be possible. A chicken and egg dilemma !”

As described in unit #108, I met Richard Oriani at the last cold fusion conference; he is a retired teacher (like I am now) in Minnesota. Oriani probably forgot my name and is not aware that I am the same person who corresponded with him about a year ago. Are the papers he is sending me now new or are they the same as those presented at the last cold fusion conference? I will know in a day or two. Meanwhile I reread his last year papers and decided to summarize one of them. It describes an experiment that seems to be suitable for student projects. The papers shows that unexpected charged particles are emitted in a very simple electrochemical cell. The idea of using ordinary water and a nickel cathode (instead of less accessible heavy water and palladium) is very attractive.

The experimental setup is essentially a test tube containing a solution of Li2SO4 in water (concentration 25 grams/liter) and two electrodes: Pt (anode) and Ni (cathode). An electric current, such as 0.2 A, flows through the cell for several days. An identical setup is used in a control experiment; the current in that experiment is zero. Energetic nuclear projectiles, most likely protons or alpha particles, were recorded with CR-39 detectors immersed in the solution. The number of observed particles in the control tube were found to be significantly lower than in the tube through which the electric current was flowing.

Unfortunately results are not reproducible; track densities fluctuate widely from one observation to another. But the average track densities from control cell were much lower that form the cell in which the electrolysis was taking place, as illustrated below. The cause of fluctuation remains unknown and the author is “highly frustrated by irreproducibility despite having tried hard.” Recognizing “hidden variables” in cold fusion experiments is the number one task for those who conduct research in that area of science. Let me mention that electrostatic experiments were also highly irreproducible before air humidity was recognized as a hidden variable. The same was true for semiconducting devices, before the importance of extreme cleanness was recognized.

The first column below shows the outcomes from 32 measurements made in the cell with the current while the second column shows the outcomes from 16 measurements made in the cell without the current. The sorted numbers represent tracks per square centimeter (and per equal time of one run, I suppose). How can there be any doubt that the first set of data is very different from the second? The average from the first column is 469.7 while the average from the second is 165.2. The corresponding median values are 328.5 and 136.0, respectively. This indicates that the distributions are not Guassian.

With current	Without current

    1405             64 
    1355            338 
    1202            272 
     993            260 
     982            260 
     922            160 
     898            143 
     741            142 
     532            130 
     532            130 
     510            107 
     402             95 
     390             95 
     390             83 
     335             78 
     332             35 
     325            mean=165.2
     307            median=136.0
     median =328.5      
A skeptic might suspect that excess tracks observed in CR-39 detectors are not due to swift nuclear particles but to something else, such as bubbling, associated with the current. This possibility was investigated by Oriani; detectors subjected to intensive non-electrolytic bubbling did not reveal more tracks than detectors used in the control cell. Experimental data in which heavy water and palladium were used produced equally significant results, as described in papers of Oriani at al. These papers can be downloaded from the library at <>.

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