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208) An interview with Martin Fleischmann

Ludwik Kowalski (3/20/05)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

For some reason I was not aware (or forgot) that Haiko Lietz, a science reporter from Germany, interviewd Fleischmann at the last cold fusion conference (September 2004). The original version of this interview, in German, has been posted at:


while the English translation has been posted at Steve Krivit’s New Energy Times website:

This interview is interesting and worth posting on my website as well. Haiko has no objection. I think that what Fleischmann did not say is even more interesting than what he did say when the question was “What mistake have you made in your life?

I would expect him to say that the agreement to have the 1989 press release was a big mistake. Either he or Pons depending whose decision counted (in the eyes of university administration), should have resisted the premature release of information about cold fusion research. But that event was not even mentioned in the interview. I would also expect him to say something about the broken agreement to work together with Steven Jones and his team. Jones’ lab, in Provo, was only 20 miles away from Salt Lake City. As far as I know, the agreement was to investigate the unexplained phenomena a little longer, and then publish the results in a peer-reviewed journal.

Did Fleischmann already talked about these things in another interview? Did he write an article about political manipulations at the University of Utah? If he did then I would very much like to refer to material with which I am not familiar. Please write to me at <>; I would be happy to poste additional information. Please refer to my unit #131 (Jones’ history paper) and #132 (extracts from Fleischmann sociology paper). Cold fusion would not be excluded from mainstram science if it were introduced to the world in the usual way. Allowing the press release to go on prematurely was a mistake of Fleischmann and Pons.
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"Why is everybody waiting for America when it comes to research?"

A conversation with Martin Fleischmann, the discoverer of cold fusion

by Haiko Lietz

Professor Martin Fleischmann became world-famous when on March 23, 1989 he reported, along with his colleague Prof. Dr. Stanley Pons, the discovery of cold nuclear fusion in a simple tabletop electrolysis experiment at room temperature. The Nobel prize seemed in reach for them. But since some laboratories failed to reproduce the results, scientific and public opinion changed against their favour. Cold fusion has long been a synonym for an error in science. In this interview, made at the 11th International Conference on Cold Fusion before the 2004 Department of Energy Review result became public, Fleischmann speaks about how he deals with criticism, the role of quantum theory, and the demise of a purely consuming society.

Martin Fleischmann was born on March 29, 1927 in Carlsbad, Czechoslovakia. Because he was adopted by a Jewish family he and his family were forced to flee from the German soldiers to England. At London’s Imperial College and Southampton University he ascended to become a world-renowned electrochemist. His last publication <> with US Navy scientists was one of the basic papers considered by the Department of Energy reviewers. Fleischmann lives with his wife in Wiltshire, England.

You could long be “kicking it in the Caribbean“ – to use a famous quote from the Pulp Fiction movie – but you’re here presenting your thoughts on quantum mechanics. Can’t you let loose?

If you work in this field and you have a negative result, you can walk away from it. It doesn’t hold. But if you get a positive result, then of course it gets a hold of you. But I’m going to give up. My wife says, you keep on saying that you’re going to give up. But I really haven’t done anything new since 1995. I’ve made certain number of observations which are still valid, and I would have to reinterpret them. But in fact I have not reinterpreted them. I’ve just given the same old interpretation as I’ve always given to those observations.

But if you plan to give up maybe you should wait until the end of the year because the U.S. Department of Energy will be putting out another report.

I don’t know. I think that they will be putting out another report. But it is very difficult to see how a subject like this can attract government funding. This is difficult, because you have to demonstrate some sort of requirement. You have to say is there a military requirement? Or is there a civilian requirement? I think there is… there are requirements. But our society does not respond in that way anymore.

The German Ministry of Research wants to wait for the Department of Energy report before it acts in any way.

(Laughs) That is so stupid! Why is everybody waiting for America when it comes to research?

You said “cold fusion” is a horrible term. Why?

This was a term pushed on us by other people. But what we do is not fusion in the conventional sense – the fusion process as recognised by hot fusion. And the fact that it was given that name polarized people’s opinions. They said, "Well, it has to be like hot fusion. But it isn’t like hot fusion. There are no nuclear signatures. So it can’t be fusion. So you’re all wrong." they said. That’s the way it happened. If it had been called something else it might still have happened, but it is less likely to have happened.

Here is the "sixty-four-dollar" question: Why is heat and helium-4 produced in electrolysis experiments involving heavy water and Palladium cathodes?

I’m afraid it is because two deuterons fuse together to form helium-4 and heat. That is actually true. But that still isn’t the conventional nuclear signature of hot fusion. In hot fusion it would have to produce tritium and a proton or helium-3 and a neutron or helium-4 and a gamma ray. This is if you had two particles hitting each other at enormous energy.

Did those people that assumed that the result should be as in hot fusion fail to consider the different environment of your experiment?

Yes, it's completely crazy! I think they will come to realize that.

Why did you initially start your experiments?

This whole subject was driven by the need to find demonstration of the quantum electro dynamic paradigm. We’ve had the classical paradigm of Newtonian mechanics. We’ve had Planck’s quantum mechanical paradigm. I think most people who work in physical science realize the limitations of the quantum mechanical paradigm and that it has to be replaced by the quantum electro dynamic paradigm, nevertheless the introduction of that paradigm is strongly resisted. And if you introduce the quantum electro dynamic paradigm you see that what is called cold fusion might be possible.

How could nuclear fusion at room temperature be explained using quantum electrodynamics?

Well, if you think about quantum electro dynamics you realize that you get a large assembly, a large collection of atoms and molecules behaving as a single quantum system. So then you say, if I build a small amount of energy per atom into this large assembly of atoms and molecules then I will have a very large energy. And that large energy of course translates in the end to observable nuclear effects.

So physics actually drove your research?

I had worked since the 1960s on quantum electro dynamics in conventional chemistry. I had realized that all those systems had to be modelled in terms of quantum electro dynamics. And then I said, well, what is the most extreme question we can pose in quantum electro dynamics? And that is, can we get a nuclear effect by chemical means? I thought it would happen, but you might not be able to observe it. What happened is that it is possible and you can observe it.

That’s what drove your cold fusion research?

That was the underlying question. I thought it had to be true, but I thought that we would not be able to observe it.

There is the next generation after yours, you could say, that is now continuing what you had started… one hope… and what is for you the most interesting work being advanced by this generation in the field?

Well, the most interesting work that has been done, in my opinion, is the work which was done in Frascati, which is not mentioned by the current people coming from Frascati. That is the work which was started by the late Prof. Preparata, his colleague Emilio Del Guidice, Antonella De Ninno, and Antonio Fratolillo on the effect of electric fields in creating more extreme conditions in the lattice, leading to the generation of excess heat and the generation of helium-4. To me that is the most significant result which has been reported in the last two years.

What does Stanley Pons actually do?

I don’t know what has happened to him. He’s sort of disappeared. I am not in contact with him although I would be prepared to be in contact with him. But he obviously doesn’t want to be in contact with me. As far as I’m concerned he has disappeared, which is very sad.

Which cold fusion related events in your life do you like to remember?

None! (laughs) No, I don’t really. This has been a terrible experience.

Come on, you must have at least met some nice people?

Of course there are people I appreciate meeting, but on the whole, when you get into this sort of situation, when you become a non-person, you become extruded from the society – but that’s alright, that people ignore me. To hell with reputation! In science there’s only one thing which matters. And that is the experiments. People periodically forget that you can say, "well, something might be possible, it might not be possible, now let’s put it to the test."

But your critics also did experiments.

That was terrible! There were three studies which did us a great deal of harm. One was the study in the California Institute of Technology. Another one was the one in MIT. And the third one was in Harwell. MIT simply changed a graph. They changed the baseline. And actually if you look at Nathan Lewis’ results (CalTech) rather carefully you will come to the conclusion that he observed excess heat! The only study which was honestly reported was the study in Harwell. That was actually honestly reported. They actually observed the generation of excess heat. They did not look at their data with sufficient care, but if you look at their data with sufficient care, you will see they observed the generation of excess heat – as I pointed out to them. I wrote to the head of the laboratory and said you observed excess heat – look at your results!

What mistake have you made in your life?

Oh, I’ve made plenty of mistakes.

Can you name one?

It’s difficult for me because when I make a mistake I acknowledge it. I say I made a mistake. It’s no big deal. I made a mistake. You put it right. So, I don’t really remember. In truth, I don’t make many mistakes.

You said you are pessimistic about the future.

I’m pessimistic about science.

The future of science or the future in general?

No, not necessarily… In the short term I’m not pessimistic about the future, but I think that we have to acknowledge that our society has become orientated towards consumption rather than production. And a society that becomes orientated towards consumption abandons scientific investigation. There are plenty of historical precedents of this phenomenon. And in the end, what has happened in the past is that societies which abandon the pursuit of science die. Our society will not necessarily die, but it will become unimportant.

If cold fusion should be developed to an energy source I’d like to thank you and leave the last words to you.

Well, I hope and pray that Germany will contribute to this science. It has a long scientific tradition, which could contribute a great deal to advance this subject. And I hope that the topic will be reconsidered and that especially the young people will enter the field and produce useful results. That’s my hope.

Addendum (3/27/05):
Steve Krivit read my comment in the preface (about regretting the 1989 press conference) and sent me his own interpretation. He wrote:

1. From all my conversations with Martin, he seems to not want to publicly criticize the University of Utah. It appears to me that the University of Utah administrators twisted his and Stan's arms. In my conversation with him during this interview, the clear impression I was left with was that at the time, he and Stan had the opportunity to co-operate with the University's wishes or they could find employment elsewhere.

2. He would not say anything about Jones publicly. Privately, he will express great bitterness and rage towards Jones. He's British, remember.

3. You may post this excerpt from my book if you think it is helpful.

Reprinted from “The Rebirth of Cold Fusion” by Steven B. Krivit and Nadine Winocur, with permission

The Infamous Press Conference

Fleischmann and Pons had little choice in matters pertaining to the initial publicity and the infamous press conference. The University of Utah's patent- and grant-seeking interests took precedence over scientific protocol. Fleischmann and Pons told the university that they would need many more months to complete a formal paper on the subject before making any announcement to the scientific community, but administrators wanted to announce the discovery before any paper had been published.

Fleischmann reflected on this stressful period of his life in an April 2004 letter: "I was not at all in favour of the high publicity route adopted by the University of Utah and wanted to delay consideration of publication until September 1990." But the university made it clear to him that he "had to appear supportive of their position." Fleischmann ran up against a wall with the university administration and attempted to use his prestigious connections to halt the press conference:

I cast around for other means to put a spoke into the university's objectives. I tried to get hold of Lord Porter, the president of the Royal Society, to ask him to contact Mrs. Thatcher, to ask her to get hold of George Bush (senior) to block the proceedings. I failed in my manoeuverings!

Eventually, the two electrochemists agreed with the university administrators to submit an abbreviated paper called a "Preliminary Note."

The University of Utah administration received word that the Fleischmann and Pons paper, "Electrochemically Induced Nuclear Fusion of Deuterium," had been formally accepted for publication on March 22, 1989, in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry. Arrangements for a press conference to announce this news to the world were made sometime between March 20 and March 22. The press conference, not surprisingly, was a hastily and poorly planned affair.

The rushed announcement has been attributed to several factors. First and foremost was the universitys objective to secure first place in the cold fusion race and to corner the market on the cold fusion intellectual property. A few miles away, at nearby Brigham Young University, physicist Steve Jones was working on another type of cold fusion experiment. It is now known that Jones'cold fusion was markedly different from Fleischmann and Pons': Jones' work showed no signs of being an energy-producing device. But this distinction was poorly understood by university administrators. On hearing rumors that Jones may be poised to announce "cold fusion," the University of Utah moved to secure its place at the patent office by publicly announcing its "prior claim." 

The press conference was a disappointment to many scientists who were eager to learn the details of the experiment. The press release announcing the March 23 conference, edited by university administrators, carefully limited the scientific details. Furthermore, and unfortunately, as author Charles Beaudette wrote, there were other communication problems:

"The Preliminary Note that was accepted for publication the previous day was not made available for distribution [at the press conference]. The omission constituted a breach of protocol, as did their failure to brief their colleagues in the chemistry and physics departments beforehand."

It wasn't until 2? weeks later, on April 10, that the paper was published in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry. Still, the preliminary note was devoid of many important details and highly inadequate as a guide for other scientists to replicate the experiment. It was clearly a hasty attempt on the university's part to establish a foothold for its patent objectives and, perhaps, its fame.

The university believed it had its hands on the most valuable patent in modern history, and for this reason it also prohibited Fleischmann and Pons from personally disclosing key details to their fellow scientists. Dr. Chase Peterson, the university president at the time, was forthright about the university's interest, as shown in written testimony to the U.S. Congress:

"Upon the advice of our patent counsel, it is not possible for the University of Utah to share research results with other laboratories, particularly national laboratories, until the information has been incorporated into a patent application and the application is on file in the patent office."
This secrecy generated ill will not only among skeptics from around the world but also among academic peers at the University of Utah. Distrust, anger, and even rage mounted almost immediately when other scientists attempted to learn the essential details of the experiment so that they could, in earnest, prove or disprove the experiment, a normal part of the scientific process. But this was nearly an impossible task, considering the legal restrictions.

"Fleischmann looks back with sadness on these times. 'I really didn't want to do it this way. I did not want to do this project this way,' he said in an interview in 2003."

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