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358) New phenomena or illusions?

Ludwik Kowalski (2/10/2009)

Montclair State University, New Jersey, USA

1. Introduction

How many readers remember the excitement generated by the announcement of the discovery of “cold fusion?” This event took place twenty years ago. The claim, made by M. Fleischmann and S. Ponds during a press conference in Salt Lake City (1), was that a nuclear process can be triggered by electrolysis (2). Deuterium nuclei, from heavy water in the electrolyte, were said to be so densely compressed, in the palladium cathode, that they could fuse despite strong Coulomb repulsion. The claim generated a lot of interest among scientists (3), as well as the general public (4). Laymen speculated about abundant, cheap, and pollution-free sources of energy; scientists were puzzled by the idea that a chemical process could produce a high concentration of atomic nuclei in condensed matter.

Many researchers attempted to confirm the Fleischmann and Pons results. But not all of them were successful. On that basis, and on the basis of theoretical considerations, the cold fusion claim was rejected by mainstream scientists (5). But more than one hundred researchers, worldwide, continue exploring the field. Cold fusion scientists meet regularly to discuss new experimental results and new theories (6). They no longer believe that cold fusion is similar to the thermonuclear fusion. For that reason the field is now called “Condensed Matter Nuclear Science,” CMNS.

Like most nuclear physicists, I was excited by the possibility that a new kind of nuclear reaction had been discovered. And like most of them, I came to the conclusion that the original claim was totally unjustified, as claimed in (5). My professional interests were focused on nuclear reactions induced by heavy ions, and on the transmutation of highly radioactive nuclear materials. In 2002, at a scientific conference in Albuquerque (7), I heard several reports presented by CMNS researchers. Impressed by their qualifications, and by the content of reports, I decided to pay attention to their results, and to attend the upcoming CMNS conference (8). This was the beginning of my participation in CMNS activities.

The purpose of this article is to describe two kinds of experiments in which I participated; one had to do with the “excess heat,” presumably due to a nuclear process, and others had to do with the chemically-induced emission of nuclear projectiles, presumably alpha particles or protons. The goal was to convince myself that at least one nuclear effect due to a chemical process was real.

2. Excess heat in high voltage electrolysis
An electrolytic cell, a device in which electric current flows through an electrolyte, converts electric energy into chemical and thermal energy. The amount of heat produced in the cell is expected to be smaller than the amount of electric energy received, unless chemical reactions are strongly exothermic. But, according to Fleischmann and Pons (2), the amount of heat produced in their cells greatly exceeded the electric energy received. The difference between the thermal energy released and the electric energy received was named excess heat (EH). The authors claimed that their excess heat could not be attributed to chemical reactions. The reality of EH, generated at the rate of about one watt, has been confirmed by numerous investigators (9). In most cases the potential difference between the electrodes was several volts while the current was a fraction of one ampere.

Excess heat was also discovered in cells operated at much higher voltages and currents (several hundred volts and more than one ampere). A schematic diagram of a cell operating under such conditions is shown in Figure 1. The cathode is a tungsten rod while the anode is a large platinum wire spiral, or a platinized niobium cylinder. The electrolyte, in experiments in which I participated, was potassium carbonate (K2CO3) dissolved in distilled water. The concentration was 20 grams per liter. Decomposition of water, at high current, becomes so intense that yellow glow discharge and arcing can take place in the layer of gas-plasma surrounding the cathode.

Figure 1

Generation of EH during the glow discharge plasma electrolysis was first reported by a team of Japanese scientists, T. Mizuno et al. (10). The phenomenon was then studied by other researchers, both in Japan (11, 12, 13) and in other countries (14, 15, 16). Most reports, but not all, confirmed generation of excess heat, as described by Eugene Mallowe (17). My first experiment of that kind was performed in cooperation with Scott Little. The cell was wrapped with an insulating layer of foam; the thermal energy released was calculated on the basis of the amount of evaporated water. Electrical energy received was calculated on the basis of recorded current and voltage, which fluctuated widely. Nominal potential differences were between 250 and 400 volts. No clear evidence of EH was found.

The same conclusion was reached when a similar experiment was performed in collaboration with Richard Slaughter. These findings, reported at a conference (18), were in conflict with those reported by Pierre Clauzon (19). The topic was discussed at length and Pierre decided to join us in another sequence of experiments. Working under his guidance, R. Slaughter and I were able to obtain nearly the same results as in (19), for example, about 30% more heat than electric energy, at 350 volts. This was accomplished by using Clauzon’s electrical watt-meter. Two years later (Fall 2008), during another control experiment, Clauzon discovered a systematic error in measuring electric power with this watt-meter. His most recent results, obtained with a much better watt-meter, are consistent with negligible excess heat in high voltage electrolysis. Another team (16) also withdrew their excess heat claim for high voltage electrolysis. In both cases, inexpensive watt-meters were not able to deal with high frequency components of rapidly fluctuating currents.

I hope that new data, collected by Clauzon with a better watt-meter, will be formally presented at the ICCF15 next summer. Will this result in reinvestigation of earlier high voltage electrolysis experiments? This remains to be seen.

3. Emission of nuclear projectiles.
Emission of a large number of alpha particles, due to low voltage electrolysis, was reported by R. Oriani and J. Fisher (20, 21). The particles were discovered by using CR-39 track detectors. Many years ago I used track detectors (mica) to observe fission fragments. The principle of their operation is simple. Strongly ionizing particles create tracks in many solids materials; these tracks become visible under a microscope, after the material is chemically etched. According to (20), as shown in Tables 1 and 2, mean track densities in CR-39 chips inside the electrolytic cell were much higher than in control chips ourside the cell. Tracks in control chips were due to cosmic rays, radon and other possible radioactive contamination.

Impressed by the reported results, I quickly learned how to use CR-39 detectors. A year later Oriani sent me new results and additional details about the experimental method. The cathode in his small cell was a nickel foil, the anode was a platinum wire and the electrolyte was Li 2SO4 dissolved in ordinary water. Subsequently Richard invited me to his laboratory and we worked together for one week. Two experiments were performed (22) and each produced results consistent with Oriani’s claim. Unfortunately, my attempts to obtain similar results at home, using an exact replica of his cell, were not successful (23).

Several months later, again following Oriani’s footprints, I started another sequence of experiments. In these experiment, described in (24), the nickel wire cathode was mechanically supported by the CR-39 chip while the platinum anode wire was above it. A thin layer of mylar (6 microns) prevented the cathode from direct contact with the chip. Oriani noticed that results become highly reproducible when the o-ring from a successful experiment is used in subsequent experiments. Richard started sending me his “seeded” o- rings and I used them in several experiments. Spectacular clusters of tracks, also reported by Oriani, were found on some of my CR-39 chips. One of the clusters is shown in Figure 2. Ten experiments were performed. Seven clusters of tracks were found in two out six electrolysis experiments; three clusters were also found in one of four experiments conducted to study emission of nuclear particles after electrolysis.

Figure 2

During the presentation (24), I said that a cluster with radially oriented tracks, as in Figure 2, could not possibly be due to contamination. But this point of view was challenged by two CMNS researchers. One of them invented the following scenario. “A gas bubble sits on top of CR-39 and a grain of alpha-radioactive material sits on top of the bubble. Ranges of alpha particles in the gas bubble are much larger than ranges in the electrolyte. That would produce a cluster whose size is much larger than ranges of alpha particles in the electrolyte, as in Figure 2. The tracks would be circular near the center and radial near peripheries, as in my Figure 2.” The scenario invented by another researcher was similar; he was thinking about a small bubble trapped between the mylar film and the detector.

The issue of possible artifacts would be worth addressing if experimental results were reproducible. For the time being I am mostly troubled by the fact that four clusters were produced in Experiment I (lasting 5 days) and zero clusters were produced in Experiment II (lasting 21 days). Electrolyte, mylar film, cathode, and o-rings were unchanged between the two experiments. Results which are not reproducible belong to proto-science, not to science, as illustrated in Figure 3. Two other CMNS researchers, John Fisher and Marissa Little, also observed clusters of tracks in CR-39 chips, using “seeded” o-rings received from Oriani. Suspecting radioactive contamination on the surface of the o-ring, Marissa exposed it to an electronic silicon detector (25). The energy spectrum of particles revealed peaks consistent with presence of Th-228, and its progeny. My attempts to discover alpha radioactivity on the o-ring surfaces, using CR-39 chips, were not successful. The origin of radioactive material on the surface of some “seeded” o-rings remains unknown. But I am troubled by high track densities on Oriani’s control chips, reported in (20).

The most recent results of RichardŐs ongoing investigation were presented at ICCF14 (14th International Conference on Cold Fusion, Fall 2008, in Washington DC). The proceedings of that interesting conference should soon be published.

Figure 3

4. An Ongoing Controversy
At the end of 2006, researchers from a US Navy laboratory, SPAWAR, also announced detections of a large number of tracks said to be due to alpha particles emitted from the cathode of a low voltage electrolytic cell. These particles were detected in CR-39 chips that were in contact with cathodes, in the electrolyte (26). Helped by SPAWAR scientists, Steve Krivit, from the New Energy Institute, wrote the protocol for replication of one of the SPAWAR experiments. That protocol was then distributed to those CMNS researchers who wanted to study the effect. All who were able to implement the protocol, including myself, reported seeing the SPAWAR-type tracks.

Some results were published at the ACS winter meeting in Denver, in March 2007. My slides shown at that meeting (27) were nearly identical with those shown by SPAWAR researchers. But our conclusions were very different; they speculated that dominant tracks were due to alpha particles, I speculated that our tracks could not possibly be due to alpha particles. In a subsequent internet discussion, and in a formal publication (28), they wrote that energies of alpha particles are likely to be close to 1 MeV. In my formal publication (29) I made two arguments against this tentative SPAWAR interpretation. Fortunately, the hypothesis of 1 MeV alphas can be tested by performing additional experiments. Alpha particles of approximately 1 MeV can be used and their tracks can be compared with tracks produced during electrolysis.

Suppose that the two kinds of tracks turn out to be very similar. That would reinforce the SPAWAR hypothesis and would justify more sophisticated experiments, for example, with electronic solid state detectors. SPAWAR type results are scientific because they are reproducible. The right diagram in Figure 3 shows how controversies are usually handled by scientists. Emission of nuclear particles of any kind, due to electrolysis, would be convincing evidence that a new kind of nuclear process has been discovered by CMNS scientists.

5. Final comments
The broad field of CMNS, recently reviewed by Ed Storms (9), remains controversial. But this did not stop research; many scientists continue searching for nuclear processes due to chemical reactions. Their progress would be faster if the field was not discriminated against, for example, by editors of scientific papers, and by various government organizations. In my opinion, most CMNS researchers are honest and competent and are motivated by the desire to promote science and technology. Several general observations about the field can be seen in (30). Here is one of them:

“. . . What cold fusion really needs is a reliable demonstration experiment. That's what Ludwik Kowalski has been trying to find for several years now. We worked closely with him to see if Mizuno's incandescent W experiment (a la Clauzon et al) would do the trick. It didn't. That's what the Galileo Project was trying to establish. It didn't. ... or hasn't yet. That's what we are still pursuing right now in cooperation with Richard Oriani who continues to see relatively low level positive results from his PACA CR-39 experiments. That's why we continue to maintain our high performance calorimeter, MOAC, in good working condition so that cold fusion researchers can take advantage of our standing offer to test promising cold fusion cells free of charge.

Why go to all this trouble if we've never seen any real signs of cold fusion? Simple. If cold fusion is real, it will be of enormous importance to mankind. Lots of discoveries in science have come only after years of searching. Despite all our null results we still have some hope. But I also think that there is a finite chance that all of the apparently positive results that have been observed in cold fusion experiments are erroneous. ... i.e. the result of various artifacts. I know, it's hard to imagine how so many intelligent researchers could all be making such measurement errors. . . . .”

1) Press Conference, March 23, 1989, organized by the University of Utah.
2) M. Fleischmann, B.S. Pons and M. Hawkins, J. Electroanal. Chem., 261, 301,1989.
3) American Physical Society meeting, Baltimore, Maryland, May 1-3, 1989.
4) “Fusion or Illusion?” Time, May 8, 1989
5) John Huizenga, “Cold Fusion: The Scientific Fiasco of the Century.” Rochester, NY: Rochester University Press, 1992.
6) The last formal conference, ICCF14 (International Conference on Cold Fusion) took place in Washington, D.C. (in October 2008). The next one, ICCF15, will probably take place in Rome, Italy, (in August of 2009).
7) International Conference on Emerging Nuclear Systems, (ICENS2002), Albuquerque, 2002
8) ICCF10 (International Conference on Cold Fusion), Cambridge, Massachusetts, August 2003.
9) E. Storms, “The Science of Low Energy Nuclear Reaction: A Comprehensive Compilation of Evidence and Explanations about Cold Fusion,” Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd., 2007.
10) Mizuno, T., Ohmori, T., Azumi, K., Akimoto, T., Takahashi, A. “Confirmation of Heat Generation and Anomalous Element Caused by Plasma Electrolysis in the Liquid. in 8th International Conference on Cold Fusion.” 2000. Lerici (La Spezia), Italy: Italian Physical Society, Bologna, Italy. Downloadable from the library at <>
11) T. Mizuno, T.Ohmori, T. Akimoto, and A. Takahashi. “Production of Heat During Plasma Electrolysis.” Jpn. J. Appl. Phys. A, 2000. 39: p. 6055. Downloadable from the library at <
12) T. Mizuno, T. Ohmori and T. Akimoto. “Generation of Heat and Products During Plasma Electrolysis,” in Tenth International Conference on Cold Fusion. 2003. Cambridge, MA. Downloadable from the library at <>
13) T. Mizuno, D. Chang, F. Sesftel and Y. Aoki “Generation of Heat and Products During Plasma Electrolysis,”. in Eleventh International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science. 2004. Marseilles, France. Downloadable from the library at <>
14) Jean-Louis. Naudin et al. Several illustrations and references are downloadable from <> and from <>
15) Scott R. Little, H. E. Puthoff and Marissa E. Little, “Search for excess heat from Pt electrolyte discharge in K2CO3-H2O and K2CO3-D2O electrolysis.” Downloadable from <>
16) D. Cirillo, A. Dattilo, V. Iorio, “Transmutation of metal to low energy in confined plasma in the water (electrochemical plasma cell),” ,”. in Eleventh International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science. 2004. Marseilles, France. Downloadable from the library at <>
17) Eugene Mallowe, the Editor-in-Chief of the “Infinite Energy Magazine Cold Fusion Technology,” 2003 <>
18) L. Kowalski, G. Luce, S. Little and R. Slaughter; “New Results and an Ongoing Excess Heat Controversy;” Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Cold Fusion (ICCF12), Yokahama, Japan, 2005, p 171-177.
The report can be downloaded from the library at <>
19) Jean-Francois Fauvarque, Pierre Paul Clauzon and Gerard Jean Michelle Lalleve. “Abnormal excess heat observed during Mizuno-type experiments;” Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on Cold Fusion (ICCF12), Yokahama, Japan, 2005, p 80-85. The report can be downloaded from the library at <>
20) Richard Oriani and John Fisher, “Detection of Energetic Charged Particles During Electrolysis,” Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Cold Fusion p 577-584, Cambridge, Massachusetts, August 2003.
21) Richard Oriani and John Fisher, “Energetic Particle Showers in the Vapor from Electrolysis,” Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Cold Fusion p 281-584, Marseilles, France, October 2004.
24) L. Kowalski, “On Emission of Nuclear Particles Caused by Electrolysis.” pp 152-162; Proceedings of 8th International Workshop on Anomalies in Hydrogen- and Deuterium-Loaded Metals in Catania, Italy (October 2007).
25) Marissa and Scott Little “Follow-up of EarthTech’s Paca Experimentation,”
27) Ludwik Kowalski et al., “Our Galileo Project March 2007 Report,” Winter Meeting of American Physical Society, Denver, 2007.
28) Mosier-Boss, P.A., et al. “Use of CR-39 in Pd/D copdeposition experiments,” Eur. Phys. J. Appl. Phys., 40, 293 (2007)
29) L. Kowalski, “Comment on ‘ The Use of CR-39 in Pd/D copdeposition experiments,’ Interpreting SPAWAR-type dominant pits” Eur. Phys. J. Appl. Phys., 44, 287-290 (2008)

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