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369) History of my CR-39 cooperation with Oriani

Ludwik Kowalski

Montclair State University, New Jersey, USA
June 18, 2009

1) Unit 368 turned out to be a diary of The Curie Project, now in progress. Results will probably be shown in unit 373 (because 370, 371,and 372, are already taken). Here I want to to go back to 2004, when my cooperation with Richard started, and review old results.

First experiment with Oriani
My unit 188 describes experiments we performed together, in Fall 2004. The bottom of the cell was a nickel foil; it was our cathode. A small (0.6 cm2) CR-39 detector was located in air, outside the sell, about 5 mm below the cathode. The background control chip had only 10 tr/cm^2, but the track density on the chip below the cell, after 3 days of electrolysis, was 3026 tr/cm^2. That was a spectacular result.

Another thing we did was to sandwich the Ni foil cathode between two CR-39 chips, as soon as the cell was dismounted. After 26 hours the chips, 1.2 cm2 each, were removed from the cathode and etched. Excessive tracks were on the chip, indicating that emission particles from the cathode did not stop after electrolysis. The detector applied to the “wet” side of the removed cathode recorded 951 tracks on the surface that was applied to the removed cathode and 122 tracks on the other surface. This translates into densities of 792 and 102 tr/cm2. Again, this is about 80 and 10 times higher that the mean background. Note that the average rate of detection, during the first 26 hours was 792/26=37 particles per hour.

Was the cathode still emitting particles after 26 hours? To answer this question, the nickel foil cathode was again sandwiched between the two fresh chips; this time for 70 additional hours. The result was 1529 tracks on the surface applied to the “wet” side of the Ni cathode and 373 on the other side. This translates into track densities of 1274 and 301 tr/cm2. Note that the average rate of detection. during the next 70 hours was 1274/70=18 particles per hour. Is this alpha- decay of a radioactive product created of the cathode surface? Before being used as a cathode, the nickel foil was tested for traces of radioactivity, also by being sandwiched between two CR-39 detectors. The number of tracks found, after 26 hours of exposure, was the same as on control chips.

Oriani told me that 30 such experiments were performed and 60% of them displayed excessive (i.e. much higher than the background) tracks). And experiments in which excessive tracks were observed on CR-39 chips located above the cell, he said, were even more reproducible.

No replications in my home (described in unit 192)
Unit 192 describe my experiment, similar to our Minnesota experiment, in which no excessive tracks were seen. There were two differences between my experiment and Minnesota experiment (a) my CR-39 detector was only about 3 mm below the cathode, rather than 15 mm; (b) the concentration of my electrolyte was constant (I was adding water to compensate for losses). Richard suspects that (b) was responsible for my failure to observe excessive tracks. In his lab the concentration was growing because no water was added to compensate for losses. Perhaps only some concentrations favor nuclear activity. But he has no evidence for this; it is only a possibility. The only thing I can say is that I was not able to see excessive tracks, even after additional 6 hours of etching. Pits due to alpha particles from Am-241 were present, indicating that etching was working fine.

Another CR-39 chip(also placed outside the cell, but not below the cathode) did register excessive tracks, about ten times more than the control chip, per square centimeter. Excess tracks were on both surfaces of this CR-39 detector. That is when I started to suspect neutrons. Unfortunately, other detectors, also located outside the cell, had no excess tracks.

Second attempt to replicate at home (unit 197)
Two blanks, exposed to air in the same room, produced very different results (300 tr/cm^2 versus 2 tr/cm^2). The only way to make sense of this is to assume that the chip showing a lot of tracks had electric charges on its surface. Positive alpha-radioactive ions would accumulate on negative charges while negative charges would push such ions away. I will not trust anything till this problem is solved. In any case, the chip placed below the cathode produced no excess tracks in two experiments. In these cases the distance from the cathode was 6 mm.

In reading my own unit 197 I see the following note: “ (a) According to what I wrote in unit #188, the CR-39 chip (area 0.6 cm2) placed 1.5 cm below the cathode, recorded 1818 tracks of alpha-like particles in 72 hours during the electrolysis. This however, as Oriani discovered after my departure, was due to a contamination. Not surprisingly, I failed to replicate these results in two experiments at home. But Richard’s recent results are remarkable; he continues observing anomalous alpha-like particles below the cathode. . . . . “ (b) In another message (3/26/05) Oriani described two additional control experiments. In these experiments detectors were placed below the cathode with no current flowing through the cell. A small amount of ThO2 powder was added to the electrolyte (in a specially constructed cell and in another room) to test a theoretical prediction of John Fisher.” Aha, thorium oxide ! Yes, it was used in another room. But did they wash hands after working with this alpha-radioactive compound?

Results from Richard’s three recent experiments (Table 2) do show some excess tracks, at the level of about 1 tr/cm2. But the background is about 0.3 tr/cm2.

Protecting CR-39 from the electrolyte (using Mylar).
CR-39 was also used in codeposition experiments of SPAWAR team. They also discovered many tracks, said to be due to of nuclear particles. Oriani was one od several CMNS researchers who confirmed reality of such tracks. But he quickly convinced himself that what was observed was due to chemical corrosion. He modified his own setup, to resemble SPAWAR setup (cathode being in contact with the CR-39 chip). But to minimize the chance of corrosion, he started placing a thin Mylar film between the cathode and the CR-39 chip. The thickness of his film was six microns; alpha particles with energies higher than about 3 MeV are expected to produce tracks in CR-39 detectors. Result were said to be highly reproducible. But his paper, describing the results, was rejected by Phys. Rev. C, and by editors of several other journals. Oriani’s paper is in my unit 335.

Excited by the new method (using a thin Mylar film between the cathode and the detector, I decided to replicate Richard’s experiments. Results from my experiments were described in a report presented at a 2007 workshop in Italy (page 152 of Proceedings of 8th International Workshop on Anomalies in . . . ). They can also be seen in Unit 335, at my CF website:

Aside from several spectacular clusters of tracks,I did not see CR-39 chips on which excessive tracks were distributed more or less uniformly over the entire surface. My understanding is that Richard’s excessive tracks were not limited to rare large clusters.

A new attempt to verify reproducibility on demand.
Motivated by The Galileo Project, I tried to find CMNS researches willing to replicate Oriani-type experiments. This initiative was named The Curie Project. Unable to succeed, I appealed to teachers (on the Phys-L list for physics teachers) and found three participants. Results from our four independent studies will probably be known before ICCF15. The methodology is essentially the same as described in Unit 335.

The only two important innovations are salty water and polyethylene protection. Both are used to minimize exposure of CR-39 chips to air. In old experiments CR-39 chips waiting to be used, and waiting to be etched, were kept in air. This time they will be kept in salty water. That liquid will prevent formation of charged island on detector’s surfaces. A layer of 0.5 mm thick polyethylene protects the lower surface of CR-39, from contact with air during electrolysis. In other words, a CR-39 chip is going to be sandwiched between a layer of six micron Mylar and a layer of 0.5 millimeter polyethylene, during electrolysis.

The o-rings I am using were used in earlier experiments. But they were washed and scrubbed with a sharp blade. I will sandwich each o-ring between two CR-39 chips, for at least a week, after the experiment. This will probably reassure me that rings are not contaminated with something alpha radioactive, as one of Oriani’s ring was. Background control chips will be kept in the same electrolyte in which experimental chips are during electrolysis. And, together with experimental chips, they will be in salty water before and after experiments. In the past chips were exposed to air for many days; in these experiments the total exposure to air, for individual chips, will be less than 30 minutes. A chance for contamination will be substantially reduced in new experiments. Will we confirm occasional clusters? Will we observe uniformly distributed excess tracks? This remains to be seen. Results will be shown in Uniit 373.
The essential difference between the present Mylar-filter method and the method used in earlier experiments with Mylar, is absence of the so-called “seeded o-rings.” As described in Unit 335, I used o-rings from Richard’s successful experiments. These o-rings were suspected to acquire a short-lived catalyst needed to produce excessive tracks. The o-rings I am using now were not even touched for about two years. And, as described in my Catania report, nothing alpha-radioactive was found on them in my prolonged test (with CR-39). But Marisa and Scott Little showed that one of Oriani’s o-rings was emitting alpha particles with energies of several MeV. They did this by using a low-background silicon detector.

That is why testing my o-rings for radioactivity, after the current sequence of experiments, is very important. The fact that one o-ring was found to be slightly radioactive does not mean that all rings received from Oriani are radioactive. The o-rings I am using now were shown to be nonradioactive. Will they be alpha-radioactive after the ongoing experiments? That would be a confirmation that a radioactive catalyst was produced by a nuclear process triggered by electrolysis. Testing my presently used o-rings for readioactivity is indeed is very important.

SPAWAR-type experiments
Richard Oriani was not the only initiator of investigations whose purpose was to demonstrate a nuclear activity (emission of nuclear particles) due to electrolysis. Similar, but different is several ways, experiments were initiated by SPAWAR team, headed by Pamela Boss Mossier. These two lines of study are interconnected. It just happened that a question, addressed to Pamela, was posted this morning, at a private Internet list for CMNS researcher. This prompted me to compose the following summary:

“Waiting for clarifications, I would like to reconstruct recent history of experiments said to demonstrate a nuclear effect due to electrolysis. I will begin The Galileo Project (ignoring very important earlier publications). Please correct me if something is wrong.

a) SPAWAR team started using CR-39 detectors in codeposition experiments. The discovered a large number of pits said to be due to nuclear projectiles.

b) The Galileo Project, to confirm presence of reported SPAWAR-type pits, was organized by Steve Krivit.

c) Most participants, including Richard Oriani and myself, independently confirmed presence of such pits.

d) Detailed investigations convinced Oriani that dominant SPAWAR-type pits are due chemical corrosion, as he reported on this list.

e) Instead of using the codeposition method, invented by SPAWAR team, Richard returned to his old method (using the Li2SO4 electrolyte based on light water). But he borrowed one element of SPAWAR design; his cathode was put next to CR-39. To minimize a chance of corrosion, Richard protected the CR-39 by a layer of Mylar. The layer's thickness was six microns; this corresponds to the range of alpha particles of about 1.5 MeV.

f) Meanwhile SPAWAR team continued studying pits resembling tracks of nuclear projectiles, and publishing results. Their report was presented at the ACS meeting in 2007. It was followed by a publication in a refereed journal (The European Physics Journal; Applied Physics). That paper can be downloaded from:

g) Ludwik Kowalski, one of several participants in The Galileo Project, also observed SPAWAR type pits. His first report was also published at the ACS 2007 meeting. But he presented evidence that dominant pits could not be attributed to alpha particles, or to less massive projectiles. That interpretation was also published in The European Physics Journal; Applied Physics. The paper can be downloaded from:

h) Arguments against that interpretation were developed in another paper, published by SPAWAR team:

i) Another team of CMNS researchers, Francis Tanzella et al., also conducted a SPAWAR type experiment. But, like Oriani, they used Mylar to protect the CR-39 chip, as reported at out Catania Workshop (October 2007). Their protected CR-39 chip was exposed to the cathode for 15 days. Only about 2000 pits were recorded. In other words, at least 99.9% of pits seen without a Mylar filter were eliminated. What remained, however, was much higher than on the background control chip. The 2000 pits were identified as protons, with energies close to 2 MeV. That number of pits seems to be consistent, more or less, with numbers of pits observed by Oriani.

j) SPAWAR team also started protecting their CR-39 detectors with Mylar films of six microns. This was reported in their 2009 paper, downloadable from:

That report states that a Mylar filter eliminated only about 90% the previously observed pits. Their analysis of pit sizes resulted in the following conclusion: "the majority of the particles formed as a result of Pd/D codeposition are 0.45-0.97 MeV protons, 0.55-1.25 MeV tritons, 1.40-3.15 MeV  3He and/or 1.45-3.30 MeV alphas? No reference to Tanzella's experiment was made in the last publication.

k) Richard Oriani was not successful in trying to publish results of his experiments in a refereed journal. But his earlier results were presented at our Catania workshop (October 2007).

l) Ludwik Kowalski was able to confirm reality of clusters of tracks, reported by Oriani. But results were not reproducible on demand. That was also reported at our Catania workshop (October 2007).

m) Motivated by The Galileo Project, Ludwik Kowalski tried to find CMNS researches willing to replicate Oriani-type experiments. This initiative was named The Curie Project. Unable to succeed, he appealed to teachers (on the Phys-L list for physics teachers) and found three participants. Results from the four ongoing studies, including his own, will probably be known before ICCF15.”

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