51) Ten Years of US Navy CF Program

Ludwik Kowalski, <kowalskiL@mail.montclair.edu>
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, N.J. 07043

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I would like to thank William Beaty for telling me about a recent article (New Scientist, March 29, 2003, pp 36-43) on cold fusion research in US navy laboratories. The author is Bennet Daviss and the title is “Reasonable Doubt.” The article is based on research conducted at the US Office of Naval Research laboratories and, presumably, on interviews with some scientists. The reports on the navy research is now available over the Internet.


The name of the report, edited by P.A. Mosier-Boss and S. Szpak, is "Thermal and nuclear aspects of the Pd/D2O system: a decade of research at navy laboratories." It downloads as a pdf file whose size is 3.6 Mb.

At the beginning of his article B. Daviss write: “After more than 200 experiments, conducted over 10 years at various navy laboratories, several of its researchers are willing to declare that these laboratories have played host to events that not only indicate that cold fusion is real, but that can't be explained in any other way.” The author reminds us that “cold fusion has been as respectable in [mainstream] science as pornography in church.” The big issue was how to use public money to support research in that area. The laboratory had a large number of highly qualified electrochemists who were eager to study cold fusion after it was officially declared it to be pathological science. The work was done on “time not claimed by assigned projects . . . using discretionary funds controlled by their department chiefs.”

The article describes work of Pamela Mosier-Boss and Stanislaw Szpak in one navy California laboratory (in San Diego) and that of Melvin Miles in another (China Lake). Seeing preliminary results of this work the “navy research officials decided to treat their scientists' cold fusion research a little more seriously. Up to this point the cold fusion work at the navy labs had been informal - experiments were carried out in researcher' "spare time", funded by their department chiefs' discretionary budgets. But after Miles, Szpak and Boss had been at their benches for three years, they had collected enough evidence to convince those higher up the ladder to formalize their efforts.” A limited budget was allocated to continue cold fusion research.

“From the beginning, the idea was to keep things modest. ‘We put less than $1 million a year into the program,’ Nowak says. ‘Above that level, the red flags go up.’ Saalfeld and Nowak never gave the program its own line in the ONR's budget, but allotted money to it from miscellaneous funds. ‘We were to keep working and we were allowed to publish our results, but we weren't supposed to say a lot about it,’ Miles recalls. ‘Some people were worried that word would get out and it would jeopardize the navy labs' funding from Congress for other research. We didn't even call it 'cold fusion'. We called it 'anomalous effects in deuterated systems'.’ “

But research work was not easy and results were not always reproducible, as illustrated by the following description: “In July 1992, Miles received Imam's first attempt at making a suitable electrode, a palladium-silver alloy. ‘It produced nothing,’ Miles recalls. ‘Energy in was equal to energy out.’ For almost two years, while Boss and Szpak logged success after success, Imam sent Miles a steady stream of palladium alloys, and even various forms of unalloyed palladium. None produced any excess heat at all.” But things changed (in the summer of 1994) when alloyed samples of pure palladium with boron were tested. Using these new materials Miles was able to observe excess heat from eight out of nine cells. But why didn't the ninth one work? The answer came from Imam who engineered new materials. He found that negative electrode used the ninth cell was very different from those used in the eight heat producing cells. Instead of being microscopically smooth it had numerous cracks on its surface.

“A correlation between cracks and null results has been noted by many researchers, before and since. So the researchers had evidence of excess heat. They had also seen telltale evidence of nuclear reactions in the form of tritium and otherwise inexplicably large amounts of helium.” But this work had to stop in the next year. “By 1995, after watching Miles trying and failing to wring excess energy from Imam's electrodes, Saalfeld and Nowak decided to stop giving the project any more money. . . . With the money gone, Szpak and Boss moved on to other projects. Miles wasn't so lucky. In 1996, Nowak left the ONR, robbing the navy's cold fusioneers of their front-line champion. Around the same time, Miles's boss left, and his replacement discontinued the discretionary funds that had been supporting the work. To make things worse, Miles couldn't find other work. ‘I couldn't get ONR funding for anything,’ he says. After failing to find new projects to take on, in 1997 Miles - with an international reputation and more than 100 publications to his credit by that time - was reassigned to work as a clerk in the stock room.”

But all this did not destroy confidence of scientists. They are still willing to resume research if it is funded. One of them wrote: “Something is going on, though, and the navy may eventually see fit to investigate it further.” In 1997 Mill was invited to participate in the Japan's New Hydrogen Energy Program. “During that time, he ran 11 experiments and three control tests. Of these 11 experiments, 10 yielded anomalous energy. These included tests that used Imam's palladium-boron blend, and three new tests of the co-deposition method. When he returned, Miles wrote papers detailing some of his results, which were published in 1999 in Fusion Technology and a year later in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry and Interfacial Electrochemistry. Boss is also ready get back on board if the work is funded. And though Szpak has now retired, he still comes in to the San Diego lab to work at refining the co-deposition technique, supported on a shoestring budget that Gordon, his department chief, supplies.”

Anticipating future development scientists believe that the revival should be modest. One of them said: "If you put a bunch of money into this, you'd probably have the same result you had in 1989 - a lot of unqualified people would start working on it and we'd begin to convince ourselves again that this can't work." Clarifying this another scientist said "The worst thing that could happen to cold fusion is to make a big blip on the scientific radar screen again. [The area] needs a modest amount of funding - a few million a year with a firm, multiyear commitment - run by people who aren't political and are more interested in the science than they are in building their resumes. The energies being reported are vastly too big to be chemical in origin. But that still leaves a huge question. Where the hell is all that energy coming from?"

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