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99) Shortening of a half-life?

Ludwik Kowalski (August 15, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

In item #98 I wrote about cold fusion experiments performed by students at Portland State University. Inspired by their teacher, John Dash, they studied generation of excess heat in an electrolytic cell. I will be able to see their demo at the 10th International Conference on Cold Fusion (ICCF-10). Will I be convinced that the excess heat is real? Or that it is not due to a chemical reaction of some kind? Too bad that my familiarity with electrochemistry is so limited. I would be in a better position criticize a nuclear effect demo because I am a nuclear physicist. Unfortunately, there will be no nuclear cold fusion demos at the conference, only papers describing various nuclear effects. John Dash’s paper, for example, is entitled “effects of hydrogen loading by aqueous electrolysis on radioactivity of uranium.” Is he going to say that the electrolytic loading has the same effect as loading it in a gas discharge tube? The gas discharge data have been published at the previous cold fusion conference (ICCF-9, China, 2002).

John’s paper, presented in China, can be downloaded from the library at . Here is the abstract from that paper: ”Uranium foils were attached to the cathode of a glow discharge apparatus. A plasma of either hydrogen or deuterium ions was used to bombard the uranium. The rates of alpha, beta, and gamma radiation emissions were significantly greater for the bombarded uranium than for the original material.” For alpha particles, for example, the rate of decay, after the processing, was four times higher than before processing. Uranium foils were used as cathodes in a glow discharge tube (5 tor, 500 volts, 5 mA). The processing lasted about 500 hours.

How can a nuclear physicist accept such an allegation without actually performing an experiment? But the apparatus used was similar to that of Karabut, who also observed several unbelievable nuclear effects. The first step should be to formulate the so-called “null hypothesis,” as in statistics, and to do everything possible to validate it. Failures to validate the null hypothesis can then be used as the basis for accepting, still tentatively, a highly unusual claim. I met John in Albuquerque last Fall and I read his China paper. Expressing my disbelief I said that I would be willing to spend several days in Portland, at my own expense, and participate in experiments. My offer was not accepted; I suspect this had something to do with a pending patent application, or with John’s desire not to share potential rewards for a “revolutionary discovery.” I can understand such motives. What would I do in John’s situation?

1) Not being a nuclear physicist I would welcome the offer of somebody who is. The patent aspect could be solved by asking that person (Ludwik) to sign a legal document, as they do in national labs. Another precondition could have been an understanding that the person will not be a coauthor of a publication resulting from the study.

2) My first concern would be the possibility that the discharge apparatus, or the gas used, was radioactively contaminated in the past. I suppose that John has checked for the absence of contamination, for example, by placing control foils into the apparatus (at zero volts). Without such a test one might suspect that contamination was responsible for the observed effect. The radioactivity of natural uranium is weak.

3) My next concern would be the possibility that a thin layer of some covering material was removed during the processing. The removal of a “dead layer” from a thick uranium target could possibly lead to a higher alpha emission rate after processing. The same parasitic effect could possibly result from a change in the smoothness of the uranium foil. According to Figure 8, erosion of the surface of uranium did take place during the processing.

4) Instead of using a large area alpha probe (Ludlum 43-5) I would use a small Si detector connected to a multichannel analyzer. A significant shift toward higher energies, resulting from processing, could be a warning signal that a change in the emission rate might be an artifact. I do not think that it was necessary to use a counter whose window area was about 100 times larger that the area of the alpha source. The signal to noise ratio would be more favorable for a smaller detector.

5) Here is my main question. Why is a change in the alpha decay rate much larger than changes in the beta or gamma decay rates? It seems to me that all three counting rate changes (alpha, beta and gamma) would be identical if uranium nuclei started to transform more rapidly. Why was this question not addressed in the paper? Will it be addressed in John’s ICCF-10 paper?

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