With both Keith Johnson at the Wall Street Journal and Brian Wang at thenextbigfuture covering the 60 Minutes piece on “cold fusion” (transcript link) I better put in two cents worth and clear up some things that aren’t covered.

First, Mr. Johnson does a nice job in the objective frame the WSJ is famed for. Yet Mr. Johnson’s science background shows. Its well known in the non ego centric circles of science that when considered as a phenomena without prior certain physics traits that ‘cold fusion,’ perhaps a misnomer, does in fact release energy in excess of the energy input in most trials.

I do take issue with positions such as “one big problem” as the “problem” is every bit the opportunity as a problem. Once the phenomenon is understood, an avalanche of innovation would take place.

But the Johnson piece tries to be about the 60 minutes effort and the science at the same time. It works as a ‘blog entry’ but doesn’t tell us much. The close might be even more unsettling – “revival . . . of vitriol flowing” isn’t helpful. Still, the science made news and this is better than just a year ago.

Brian Wang touched ever so slightly on the controversy on the cold fusion topic and spent much more effort on the science and progress. He notes that the 60 Minutes investigator visited with Energetics Technologies whose claims don’t seem to have made it to the final broadcast on CBS. I understand not including the private company claims with so much still in the unknown zone.

Brian does throw in some worthwhile links that can get readers up to speed on current development. And it is development; the research into what is going on in the experiments is getting passed over. As it should? Time will tell. Note that there was a report of one experiment at SRI getting out of hand blowing up. The rush to commercialize should prove beneficial in any case, but the risks in view of about a quarter of the experiments not starting up and just one hyper experiment bodes well for overall safety. Yet it seems, in an emotional sense that the science is racing ahead with development when research would be surely be worthwhile.

I point that out not to stop or delay, rather a solid understanding of the phenomena may well be an enormous aid to development. Maybe I sense a cart in front of the horse situation that bothers me. But only a little, because if commercial units are competitive in the near future then it will make little difference over the long term to the installed early units.

The 60 Minutes piece itself is the typical slick smooth presentation of professionals one expects. Its not stuffed with obvious biases either, a pleasant surprise. Based on the controversy as opposed to the science the 60 Minutes producers have packaged the positions sensibly. They run with a sure scientist with broad experience in Michael McKubre the SRI electro chemist with a lot of experience and a working lab to see. I was impressed that the 60 Minutes production doesn’t dwell long on the opposing opinions rather tells the story of the progress, the current situation and some bait for the future. I didn’t time the science and the conflict, but it came off, (dread to use the word, but) balanced. McKubre was a good choice to make.

The 60 Minutes folks chose Richard Garwin for the foil or controversy- conflict representative. See, I’m biased, too. In fairness to Garwin he does have valid points looking for complete reliability and sure reproducibility. That would be fine in many cases yet it befuddles me that he expects a phenomena to cooperate to his absolute standards. No one has shown a theory with demonstrable results, yet in the face of the phenomena working the Garwin premise of 100% reliability and reproducibility seems well, shortsighted.

For story impact Rob Duncan, vice chancellor of research at the University of Missouri and an expert in measuring energy independently reviewed the work at the Energetics Technology lab in Israel for 60 Minutes. Beginning with a near blank sheet of mind saying he thought cold fusion had been debunked, he went unbiased as anyone could expect. But I don’t believe he was simply at the believing “cold fusion had been debunked stage,” as the news of late has been hard to overlook, not knowing seems just a little incredible.

Mr. Duncan did come away from his review believing that the effect is real but not understood in detail. That’s adroit. I and most anyone thoughtful will think the same thing.

Where does that leave it? There is a phenomenon best called a ‘low energy nuclear reaction’ in lieu of the cold fusion label. Fusion isn’t proven, shown or perhaps even part of the phenomena. Yet the reality of the phenomena must be pursued, it offers a heat source for power generation that can’t in good conscience be ignored.

It would be helpful if there were a sound theory – that would accelerate development. Canning the controversy for historical review would help. For now experimentation will have to suffice. That might well lead to successful theory. It will surely lead to working units that enter commercial service. It could be that in the not so distant future a home sized power unit or personal transport energy source would be practical needing little more than a supply of deuterium once in a while.

By any analysis, the heroes are the steady scientists of true and pure form that did the research to get the technology to this point. There is room here, lots of it for the coming generation to make huge strides in a new field. There is more too. One might give some thought to just how cheap one might isolate and sell deuterium.

Lastly 60 Minutes was considerate enough and decent enough to include Martin Fleischmann. He and Mr. Pons suffered greatly for their activities after the discovery. Right or wrong and blame aside these men did a great thing that cannot be overlooked. I for one wish the past to be kindly bygones with my respects paid for their diligent scientific efforts.


15 Comments so far

  1. Pages tagged "adroit" on April 22, 2009 11:30 AM

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  2. russ on April 22, 2009 11:33 AM

    Cold Fusion is most certainly proved in many experiments and with great reproducibility. Both isotopes of helium have been found in abundance along with tritium. There is an absence of neutrons save perhaps some very tiny wildly less than commensurate numbers.

    These findings have been made from gross level helium produced and released from the solid state metal within which the fusion reactions occur. Further examination of the cold fusion metals themselves have revealed both clear physical evidence of nuclear heat and nuclear products esp. 3H3, 4H3, and T.

    Studies of the physical characteristics of the metals both externally and in internal microstructure confirm clear evidence of classical nuclear phenomenon including gross melting, and internal helium loop punching perfectly consistent with known alpha producing nuclear processes internal to metals.

    So why years of observations of helium and tritium production is not evidence of cold fusion is a question that reflects on those who propose fusion has not been proven not of the existance of that cold fusion. Surely you are not relying on a googleverse reality and assume if something doesn’t come up on goggle it must not exist.

    While McKubre of SRI gives good presentation the CBS story was almost exclusively focused on McKubre’s and SRI’s clients.. it tragically looked very much like an infomercial. Not that good work hasn’t been done inside McKubre’s lab at SRI but he’s not the one who has ever invented or performed the work he’s merely the pretty administrator face who commands the cameras focus on him.

  3. Bill Mundy on April 22, 2009 11:46 AM

    The cold fusion study lacks one fundamental key to evidence of fusion… the transmutation of elements. It would seem pretty basic that delivering that data would seal the deal on fusion or not… excess heat simply indicates that some kind of reaction is happening… not a fusion one.

    Why isn’t this reported?

  4. newideas99 on April 23, 2009 4:18 AM

    I thought the 60 Minutes story was good but lacked detailed information. I wanted to know more about the company they mentioned called Energetics Technologies. I found their website, and learned that 2 independent labs have replicated their results. They seem to be making strong progress and the story should have focused more on their results.
    Here is a link to their website.

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