Whatever Happened to “Cold Fusion?”
David J. Nagel
Naval Research Laboratory
About the Lecture
“Cold Fusion” is now ignored, disdained and even mocked by scientists and the public. This is due to a variety of mistakes by scientists and the government, and the unwillingness of journal, magazine and newspaper editors to pay attention to this topic. But, does this mean that nothing is being done, or should be done, in response to the questions raised by work on “cold fusion”?
Several hundred people world-wide are spending part or full time trying to get to the bottom of the mysteries which followed from the 1989 announcement by Pons and Fleischmann. The fifth international conference in Europe earlier this year attracted 200 people, half of them with industrial connections, mainly from Japan, Italy, France and the U.S. There are also active programs in Russia, India and China. A framework for organizing work on “cold fusion” will be presented, along with some of the data which cannot, in the opinion of the speaker, be attributed to fraud or error. If correct, these data would strongly indicate that nuclear reactions are behind some of the observations.
They do not support the view that such reactions are ordinary fusion; hence, “cold fusion” is merely a label and not an assertion of what is happening. It will be argued that government funding of work in this area would not be wasteful, since hydrogen science and technology are accepted fields of inquiry. They form the basis of a large and growing industry in the U.S. and abroad.
About the Speaker
David J. Nagel graduated (magna cum laude) from the University of Notre Dame (B.S. in Engineering Science, 1960) and performed graduate work at the University of Maryland (M.S. in Physics, 1969, and Ph.D. in Engineering Materials, 1977). During active duty with the Navy, he was Navigator aboard the USS Arneb on Operation Deepfreeze (1960-62) and then served as a Technical Liaison Officer at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) (1962-64). Since joining the civilian staff of NRL in 1964, he has held positions as a Research Physicist, Section Head, and Branch Head. Dr. Nagel’s research interests center on radiation physics, especially spectroscopy, with applications to materials analysis, plasma diagnostics, environmental studies and “cold fusion”. Dr. Nagel is lead author of a patent on x-ray lithography which formed the basis of a 100-person startup company in Rochester NY. Currently, he is concentrating on applications of MicroElectroMechanicalSystems (MEMS). He is a member of the Senior Executive Service and serves as Superintendent of the Condensed Matter and Radiation Sciences Division. He manages the experimental and theoretical research and development efforts of 120 government and contractor personnel. Dr. Nagel has written or co-authored over 125 technical articles, reports, book chapters and encyclopedia articles. He retired as a Captain in the United States Naval Reserve in 1990.
The President Mr. Ohlmacher called the 2048th meeting to order at 8:15 p.m. on October 20, 1995. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2047th meeting and they were approved. The President then read a portion of the minutes of the 441st meeting November 9, 1895.
The President introduced David J. Nagel, Condensed Matter and Radiation Sciences Division, Naval Research Laboratory to discuss “Whatever Happened to ‘Cold Fusion’?”. Mr. Nagel began by observing that the day before the 441st meeting of the Philosophical Society, November 8, 1895, was the day X-rays were discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen.
Since the sensationalistic 1989 announcement by Pons and Fleischmann there has been a breakdown in communications about “cold fusion”. Research in “cold fusion” is now ignored, disdained, even mocked, by scientists and the public. Because of a variety of mistakes by scientists in handling public relations, and because of an unwillingness of burn-shy editors to publish articles on this topic. The absence of publicity does not mean that no research is being done on “cold fusion”. Hundreds of people around the world are spending at least part of their research time on this topic. The fifth annual international conference in Europe earlier this year attracted 207 attendees, half of them with industrial connections, mainly from Japan, Italy, France and the U.S. There are known to be active programs in Russia, India and China. Some of the data presented at these conferences cannot, after careful consideration, be attributed to fraud or error. If some interpretations are correct, these data would indicate that nuclear reactions are involved. They do not, however, support the view that such reactions are ordinary fusion; hence, “cold fusion” is merely a label and not an assertion of what is really happening. An appropriate aphorism might be “cold fusion is neither”.
Inside stars at 10 million degrees the processes by which deuterium fusion proceeds are
2H + 2H ® 50% 3He + N, 50% 3H + P, ~0% 4He + g
The conditions necessary for bringing the reactants together are of course extremely high temperatures and pressures. If these reactions were occurring in “cold fusion” then we should be able to study the process by measuring the reaction products, heat, neutrons, tritons, gamma rays and other isotopes if other nuclear reactions are responsible. So far we know that the process appears to require loading D2O on a palladium cathode. A platinum anode is usually used with a bath of D2O. There appears to be a critical threshold for the power density passing through the electrode; 10 D nucleons per second may pass through each palladium lattice face. Time varying, rather than constant, conditions seem to be important. There appears to be some benefit in mechanically abraiding the palladium surface with aluminum before the reaction. Cavitation has been tested as a means of inducing microfusion and to load the palladium electrode. High loading is achievable, but the necessary conditions for consistent results are not currently identified or defined
Using flowing water rather than a bath achieves a 4-80 fold power gain, and this method was granted US Patent 5,372,688 on December 13, 1994. US Navy experiments have produced some anomalous effects in deuterated systems with neutron bursts and tritium production definitely seen in these flow systems. Helium production has also been observed at good signal to noise ratio levels. The observed 3He/4He ratios range from 1: 107 to 1:182 (the natural ratio is 1: 8×105). One striking observation has been the X-ray signature of 101Rh decay in supposedly active palladium electrodes, implying that some reaction like
2H + 102Pd ® 101Rh + 3He
might be occurring.
Impurities in the palladium may be critical for the phenomenon so they must be most carefully analyzed and controlled. If each reaction produced 1 MeV, approximately 1013 reactions/sec would be required to produce the 1 watt of power observed. If some palladium impurity in the range of 1 ppm were controlling the reaction, at a density of 1017 impurity nucleus per cc, only 10-4 reactions per impurity nucleus per sec would have to be occurring. Government funding of work in this area would not necessarily be wasteful, since hydrogen science and technology are accepted and important fields of inquiry. Hydrogen science and technology are the basis of a large and growing industry in the U.S. and abroad, and this research could have significant payback even if this particular objection were ultimately unsuccessful. The Japanese government and industry have put $2.5M in 1993 and $5.4M in 1994 into this research.
Mr. Nagel kindly answered questions from the audience. The President thanked the speaker on behalf of the Society, announced the date for the next meeting, restated the parking policy, and adjourned the 2048th meeting at 9:39 p.m.
John S. Garavelli