March 1989, two respected chemists, Drs. Martin Fleischmann and
Stanley Pons, hit the headlines in a way that few scientists do in
an entire career.
claimed to have achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature in
certain metals saturated with deuterium, the heavy isotope of
hydrogen. Under these conditions, they reported, they were
generating more energy than they had put into the system.
claim caused a global sensation, and many laboratories tried to
repeat the experiment. Almost all reported failure, and Pons and
Fleischmann became known as charlatans. That was the last that
anyone heard of them - for several years.
the mid-1990s, however, an underground movement of scientists
decided that these claims should be investigated more seriously.
They developed experiments of their own, often in defiance of
their employers. There have been several international conferences
on so-called "cold fusion" which have been derided by
sceptics as congregations of deluded disciples worshipping a false
of the scepticism appeared valid: If Drs. Pons and Fleischmann had
indeed produced nuclear fusion, they should have been dead! For
where are the neutrons and gamma rays, the lethal emissions such a
reaction should produce? Where are the nuclear "ashes" of tritium and helium? Well, later experiments confirmed the
presence of tritium, which can result only from a nuclear
reaction, though in quantities far too small to account for the
energy liberated. However, numerous experiments also demonstrated
findings of helium-4 in amounts which do account for the energy
liberated. This is a monumental achievement in the
understanding of cold fusion.
the mysteries are dissolving, and understanding is coming into
view. Recently, plausible theories have been proposed which
explain the absence of radiation, through energy transfer to the
microscopic surfaces of the palladium in the form of heat. A fully
predictive theoretical basis for cold fusion remains a mystery, as
was the energy produced by radioactivity and uranium fission, when
they were first discovered.
neglect of cold fusion is one of the biggest scandals in the
history of science. As I wrote in Profiles of the Future (1962), "With monotonous regularity, apparently competent men
have laid down the law about what is technically possible or
impossible - and have been proved utterly wrong, sometimes while
the ink was scarcely dry from their pens. On careful analysis, it
appears that these debacles fall into two classes, which I will
call Failures of Nerve and Failures of Imagination."
1989, the cold fusion controversy fitted into the second category,
Failures of Imagination, which comes into play when all the
available facts are appreciated and marshaled correctly but when
the really vital facts are still undiscovered and the possibility
of their existence is not even admitted.
the cold fusion controversy falls into the first category,
Failures of Nerve; many vital facts have been discovered, yet
sceptics lack the courage to acknowledge them or their immense
The Rebirth of Cold Fusion, by Steven B. Krivit and Nadine Winocur, takes a fresh look at this still unresolved debate. An unbiased reader finishing this book will sense that something strange and wonderful is happening at the "fringes" of science. Although hard-core physicists remain fond of intoning “pathological science” like a mantra, I cannot quite believe that hundreds of highly credentialed scientists working at laboratories around the world can all be deluding themselves for years.
As for the sceptics, I can do no better than to quote my own First
Law, which I first expressed more than 40 years ago: "When a
distinguished but elderly scientist says something is possible, (s)he
is almost certainly right. But when (s)he says something is
impossible, (s)he is very probably wrong."
the most disappointing outcome would be if cold fusion turns out
to be merely a laboratory curiosity, of some theoretical interest
but of no practical importance. But this seems unlikely; anything
so novel would indicate a major breakthrough. The energy produced
by the first uranium fission experiments was trivial, but everyone
with any imagination knew what it would lead to.
course, the most exciting possibility would be if these anomalous
energy results can be scaled up. That could terminate the era of
fossil fuels, end worries about pollution and climate change, and
alter the geopolitical structure of our world completely out of
1973, when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries
started to multiply oil prices, I rashly predicted, "The age of
cheap power is over - the age of free power is still 50 years
book strengthens my hope that this may not be too far from the
Arthur C. Clarke
Fellow, King's College, London
Colombo, Sri Lanka
14 June 2004