American Physical Society - Press Release for Special Sessions on Cold Fusion
May 1-2, 1989, Baltimore, Maryland
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New York--May 15, 1989
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Cold Fusion, Pulsars, and Z Particles at the
APS Baltimore Meeting
The 1989 Spring Meeting of The American Physical Society (APS) in Baltimore featured two sessions devoted to the subject of cold fusion. Other highlights of the meeting, to be discussed below, include papers on supernova 1987A, the production of Z particles at the Stanford Linear Collider, and electron-positron annihilation at the center of the Milky Way.
The nearly forty speakers at the cold fusion sessions offered very little support for the experiment performed at the University of Utah by B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, who claimed that they had observed an excess of heat and the production of neutrons from room-temperature fusion reactions in an electrolytic cell. The following is a summary of the cold fusion results presented at the meeting. (Pons and Fleischmann themselves declined an invitation to present their work at the meeting.)
Chemist Nathan Lewis of the California Institute of Technology delivered perhaps the heaviest blow against the Utah claim. His team attempted to duplicate the Utah results using a variety of electrodes (including cast Palladium), a variety of electrolytic solutions, a calorimeter for measuring heat, and a system of detectors for measuring possible fusion products such as neutrons, helium, tritium, and gamma rays. Lewis reported that after weeks of recording data his team had observed no evidence for cold fusion.
Furthermore, Lewis believes he knows where Pons and Fleischmann went wrong. Their report of excess heat, Lewis claims, can be attributed to the Utah experimenter's failure to stir their solution and to their miscalculation of the cell voltage. Lewis asserted that the Utah claim of a four-watt output for a one-watt input was based not on any direct measurement but on a (mistaken) calculation. The helium measured by Pons and Fleischmann, Lewis said, probably came from the ambient air in the cell.
Another Caltech scientist, Steven E. Koonin, a nuclear physicist, claimed that the gamma rays (presumably from neutrons produced in fusion reactions) reported by Utah were possibly coming from the decay of naturally occurring radon in the earth. Koonin's paper concentrated on new calculations of the intrinsic reaction rate of fusion rates between various hydrogen isotopes. He reported two surprising conclusions: (1) the inherent rate of deuterium-deuterium fusion reactions is some hundred million times greater than previous estimates, and (2) the rate for protondeuterium fusion is actually greater than that for deuteriumdeuterium. Nevertheless, these rates are still so astronomically small that cold fusion, even within the confines of a palladium lattice, was quite unlikely. Koonin knew of "no way of accounting for the University of Utah results."
An "ad-hoc cold fusion group" at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, consisting of chemists, physicists, and engineers, presented two papers at the meeting. Stanley Luckhardt reported that the MIT team, using calibrated calorimetry and gamma-ray and neutron detectors, found no evidence for excess heat or for radiation above the natural background. Richard Petrasso discussed MIT's examination of the reported neutron emissions from the Utah experiment. Such neutrons, coming from fusion reactions, would combine with protons and create gamma rays with an energy of 2.22 MeV. Trying to simulate the Utah measurements, the MIT scientists recorded a gamma-ray energy spectrum and arrived at these three conclusions: (1) the peak in the Utah gamma energy plot is narrower than it should have been (considering the inherent resolution of the apparatus); (2) the spectrum was missing an important bump corresponding to the scattering of the gamma rays in the detector; and (3) the rate of neutron production calculated by Pons and Fleischmann from their gamma data was too large by a factor of 40.
Brigham Young Results
Steven Jones of Brigham Young University (BYU) reported that new measurements of reactions in an electrolytic cell were consistent with his earlier observations (Nature Vol. 338, page 737, 27 April, 1989) of neutrons from cold fusion reactions, albeit at a rate many orders of magnitude less than for the University of Utah. Jones mentioned that his group had been collaborating with scientists at the University of Bolognia at the Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy and that they had submitted an article for publication which should appear in a few months. Steven Jones did not report any significant heat generated in his electrolytic cell.
Scientists from several other labs, including the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Yale University, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Ohio State University, Rochester University, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, failed to find evidence for the level of neutron production claimed by the University of Utah. The Oak Ridge (J. Kirk Dickens) and possibly the Caltech experiments, whose neutron detectors operate at a sensitivity at or slightly better than, the BYU detector, seem to rule out neutron production even at the rate claimed by BYU. Moshe Gai of Yale reported that the Yale/Brookhaven neutron detector is more sensitive still: his group observed no neutrons above background down to a level some 40-100 times lower than BYU. Gai believes that Jones' neutrons may be produced by cosmic-ray showers.
Walter Meyerhof of Stanford University presented a theoretical analysis of the experiment performed at Stanford by Robert Huggins, who claims to have seen an unexplained excess of heat in an electrolytic cell. Meyerhof calculated that there should not have been any such heat and partly attributes Huggins' result to a failure to stir the electrolytic solution.
Two groups from the Comision Nacional de Energia Atomica in Argentina reported conflicting results. One group (J.R. Granada et al.) reported positive observations of cold fusion reactions, while another group (D. Abriola et al.) reported negative results.
Douglas R. O. Morrison of the CERN laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland is the keeper of an informal cold fusion newsletter transmitted via electronic mail. At the Baltimore meeting he summarized results from around the world. Morrison claims to see a "regionalization" of findings: most groups in Western Europe —such as West Germany, France, and England (including the Harwell Laboratory where Martin Fleischmann is a consultant)—see no evidence to date for cold fusion, whereas support can be found in many reports from Eastern Europe. Scientists in Italy, Asia, and most of South America found positive results, Morrison said.
Morrison referred to himself as a specialist in "pathological science" or "wrong-result science." Comparing cold-fusion research to other spectacular (but short-lived) discoveries, such as "polywater," Morrison outlined what he perceived as a three-step chronology: (1) a striking result is announced and several confirmation experiments quickly appear; (2) gradually the positive experiments are balanced by an equal number of negative experiments; (3) finally an avalanche of negative reports appear.
It remains to be seen whether cold fusion research will conform to Douglas Morrison's pattern. APS President James Krumhansl claimed that whether or not cold fusion is vindicated, or proved to be spurious, the rapid movement of scientists into this controversial but potentially-important field was indicative of the health and flexibility of science. In addition, this multidisciplinary nature of this research seems to have brought chemists and physicists together as colleagues at many institutions. In the end the scientific method, including the need for reproducibility, will determine the future fate of the PonsFleischmann claim of cold fusion.
[Ed. note: This is the end of the cold fusion segment of the press release.]