Excerpt from The Rebirth of Cold Fusion
Copyright 2004 S.B. Krivit
Many regard Fleischmann as one of the world’s top electrochemists. While he is best known for co-discovering cold fusion, he was first a leader in many aspects of electrochemistry, the science behind battery research. If one single quality describes Fleischmann, it is his driving passion for discovery. Fleischmann has been known for breaking ground that other scientists have followed to great commercial success. Cold fusion, he said in a 2003 interview, was only one of the interesting projects he and Pons were working on in 1989. To his great dismay, academia's hostile response to cold fusion caused such damage to his reputation that he was unable to remain in academia or continue to challenge his mind with these other creative projects.
Fleischmann was born on March 29, 1927, in Czechoslovakia. His mother was a Roman Catholic. "There is a considerable mystery about my paternal grandfather," Fleischmann wrote. "I have heard him described both as a Slovak and a Hungarian. There is no doubt that he came from Banska Štiavnica in Slovakia (or its environs) and that he was an orphan. He was adopted by a Jewish family called Fleischmann; his first name was Maximillian."
When Fleischmann was a boy, he and his family got caught up in the Nazi occupation of Western Czechoslovakia in 1938 but managed to escape - twice. Christopher Tinsley of Infinite Energy magazine spoke with Fleischmann in detail about these personal experiences:
I always tell people I had the unique and unpleasurable experience of being arrested by the Gestapo at the age of 11. These things tend to concentrate your mind somewhat, you know, and my father was very badly beaten up by the Nazis. However, we got out.
We were driven across the border by a First World War comrade-in-arms of my father. He was a fighter pilot in the Austrian Army, and my father was an artillery officer, and they were very close friends. They were big heroes locally. He drove us across; he had a taxi firm. He himself drove us across into the unoccupied part of Czechoslovakia. That was the first time we got away.
The second time, [after the Nazi occupation expanded], it wasn't clear where we [would go]. We might have gone to Canada or Argentina - or South Wales, actually. But we couldn't get any money out [of the bank]. My parents were going to start a factory in South Wales, but this couldn't be arranged, and we lost everything. In the end, my sister was adopted by a Methodist minister and his wife in Cheadle Hulme. The wife's brother lived in Llandudno, and she told him that he had to adopt me, which he did. He was a bachelor, and he adopted me. I find this very difficult to talk about. I must say, when Gene [Mallove] asked me about it, I burst into tears, which I am prone to do when I recall this ancient history.
At the time [of our second escape], my parents had received permission to come to England. We all got on the train in Prague and came to the Dutch border. Then the Germans cleared the train of all refugees. We were in the last coach, and my father said, "No, sit tight, don't get off the train," and [moments later] the train pulled out of the station. So that's how we got away the second time, and arrived at Liverpool Street Station with 27 shillings and sixpence between the four of us.
Several years later, Fleischmann passed the University of London's Imperial College entrance examination and obtained an entrance scholarship. His studies were concerned with platinum and hydrogen, but he developed an interest in palladium and hydrogen. In 1948, he began his doctoral program at the college, and two years later he earned his doctorate in chemistry. One of his instructors, who noted his tremendous talent for innovation, described Fleischmann as a “brilliant contributor with an oft-demonstrated flair for new ideas.”
He met his future wife, Sheila Flinn, in 1947 and married her after his graduation from the Ph.D. program. They had one son and two daughters; as of 2004, he is the proud grandfather of eight. Fleischmann went on to teach at Durham University in the United Kingdom. He brought considerable experimental innovation not only to the school but also to the field of electrochemistry.
In 1967, at the remarkably young age of 40, Fleischmann was offered a position as the chair of electrochemistry at the University of Southampton. There, he built up the department and, in doing so, earned it a world-class reputation. He was the recipient of numerous awards during this time. From 1970 to 1972, he held the prestigious post of president of the International Society of Electrochemists. In 1979, he was awarded the medal for electrochemistry and thermodynamics by the Royal Society of London. In 1983, he retired from Southampton. Two years later, in 1985, he was awarded the Palladium Medal by the U.S. Electrochemical Society, and he received the highest honor for an English scientist, Fellowship in the Royal Society.
Although officially retired, Fleischmann continued to pursue his research interests, at times with scientists at the United Kingdom's Harwell Atomic Energy laboratory and at times with his colleague and friend Pons at the University of Utah. Gene Mallove wrote fondly of Fleischmann in his book, Fire from Ice: Searching for the Truth Behind the Cold Fusion Furor:
Fleischmann has been called a genuine Renaissance man with a reputation for brilliant and creative ideas - not all of which pan out, but such is the nature of creativity. Surely, when one listens to or is in the presence of Martin Fleischmann, one feels that the image of an exceptional polymath fits him like a glove.