"Cold fusion" is a term that prompts disgust and scorn in some people and inspiration and hope in others. Rarely has the modern world witnessed a scientific (and sometimes unscientific) topic so polarizing. It's also a term and a concept that is long overdue for retirement from scientific venues – but not without the recognition of the legitimate science that has evolved from it.
When the cold fusion concept first made headlines in 1989, the idea was promoted as the panacea for the world's energy problems and, soon after, denounced and discredited in its entirety by the science establishment of the day. Nuclear experts had never known of any kind of nuclear energy that did not produce commensurate levels of dangerous radioactive emissions. The controversy has been chronicled in a number of nonfiction accounts.
The evidence has grown year after year and now shows that the hypothesis of cold fusion lacks strong experimental support as well as a viable theoretical explanation. Partially hidden among the unscientific claims in this two-decade controversy, a legitimate set of scientific phenomena has emerged. This set of phenomena is known as low-energy nuclear reactions (LENRs), and it does not presume or assert a fusion mechanism. The potential benefit for society ranges from trivial to revolutionary; it is the energy wild card.
One of the most revealing aspects of the cold fusion controversy is the extent and the intensity of the associated human drama. This drama reveals that scientists - humans, just like the rest of us - have strong opinions and passions. It reveals that scientific inquiry is not nearly as dispassionate as many of us have come to believe. This chapter, and the following chapters, will provide an overview of a subject that could have extremely broad and significant impact in a multitude of applications for society.
[Chapter continues in Encyclopedia]