Edmund Storms (Photo: S. Krivit)
There may be no one alive who knows more about low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) experiments than Edmund Storms (b. 1931).
I am grateful to Storms. Were it not for him, I may have never immersed myself in this fascinating subject. He was, for my first few years in the field, my mentor.
But Storms has a hidden analytical bias, which causes him to present a distorted view of LENRs.
With His Own Eyes
A radiochemist, Storms had worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for 32 years. In 1989, he was one of the few people who successfully replicated the table-top electrolysis experiment of electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons in which they claimed to have observed evidence of nuclear fusion.
Storms' wife, Carol Talcott, another LANL scientist, also obtained evidence of tritium in her experiments. With the exception of Thomas Claytor, another LANL scientist, everyone else at LANL failed in their replication attempts. Publicly, lab officials chose the more cautious position: They reported only the failures.
On June 23, 1989, Storms bypassed the LANL public affairs department and told the Salt Lake City Deseret News that he and Talcott had found evidence of tritium production in their experiments. A spokesman for LANL quoted in the newspaper article came close to denying Storms' claim. Storms was sharply criticized by one of his peers for behavior that was "inappropriate and a breach of the normal standards of conduct for professional scientists."
Two years later, at 60, Storms retired from LANL and continued performing experiments in his home LENR lab, a partially converted wood shop. Storms also began writing review articles about LENRs, mostly on the Internet, on his former Web site. Because the Web site was readily accessible, he became a source of information on the subject for many people.
A Good Teacher
Storms was my first teacher on the subject of LENRs. He taught me about tritium and calorimetry, topics on which he had specific expertise. But he also had an encyclopedic knowledge of what seemed to be the entire body of literature on the subject. In fact, it was his physical library that formed the initial content for the online LENR-CANR library that Jed Rothwell generously set up and has maintained. This library is the most complete online database of LENR research papers in the world.
Storms didn't mind that I had almost no experience in journalism. He was always eager to answer my questions. When I first met him, in 2002, I identified the research as "cold fusion" because that's how most people identified it at the time, as did he. I found Storms to be articulate, knowledgeable, and thoughtful, not just about the science also but about the relationship between science and society. He also understood the social responsibility that scientists have to the world and to the environment. When I formed my nonprofit corporation for my news organization in 2006, he was one of the people I invited to be on the board, and I was honored that he accepted.
As Wired magazine wrote in 1998, Storms, along with electrochemist Michael McKubre, who was working at SRI International, were heroes, and they were recognized as "leaders of the discrete league of scientists who are risking their careers – and occasionally their lives – to prove the viability of cold, or low-temperature, fusion."
Image from Wired magazine story "What If Cold Fusion Is Real," November 1998
Lattice Energy LLC
Storms also impressed Lewis Larsen (1946-2019), a Chicago-based quantitative investment analyst who had also studied biophysics and astrophysics. In the late 1990s, Larsen became intrigued with "cold fusion" and formed a company, Lattice Energy LLC, which he hoped would develop LENR technology commercially.
In July 2003, Larsen hired Storms, first as a contractor and later as an employee. Larsen had loaned a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to Storms so he could perform LENR experiments. Larsen had also contracted with George Miley, at the University of Illinois, and Andrei Lipson, in Russia, to perform LENR research. Covertly, Larsen, together with Allan Widom, a condensed-matter physicist at Northeastern University, was also developing a theory to explain LENRs.
Until the preprint of the first Widom-Larsen theory paper published on the arXiv server on May 2, 2005, nobody in the field, including Storms, Miley, and Lipson, knew that Larsen and Widom were working on a theory. But the theory postulated that neutron-based processes, rather than a fusion process, were at the heart of the reactions. Widom and Larsen were not the first theorists to propose that LENRs were based on neutron interactions rather than fusion. But they were the first to develop a plausible physical mechanism explaining how neutrons could be formed in LENR systems.
Larsen knew, by 2005, that most LENR researchers believed LENRs were the result of a "cold fusion" process. Larsen also knew that these researchers, particularly those in the U.S., had dismissed experimental results from their colleagues that conflicted with the concept of "cold fusion."
"I had been talking with all the well-known American researchers, such as Michael McKubre, Peter Hagelstein, and Edmund Storms," Larsen said. "They said that you couldn't get excess heat or transmutations with [normal hydrogen] light water and that Miley and the Japanese people were crazy because there was no deuterium in the system, and therefore they couldn't explain the data with their D+D fusion idea."
Left to right: Bob Smith, Edmund Storms, Lewis Larsen, Randy Hekman, unidentified (Photo: S. Krivit)
When the first Widom-Larsen paper published as a pre-print on May 2, 2005, neither Widom nor Larsen approached me and asked me to promote it. For the five years before that, hardly a week would go by before one theorist or another would pitch me their "cold fusion" theory and ask me to write about it. Instead, I learned about the Widom-Larsen theory from other people in the field who found it inspiring. In 2005, I tried to interview Widom and Larsen, but neither was willing to speak with me at that time.
Cold Water on "Cold Fusion"
On March 9, 2006, the first Widom-Larsen theory paper published in the European Physical Journal C - Particles and Fields. The fact that the paper was published by a mainstream peer-reviewed journal was, by itself, novel and noteworthy for that time in the history of the field. I was impressed that the Widom-Larsen proposed theory offered an explanation that did not invoke what mainstream physicists refer to as "miracles." The theory did not have to explain how to overcome the Coulomb barrier or the lack of high rates of neutron emissions. It offered an explanation for suppression of gamma radiation that some people find difficult to believe but that nevertheless appears consistent with experimental observations.
Two aspects of the theory were particularly disruptive to LENR scientists who believed in the "cold fusion" hypothesis. The "cold fusion" hypothesis, at its core, says that like-charged atomic nuclei, specifically deuterium nuclei, undergo fusion at room temperature at high rates. That hypothesis implies that LENR reactions do not work with normal hydrogen. It also requires that no other energetic reaction products be produced in LENRs except helium-4. However, LENR reactions are reported with the use of normal hydrogen, and other energetic reaction products are formed in LENRs besides helium-4.
In contrast, the Widom-Larsen theory can explain experimental results obtained with deuterium as well as normal hydrogen. The "cold fusion" hypothesis cannot. It can explain the reports of heavy-element transmutation. The "cold fusion" hypothesis cannot. This is why many U.S. LENR researchers who believed in the "cold fusion" theory had dismissed such results, particularly those of U.S. LENR researchers George Miley and John Dash, Russian LENR researchers Yan Kucherov, Alexander B. Karabut, and Irina B. Savvatimova, and Japanese LENR researchers Tadahiko Mizuno and Yasuhiro Iwamura.
Widom-Larsen was the first theory that could explain, in plain English, from start to finish, a series of physical processes that bridged chemical reactants and chemical-level (eV) energy inputs with nuclear products and nuclear-level (MeV) energy outputs. It was exciting to me because I understood the reluctance of mainstream scientists to take LENRs seriously without a plausible theoretical explanation. The first Widom-Larsen paper also specifically showed how neutron-based reactions could produce helium-4 in LENRs.
A Brewing Storm
I took the theory seriously, learned about it, and published news articles about it. This did not go over well with many of the pioneers of the field, including Storms. Sadly, it led to the end of my relationship with Storms. It also led to the end of Larsen and Storms' collaboration soon after the first Widom-Larsen preprint came online May 2, 2005.
On July 21, 2005, MAKE magazine published an article featuring Storms, written by journalist Charles Platt. Storms told Platt that the SEM in his lab was "on loan to him from a small Chicago company of speculative investors who hope that Storms may make a crucial breakthrough in his one-man initiative." Storms did not disclose to Platt that he was an employee and senior scientist of Larsen's company. Larsen vehemently disagreed with other statements Storms made to Platt, and MAKE published a detailed letter from Larsen. As a result of their difference of opinion about theory and other matters, as Storms told me, Larsen terminated his employment from the company in 2006.
Clinging to Cold Fusion
I expected that the "cold fusion" theorists would react adversely to the Widom-Larsen theory. I didn't, however, expect the level of hostility I witnessed. One of them was Scott Chubb, who called their theory "meshugana;" Yiddish for crazy. He also said that Widom and Larsen were "unethical" because they did not cite Fleischmann and Pons in their references. Chubb told me that Widom and Larsen were "newcomers and they haven't paid their dues." I understood Chubb's history and his feelings. I knew of his valorous efforts to keep "cold fusion" sessions active in the American Physical Society meetings. I knew he had risked his job by writing scientific papers about "cold fusion." Chubb had paid his dues. But it was clear to me that his protestations were fueled more by emotion than by objectivity.
But to my complete surprise, many of the experimentalists in the field — specifically the older ones — were equally hostile to the concept proposed by Widom and Larsen and the advantages it offered. I had thought they would welcome the opportunity to evaluate a plausible theory that might support their otherwise-inexplicable experimental observations. I was never more wrong. The most outspoken among them was Storms.
Widom-Larsen Theory Opens New Doors
Eventually, Larsen was willing to speak with me. In addition to teaching me about the theory, he told me that people outside the LENR field had examined his and Widom's theory. He also told me that he had been invited by a variety of government groups, including the Department of Energy, the defense community, and the CIA, to speak about the theory. The CIA has denied having any records about the Widom-Larsen theory, but I was able to verify everything else Larsen told me while he was alive.
Even though the first Widom-Larsen paper had published in a peer-reviewed journal, that wasn't sufficient for me. I wanted people I could contact directly or at least cite directly who could say they had analyzed the theory. Larsen told me that, in 2006, an independent particle physicist at the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SPAWAR) in San Diego had analyzed the theory. But Larsen wouldn't tell me anything else. I had to do a little digging. Eventually, I obtained a copy of an e-mail written by that physicist, David Rees. Here is his conclusion:
Techniques and calculations are straightforward and, as far as I can tell, correct. There could be some assumptions that need to be dealt with in more detail that could spell trouble. My feeling is that they are OK. The paper looks good to me. It's a clever idea, I think — clever ideas are always obvious in hindsight.
Larsen told me that, on Dec. 12, 2006, he and Widom had spoken in front of about 100 people at a meeting in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, organized by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The purpose of the meeting was to review several controversial areas of research, including LENRs. Larsen told me that attendees, with one exception, appeared to take his and Widom's presentations seriously. He and Widom were the only LENR theorists invited to speak at that meeting. LENR theorist Yeong Kim, from Purdue University, attended but as a member of the audience.
Considering that the subject was still widely considered pathological science by much of mainstream science, I was surprised that such a meeting occurred. For evidence, all I had was Larsen's word. It took me five years and a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a written report of the meeting and the confirmation that the meeting really did happen. In fact, some details in the report were inconsistent with what Larsen had told me. When I checked with one of the authors of the report, the author acknowledged that the report contained inaccuracies.
At the time, Robert Park, the former spokesman for the American Physical Society, and the most vitriolic critic of "cold fusion," spoke during the luncheon part of the DTRA meeting, Larsen told me. Larsen said that, in Park's talk, he reversed his long-standing opposition to the new science. All I had was Larsen's word. A year later, in 2007, Park spoke with Chemistry World journalist Richard Van Noorden, and said something positive about the field.
In September 2008, I published a formal critique of the "cold fusion" sections of Park's book The Road From Foolishness to Fraud , in the Journal of Scientific Exploration.
The following year, in March 2009, electrochemist Jan Marwan and I organized a LENR symposium at the American Chemical Society meeting. We also spoke at a press conference organized by the ACS. A few days later, Park publicly conceded, with a few sour grapes, a change in his long-standing position that the field was nothing but pseudoscience: "They say they find great mysteries, and perhaps they do. Is it important? I doubt it. But I think it's science."
But it was Larsen and Widom's theory, in the 2006 closed-door DTRA meeting, that got the ball rolling.
Larsen had told me that Richard Garwin, one of the most well-respected living physicists in the world, had looked at his and Widom's theory. That Garwin had looked at any LENR theory was extraordinary. Garwin, like Park, had bet against the new science at the outset. In 1989, Garwin had written in Nature that, if valid, the new science would represent a "multidimensional revolution."
I had been in contact with Garwin since 2004, and we had a cordial relationship. In the years following the 1989 fiasco, Garwin had continued to dismiss and deny experimental evidence of the new science. In 2007, I met him unexpectedly at the yearly American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting. Mostly to test Larsen, I asked Garwin whether he had read any of the Widom-Larsen theory papers. To my amazement, he said that he had. I asked him whether he found anything wrong with the theory. He complained that Widom and Larsen's explanation of the gamma suppression mechanism was inadequate. After a brief email exchange in the following days among him, Larsen, and me about the theory, Garwin insisted that that he "didn't say it was wrong." As it turns out, Garwin was right: Those details were missing. That's because Larsen was in the process of filing a U.S. patent for gamma suppression, and the patent was issued five years later, in 2011.
Storms Can't See How
Storms, on the other hand, did say the theory was wrong. After I began to write about the theory, Storms told me that "the Widom-Larsen theory is wrong for many reasons." I asked him to tell me explicitly what was wrong with the Widom-Larsen theory. Here is Storms' first and most fundamental objection:
The theory proposes that energy can be added to an electron in the form of mass and this electron can combine with a proton to make a low-energy neutron. This neutron then combines with the nucleus of heavy atoms that are present to create the collection of transmutation products found by [people like George] Miley.
In order to add the 0.75 MeV required to make a neutron, Widom-Larsen have to assume [that] a process can occur on the electrolyzing surface that adds small bits of energy to the electron until it has accumulated enough.
This process requires a mechanism by which the energy can be stored in an electron as mass. No such mechanism has been observed. Electrons appear heavy when certain models are applied only because the model forces this conclusion.
The process requires a large amount of energy to be accumulated. The Second Law makes this impossible.
But Einstein Could
Despite Storms' insistence that a "law" of thermodynamics would make such a process "impossible," half a century earlier none other than Albert Einstein thought that such a process was, in fact, possible. The matter arose when Einstein was discussing the apparent production of neutrons in an experiment performed at Cornell University by Ernest Sternglass. Nobody at Cornell could imagine how Sternglass' experiment had produced neutrons with low-input energy into the experiment. Here's what Einstein wrote to him:
In order to form a neutron, an electron is needed that has passed through 7.8 x 10 5 volts in order to provide the required additional energy. I can hardly imagine that electrons of such high voltage are formed in your tubes. Perhaps reactions occur in which multiple electrons simultaneously transfer energy to one proton. According to quantum theory, this is somewhat conceivable, although not probable.
Einstein was referring to a physics concept known as collective effects. Without knowing about this historic moment between Einstein and Sternglass, Larsen had intuited that such collective effects could enable sufficient energy to emulate the neutronization process that occurs in the stars. I tell more about the Einstein-Sternglass story in this article and in my book Hacking the Atom.
And Edward Teller Could
In 1989, Edward Teller (1908-2003), famous for his work in the World War II Manhattan Project, recognized the significance of what Fleischmann and Pons had haphazardly revealed. He looked at results of experiments performed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Naval Research Laboratory. They had both reported shifts in isotopic abundances. Teller presented his thoughts at a scientific workshop in October 1989, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).
"Perhaps a neutral particle of small mass and marginal stability is catalyzing the reaction. You will have not modified any strong nuclear reactions, but you may have opened up an interesting new field," Teller said.
I discuss more about Teller and the 1989 NSF/EPRI workshop in my book Fusion Fiasco, for which Storms, in fact, wrote a rave review on Amazon.
Storms' Suppression Attempt
Storms made many attempts to convince me to disregard the Widom-Larsen theory. I'm certain he has done the same with other people. Although Storms did not dissuade me, he did slow me down. Here's one of the first things he said to me about the theory:
The Widom-Larsen theory is clearly wrong and should be ignored. Just because a person claims their theory explains everything does not make it true. If the field is to advance, we need to eliminate suggestions that are clearly wrong for good scientific reasons.
The "Proof of Cold Fusion"
At the same time (2006-2008), many scientists in the LENR field insisted "cold fusion" had been experimentally proven. According to the "cold fusion" hypothesis, two deuterium nuclei, each having positive charges, overcome their electrostatic repulsion (Coulomb barrier) at room-temperature, with sufficient energy to allow the strong force to draw the nuclei together and fuse the two deuterium nuclei into one helium-4 nucleus. This reaction is represented by the equation D+D → 4He + 24 MeV / 4He. It postulates that, for every 24 MeV of heat produced, one helium-4 atom is produced.
For the proof, scientists in the field pointed to experiment M4 performed in 1994 by electrochemist Michael McKubre and his colleagues at SRI International. I looked into it. Closely. I was astonished at what I found and reported my investigation in January 2010. McKubre had falsified multiple portions of the data set. I tell the details of that investigation here.
With the "proof of cold fusion" gone, Storms took a slightly different approach to continue pushing the "cold fusion" hypothesis. In June 2010, he submitted a paper to the journal Naturwissenschaften titled "Status of Cold Fusion (2010)." He continued to assert that LENRs were a process that works with deuterium (but not hydrogen) as a reactant and that the primary nuclear product is helium-4.
But instead of citing McKubre's M4 experiment, Storms cited McKubre's replication of the Les Case deuterium gas LENR experiment. As part of McKubre's evidence for the "cold fusion" hypothesis, McKubre had written that helium-4 was never produced when the Case replication experiments were performed with hydrogen instead of deuterium. McKubre falsified part of this, too. He did measure real excess heat and the production of helium-4. There's no question about those data. The cells were vacated, sealed, and leak-tested, and starting values of helium-4 were close to zero. But at least one of his normal-hydrogen experiments that was supposed be a control experiment showed the production of helium. Here's my investigative report on that work. In Storms' 2010 Naturwissenschaften paper, he repeated the false claim McKubre had made: "No helium or heat is produced when H2 is used."
Storms' paper contained two broad and serious mischaracterizations of the experimental evidence in the field. First, although he didn't state it overtly, he implied that normal hydrogen does not produce excess heat in LENRs. But documented experiments have shown excess-heat production with normal hydrogen rather than deuterium.
A year later, Storms contradicted himself. Convicted fraudster Andrea Rossi convinced LENR scientists like Storms to believe in his non-existent 1-megawatt "cold fusion" reactor. It supposedly used hydrogen rather than deuterium. Storms was all in:
The entire field of cold fusion will grow rapidly and provide jobs for those of us who have slaved in the dark for so long. Personally, I hope [Rossi's apparatus] works as claimed, and I will do everything I can to promote the idea and work to make it better. Kicking Rossi at this stage just because the claim is not fully proven seems counter-productive to everyone. We desperately need the Rossi claim to be real.
In the second serious mischaracterization in Storms' 2010 paper, he wrote that, except for helium-4, all other nuclear products observed in LENRs, "while important, are roughly 10 billion [times] less abundant than helium, making their production a side issue to understanding the main cold fusion process."
First, I cannot fathom how he made such a calculation. Was it per atom? Per mole? And where could he possibly have obtained such data considering that LENR experimentalists generally don't characterize their results in that manner? More important, I was aware of many LENR experiments, particularly those showing isotopic shifts, that were associated with energetic nuclear processes.
Experiments performed with normal hydrogen conflicted with the "cold fusion" hypothesis that only deuterium should work as a reactant. Even Stanley Pons knew that normal hydrogen produced excess heat, though at lower rates than experiments performed with deuterium. (Fusion Fiasco) But Storms, and a few other senior LENR researchers, in 2011, were willing to put their ideology aside because of their faith in Rossi and his extraordinary claims.
Why did Storms attempt to discredit all energetic nuclear products with the exception of helium-4? He did it because the "cold fusion" equation doesn't balance when other energetic products are accounted for. I cover this in greater detail in the McKubre M4 article.
I found out about Storms' paper only in 2013. His misrepresentations of the research required correction. However, sometime around June 2011, Sven Thatje, then the editor-in-chief of Naturwissenschaften, had asked Storms to serve as the topical editor for all LENR manuscripts submitted to the journal. I contacted Thatje and asked whether he would receive my comment and personally manage its peer review. He agreed.
The peer-review process was intense and some of the reviewers made personal attacks on me. One reviewer mildly wrote, "My suggestion is that you simply reject the submission. Nothing will be lost to science." Thatje's cover letter to me with the reviews revealed his astonishment:
In the few years as editor-in-chief of Naturwissenschaften, I have come across scientific dispute, rivalries, emotionally fuelled "discussions" etc. However, the level of anger within this community by far exceeds what I have experienced so far. Energy production and storage is likely the most important issue mankind is facing. Ignoring any scientific evidence, even if perceived as little evident as possible, should not be ignored. It would be good if both parties would come together and pulled the same wagon, wouldn't it?
Thatje, of course, had no idea about the intensity surrounding the "cold fusion" ideology. I sent him my responses. A month later, I received a second round of comments from the reviewers. I identified to Thatje several false statements that reviewers had made in their comments. I also brought to his attention one reviewer's remark. I wrote to Thatje, as diplomatically as possible, that the reviewer's comment was "inappropriate and constitutes an abuse of the peer-review process." Ten days later, Thatje accepted my comment for publication.
Credit Where it Is Due
Despite my conflicts with Storms, the field owes much to Storms for his stubbornness and determination. He saw the tritium results with his own eyes. He trusted his 1989 experiments and reported what he saw. He had the courage to stand by his results when other scientists at the time gave in to imaginary ad hoc rationalizations for why their results might not have been credible. Storms made sure that others, like me, could understand and find the trail of research that he and his colleagues left in the scientific record.