Sunday, May 01, 2005

How to Tell Whether Your Cold Fusion Experiment is Working

Physicists at UCLA have demonstrated cold nuclear fusion on a desktop scale. But before you go to amazon.com to order your own Mr. Fusion, be advised that the UCLA fusion device requires more energy to create the conditions for fusion than is created by the fusion itself. It doesn’t appear that their technique will ever be capable of efficiently producing energy, but it may one day be useful as a neutron source (neutrons can be very useful). The UCLA group published their results in the peer reviewed journal Nature, shared their methods with colleagues, and were up front about the limitations of their method. In short, they’re acting like responsible scientists.

Unfortunately, it has not always been thus when it comes to claims of cold fusion. In the spring of 1989, two University of Utah researchers named Pons and Fleischmann announced that they had successfully produced nuclear fusion at low temperatures (and were getting out more energy than they were putting in). Initially, the announcement generated a great deal of enthusiasm, but that enthusiasm rapidly dissipated when it became apparent that if Pons and Fleischmann were correct, then the well established laws of nuclear physics were wrong. Furthermore, Pons and Fleischmann were being very secretive with their results and procedures. Scientists attempting to reproduce their results were forced to rely on news reports and photos.

At the time Pons and Fleischmann made their claim, I was a senior physics major. One of my classmates had recently been accepted to one of the top physics graduate programs in the country, and was invited to visit. He arrived just as a group of nuclear physicists were attemptimg to duplicate Pons and Fleischmann’s experiment, although everyone was quite convinced it wouldn’t work. At the climactic moment, my classmate and the experimenters, including some of the world’s most distinguished physicists, gathered around the device that was supposedly creating cold fusion. One of them finally announced, “Well I guess it doesn’t work.”

“How can you tell?” asked my classmate.

“Well for one thing,” answered the professor, “if it were working we’d all be dead from radiation poisoning.”

5 Comments:

Blogger TFB said...

Sis,

You get me so hot when you talk cold-fusion.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Sisyphus said...

TFB, there's a fine line between physics and pornography.

6:54 PM  
Blogger TFB said...

Yeah, I was heavy into physics until I realized it was just one big meat market. It's all about the sex.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Sisyphus said...

If anyone ever tell you that they are studying physics because they love physics, don't believe them.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Bane said...

As I understand it, Pons and Fleischmann were spirited away to a multi-billion dollar facility in Japan, a facility made specifically for them to work in.

Nahh...probably nothing. Can't be real without peer review, dontcha know.

8:22 PM  

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