Cold fusion – Focus Magazine Italy

Full page opening illustration for a European Science Magazine article on Cold Fusion.

Cold fusion refers to a proposed nuclear fusion process offered to explain a group of disputed experimental results first reported by electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons. The field originates with reports of an experiment by Fleischmann, then one of the world’s leading electrochemists, and Pons in March 1989 where they reported anomalous heat production (“excess heat”) of a magnitude they asserted would defy explanation except in terms of nuclear processes. They further reported measuring small amounts of nuclear reaction byproducts, including neutrons and tritium.

The small tabletop experiment involved electrolysis of heavy water on the surface of a palladium (Pd) electrode. The media reported that nuclear fusion was happening inside the electrolysis cells, and these reports raised hopes of a cheap and abundant source of energy. Hopes fell with the big number of negative replications, the withdrawal of many positive replications, the discovery of flaws and sources of experimental error in the original experiment, and finally the discovery that Fleischmann and Pons had not actually detected nuclear reaction byproducts.

By late 1989, most scientists considered cold fusion claims dead, and cold fusion subsequently gained a reputation as pathological science. In 1989, the majority of a review panel organized by the US Department of Energy (DOE) found that the evidence for the discovery of a new nuclear process was not persuasive enough to start a special program, but was “sympathetic toward modest support” for experiments “within the present funding system.” A second DOE review, convened in 2004 to look at new research, reached conclusions similar to the first.

A small community of researchers continues to investigate cold fusion, claiming to replicate Fleischmann and Pons’ results including nuclear reaction byproducts. Since cold fusion articles are rarely published in refereed scientific journals, the results do not receive as much scrutiny as more mainstream topics, and many scientists aren’t even aware that there is new research. Mainstream scientists perceive the field as the remains of the controversy of the early 1990s. (Gracias Wiki)