Ugh, I know… Cold Fusion has been such a polarized discussion for so many people for a long, that I don’t even like to think about it… Which is sad because it’s an interesting thing to think about. To me, Cold Fusion has been the poster child for the often discombobulated relationship between science and popular media and it has also been a textbook example for young scientists of professionals that skew their credibility by getting more aught up in a theory than in the data that proves otherwise.
… But am I really any better for cringing and avoiding Cold Fusion because of the irritating fanboy-ism it brings to mind? Am I just avoiding the science because I’m avoiding the scientists that avoided the science two decades ago? Probably…
Anyway, It may be time for us to cautiously open our minds to Cold Fusion again… Just a smidgen. If you read last month’s issue of Discover, you probably saw the article Big Idea: Bring Back the Cold Fusion Dream which touched on how the clean energy source has progressed in the last 20 years. There’s nothing completely groundbreaking, but it puts a warmer, more scientifically palpable spotlight on the controversial hypothesis. There is still real research going on in the field and scientists have come a long way. In anticipation of a clearer, data driven explanation of Cold Fusion, we should probably revisit & review the basics care of Wikipedia:
Cold fusion is a hypothetical type of nuclear reaction that would occur at, or near, room temperature, compared with temperatures in the millions of degrees that is required for “hot” fusion. It was proposed to explain reports of anomalously high energy generation under certain specific laboratory conditions. It has been rejected by the mainstream scientific community because the original experimental results could not be replicated consistently and reliably, and because there is no accepted theoretical model of cold fusion.
Cold fusion gained attention after reports in 1989 by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, then one of the world’s leading electrochemists, that their apparatus had produced anomalous heat (“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 reported results received wide media attention, and raised hopes of a cheap and abundant source of energy. Many scientists tried to replicate the experiment with the few details available. Hopes fell with the large 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, 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.