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Book Review: "The Science of Cold Fusion: Proceedings of the II Annual Conference on Cold Fusion"

F. David Peat

A text only version of this essay is available to download.

"The Science of Cold Fusion: Proceedings of the II Annual Conference on Cold Fusion"
(June 29 - July 4 1991 "Volta" Centre for Scientific Culture, Villa Olmo, Como, Italy.
Eds Tullio Bressani, Emilio Del Giudice, Giuliano Preparata. Societa Italana di Fisica, Bologna, Italy, 1991. ISBN 88-7794-045-X.

It has been said that those who remain ignorant of history are destined to repeat its mistakes. I hope that, in the light of the pioneering work that is taking place at The Centre for Frontier Sciences and its goal of supporting a balanced and responsive position to new ideas, one that remain critical yet open minded, science will have learned a salutary lesson from the case of Cold Fusion. And, should we have begun to forget, "The Science of Cold Fusion: Proceeding of the II Annual Conference on cold Fusion" provides a timely reminder. This book, edited by Tullio Bressani, Emilio Del Giudice and Giulaino Preparata presents overviews and scientific papers on this intriguing topic. Ironically, some of the work as already been surpassed and we await the proceedings of the third conference.

Cold Fusion, burst into notoriety on March 23, 1989 with independent announcements coming from Fleischmann and Pons at the University of Utah, and Steven Jones from Brigham Young University. What followed was closer to a community lynch trial in the Wild West than to due scientific process. Using the various media of electronic networks and bulletin boards, fax machines, and television interviews, self-proclaimed experts battled it out claiming either to have confirmed the effect or to have exposed it as poor experimentation or even worse - incompetence and delusion. The Cold Fusion made instant converts on both sides of the fence, it aroused anger and passion and exposed, for all to see, the unsavory underbelly of scientific research. Indeed, there were times when the social phenomenon itself seemed far more interesting than the putative effect. Certainly anyone who dares to transgress the bounds of orthodoxy had better be wearing a flack jacket.

My own feelings at the time, for what they are worth, (and reading this conference report gives me no compelling reason to change them), was that something very strange was going on. Admittedly far too many people had rushed to publicize their results without even having a clear grasp of what they were doing - if chemists were not too experienced at making reliable nuclear measurements then physicists certainly had no idea of what was going on in a common or garden electro-chemical cell. And attempting to make reliable measurements of excess energy production over the life of a cell proved extraordinarily difficult. Nuclear fusion and excess heat may have remained open questions but it was clear to anyone willing to look at the evidence that something highly anomalous was taking place.

On this ground alone there is eminent reason for a serious study to be made of the curious behavior of deuterated platinum - as well as a related systems and phenomena. Even if nuclear fusion should prove not to have taken place other mechanisms may be operating, the elucidation of which cannot help but give insights into the less familiar boundary between physics and psychical chemistry.

The Proceedings of the Second International Conference are an attempt to keep open serious investigation and debate of the whole Cold Fusion phenomenon. It is appropriate that the conference should be held in Italy for it was there that alternative approaches to Cold Fusion, using deuterium in the gas phase were first reported by F. Scaramuzzi and the Frascati group; as well the theoretical approaches of E. Del Giudice and G. Preperata have shown the importance of coherence in many body effects, a conclusion that is echoed by P. Hagelstein. In addition to the forementioned, other major players are represented in this book including S. Pons and M. Fleischmann, J O'M Bockris, H. O. Menlove. One assumes that Steven Jones and "Pons and Fleischmann" are still not seen at the same parties together! An appendix to the book contains the report of the Utah State Fusion/ Energy Council which made an analysis of Fleischmann's and Pon's data.

Supplementing a strong European and North American contingent it is encouraging to see activity in China and Japan. I was interested to read in V.A. Tsarev's overview of Cold Fusion studies in the former USSR how so much research has suffered from "rush and inexact experiments of the initial period, widely boosted with a mass media" - an all too familiar complaint!

But, in the light of this book, what is one to make of it all? The whole topic is beginning to look a little like one of those observer-created realities beloved of Star Trek for the evidence suggests that different people see very different things. However, many of the papers in this book indicate that much more carefully considered and executed research is being directed to specific aspects of the overall problem. In addition, anomalous phenomena are reported in systems that do not conform to the more familiar Jones, or Pons and Fleischmann, electrolytic cells. Theoreticians for their part present credible theories that account for what has been experimentally observed - but then given a couple of weeks a really good theoretician can account for almost anything, and then some!

Clearly it is becoming increasingly difficult to dismiss the whole field out of hand. However, there still does not appear to be overwhelming and conclusive evidence, supported by independent researchers, that points to a single phenomenon or explanation. The field remains confusing and, in the last analysis, I am left with the conclusion expressed by Xing Zhong Li of Tsinghua University, Bejing "a window has been opened towards the back yard of the physics. A rose is there, although it is thorny." The Proceedings may not remove any thorns but at least one is forced to take a closer look at the flower.

Related Pages: 

Related Books:
Cold Fusion: The Making of a Scientific Controversy

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