Cold fusion--not again?

Any reaction from physicists to this:

If true, why isn’t it being announced everywhere? Does the theory even make sense? Roughly that deuterium atoms released from heavy water enter a palladium crystal lattice where they combine to make D2. But the lattice is really too small to contain D2 molecules and so crushes them into He. I just cannot believe that the pressure would be anywhere near enough to overcome the repulsion of the positive nuclei from each other.

A decade ago, when Pons and Fleishman first announced cold fusion, a prominent scientist declared “I’ll believe in cold fusion when someone drives up to me in a car powered by it”.

That statement is still as applicable now as it was a decade ago.

Until cold-fusion proponents can describe an experimental setup that allows any competent scientist in the field reproduce the results, it’ll never be anything more than a curiosity. Lack of consistent replication of the results means that it’s impossible to actually engineer a useful device.

This palladium effect has been trumpeted for years and nothing ever comes of it.

Here’s a 2004 thread on cold fusion that throws, um, cold water on it. All you need to do today is say ditto.

I understand the Steorn is going to do a Cold Fusion demo any day now…

When Pons and Fleischmann made their announcement, our company had a special meeting about it. One thing that came out was that, even in 1988, this was an old story – Pons and Fleischmann (and the folks at BU) weren’t the first to say they achieved fusion using platinum/palladium in heavy water – there were papers over a decade earlier making the same claim, and the folks at that meeting were very familiar with them.

It’s a seductive idea, because it is so simple, but my skepticism is on a par with those in this thread.

Well extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence …

That said it does seem highly probable that there is something interesting going on there. And there chosen naysayer comes off as having decided what he’d conclude no matter what the evidence is.

Is that a fair scientific standard? Honestly I’d be suspicious of an experiment that worked 100% of the time.

Fusion? Nuclear effect? Some process that we do not currently have a model for? Who knows? But the fact that multiple labs are replicating measuring more heat coming out than energy being put in is an interesting observation that deserves to be taken seriously even if the process is not “fusion” or modeled well at all.

Mocking the experiments exclusively because another set of nonreplicable findings in the past has made prejudgment tempting seems well … unscientific.

There seems to be something here that needs to be explained. The “nuclear effect” hypothesis may be false but reasonable hypotheses should be made and tested, especially if this replicates on a larger scale of experiment.

Shouldn’t it be possible to test if it’s performing fusion by testing for Helium?

An experiment doesn’t have to work all the time, but the description of its set up should describe all the necessary conditions (and tolerances) needed for it to work. So that when it fails, the scientist can go back and see which condition failed and make the necessary corrections. If there’s some inherently probabilistic element in the results (or inputs) (as is typical with quantum processes), the description of the experiment should describe those.

I do think that more research is needed, because there seems to be something going on. But it may be impossible at our current level of technology to make this replicable. Analogous to trying to build an internal combustion engine using only cast iron–possible to build, but impossible to reliably replicate because of poor tolerances.

As for the mocking scientist–it’s rude, but not unusual. Scientists can have egos as large as anyone else’s. It doesn’t matter in the long run; once you’ve put up enough data, skeptics will become rare.

Edit: the quantity of helium may be too small to detect and/or hard to capture.

Unfortunately, helium in small quantities is very difficult to detect. It is chemically non-reactive in all but the most energetic environments so it can only be detected by mass spectrometry, which requires a significant quantity, more than would be produced by small scale fusion. Ostensibly you could also measure the reaction by mass difference, but again for anything smaller than a thermonuclear weapon the mass exchange is insignificant. The best way to detect and quantify the existence of an energetic reaction is via calorimetry, that is, measured the change in temperature.

As Chronos notes, the proof in the pudding would be the production of sufficient energy to drive some real-world process, like powering an automobile or even boiling a cup of tea. It would also be nice to have an actual hypothesis of the phenomena in a peer-reviewed forum; anybody can talk about “squeezing deuterium atoms together in the palladium matrix,” et cetera but an actual theory with equations and predictions that can be tested speaks for itself.

BTW, not only has palladium-based fusion been investigated for decades (palladium does, in fact, tend to collect hydrogen and is often used as a catalyst bed for chemical reactions involving that element) there are several other methods of “table top fusion” operating at environmental temperatures which have been fully theorized and reliably demonstrated, including electrostatic fusion (the Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor), muon-catalyzed fusion (formerly known as “cold fusion”), sonoluminescent fusion (still debatable). Some of these methods, like the F-H fusor, even have commercial applications (neutron production, isotope creations); however, none of them are energy positive reactions and cannot be scaled up to sufficient power output to be useful for energy generation.

Also, SRI International (Stanford Research Institute) has not been associated with Stanford University for over thirty years. SRI does conduct a number of legitimate programs for DARPA and industry, but it also has research programs that range into the paranormal and absurd. Just because this experiment was conducted under the auspices of SRI does not automatically give it credibility (the fallacy of Appeal to Authority).


Is this actually true? Argon is nearly as unreactive, but a dozen or so argon atoms can be detected in a swimming-pool sized vat of cleaning fluid, in some types of neutrino detector (the neutrinos trigger a reaction that converts chlorine atoms to argon).

Why don’t they just require ordinary evidence? What is extraordinary evidence? Isn’t this a form of “I don’t want to believe X, therefore I will demand 2Y evidence?” This SDMB trope is a lot more irritating than “Hi Opal”.

Yes. I don’t have my gas chromatography handbook here at home, but if I recall correctly the lower limit to helium detection is about 2 ppm in a mixed gas sample (atmospheric concentration is ~5 ppm); the threshold for detectability of the heavier noble gases is lower by an order of magnitude or more. Detection of noble gases is done by ionizing the atoms to a metastable state and then looking for characteristic decay lines. For obviously reasons it is more difficult to get helium to a metastable (ionized) condition and it remains there for a shorter decay interval than the heavier noble gases like argon, krypton, and xenon; hence, higher concentrations are needed for reliable detection. (MS is generally the way significant amounts of helium are measured, though GC can also detect it.) For leak testing of high criticality plumbing (like that used in nuclear fuel processing facilities or liquid rocket propulsion systems) the system is typically filled with helium at a partial pressure that it at least 3-5% of system pressure which should give significantly higher concentration than ambient for any leakage of concern.

I’m not saying it can’t be done, but unless you can isolate the cold fusion apparatus in a vacuum with no detectable amount of helium, you probably can’t get a sufficient concentration of helium for detection, or at least, not at low energies. And if your apparatus is producing enough helium to substantially exceed atmospheric concentrations then the other characteristic phenomena are readily apparent anyway.


This is not an “SDMB trope”; this quote is generally attributed to astronomer and planetologist Carl Sagan, which is actually a restatement of Laplace’s Principle. The fundamental idea is that if you make a claim that is in accordance with the accepted theories of physics, biology, et cetera–say, that children tend to get colds more than adults–you only need to show statistical correlation or a plausible mechanism for your theory to be critically accepted. However, if you make a claim that is outlandish and extraordinary, like that aliens abducted you from your bedroom, put probes up your butt, and then returned you to bed without any physical evidence other than that you woke up with a soft stool, then you’d need to present extraordinary evidence–some data that has no other rational explanation other than your story–for the claim to even be seriously considered. Far from being irritating (at least, to anyone educated in critical analysis and scientific research) it is a reasonable standard for challenging accepted theory.


I hear it often here. is the Wikipedia link for the principle you suggest, which is about deviations in mathematics. Here’s the thing: if you say you’ve seen Bigfoot in Oregon, I think you saw something which you think was Bigfoot. I don’t “believe” that you saw a large ape other than a possibly a human pretending to be Bigfoot. The normal scientific evidence of a new species is a specimen. A body if you will. You produce a body of Bigfoot examined by scientists and they say it is a species unknown to science, then I’m convinced. Same with a new toad species. Loch Ness monster? Produce a carcass. Aliens, produce a live or dead specimen. Nothing more, nothing less. Nine foot tall man? Specimen. 500 foot tall tree? Specimen. Honest Texan, Specimen. Otherwise, it is just an interesting conversation.

I do not remember where I first heard the saying but it was certainly long before I began reading anything on these boards.

If I got a phone call from the High School that my son the senior skipped a class then the evidence of that call alone would be sufficient for me to believe it is true. It isn’t an extraordinary claim. If I get a phone call saying that same son has been awarded a Merit scholarship to his college of choice that he didn’t even apply for, that call would not be enough to convince me. That would be an extraordinary claim and would require extraordinary evidence. Why? Why not just the same ordinary evidence as the claim that he skipped a class during his senior year?

Let’s stick with my reporting what I saw in Oregon. If I (presume known to you to be an honest and reputable source) told you I saw a brown bear in Oregon you’d very likely believe I was telling you the truth, both that I saw something that I believed was a brown bear and that I was likely correct. If I told you I saw Big Foot then you want the body, live or dead, before you’ll believe me. Either I am lying or I am mistaken but the possibility that I am telling the truth and correct will need more than my say so.

The principal is straight forward even to students at Opal High. :slight_smile:

Anyway, my point was that such may be true but is insufficient cause to deny replicated observations, even if you doubt the explanation offered as cause.

March 23, 1989 is over two decades ago.
After twenty years, researchers are still at the point of saying that* something funny goes on* when an electric current is applied to palladium in water or D[sub]2[/sub]O.
Maybe in another twenty, they’ll have a more detailed explanation.

I think what it really is, is that folks here sometimes have a bit of a hair trigger for declaring that something is an extraordinary claim.

  • and I don’t think this is just ordinary skepticism. I think it’s an extension of adopting the skeptic approach, but a little too diligently. IMO, it’s sometimes a little bit too hard to convince people of things here, even things that are demonstrably true.

Can you give a few examples of this?


This has been in the news for a while now. Ive seen it on the mainstream news, slashdot, science daily, etc.

The main reason its not publicized as much as the original work is that because the original work could not be deplicated elsewhere. People are waiting for others to duplicate the work and let the peer-review process work before going out of control.

Even if you have cold fusion, the real question is can this stuff scale? Can it ever deliver power on a commercial scale? Considering we have nuclear fission at our disposal the idea that this stuff is worth celebrating, even if true, is a bit premature. Waste isnt a big deal as a lot of it can be used in a breeder reactor with re-processing. The rest can easily be stored for thousands of years.