Wednesday, July 23, 2008


One of the sidelines of the Review is to follow stories about science becoming intertwined with culture, religion and politics. The purpose is not advocate a particular theory but to describe the problems faced by researchers when they enter unapproved territory, including the displeasure of funders, other academics, politicians and the media. Sixteen years ago, for example, we reported on the current state of research into cold fusion:.

Progressive Review, 1992 - You may recall the flurry of stories three years ago about that miracle of physics, cold fusion, that turned out, we were told, to be a flop, if not a scientific fraud. . . Despite an American media blackout on the subject, there are at present some 200 scientists around the world actively studying cold fusion. The Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., which does research for the electric utilities, has spent $2 million on cold fusion research since 1989 and budgeted another $3 million to be spent in 1992. On January 27, top cold fusion researchers gathered in Nagoya, Japan, to bear a series of reports on cold fusion projects. Major Japanese newspaper covered the event. The Japanese, it is estimated, are spending $10-$15 million a year on cold fusion research and the leading journal Bungeishunju says that cold fusion "is no longer open to discussion. Cold fusion experiments and replication left those levels of doubt a long time ago, and entered a more concrete stage of development. Anyone who still says, 'such nonsense, it can't be!' is simply not looking at reality.

Meanwhile, in the United States, no federal or state money is being spent on cold fusion and as recently as last November The Washington Post ran a review by the director of the American Physical Society that attacked the cold fusionists with less than scientific reserve: "If everyone knows it is wrong, why are they doing it? Inept scientists whose reputations would be tarnished, greedy administrators. . . gullible politicians who had squandered the taxpayers' dollars, lazy journalists... - all had an interest in making it appear that the issue had not been settled. Their easy corruption was one of the most chilling aspects of this sad comedy. To be sure, there are true believers among the cold-fusion acolytes, just as there are sincere scientists who believe in psychokinesis, flying saucers, creationism and the Chicago Cubs. A Phd in sciences in not inoculation against foolishness. - or mendacity."

When Jed Rothwell, who heads Cold Fusion Research Advocates, asked the editor of Scientific American why his journal had not covered the cold fusion story, he described it as "pathological science" with no merit whatsoever. Yet the Japanese version of the same publication ran a two-page story in March. And the signers of a petition to Congress to hold hearings on the matter include the names of a Nobel Laureate in physics; scientists from MIT, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Tufts, the US Army, Rockwell, Dow, and Motorola; the chair of the atomic energy commission of India, and leading scientists in Japan, China and Russia. Will cold fusion pan out? Who knows? But the indifference of the media, Congress and the Bush administration to an idea that is being treated seriously in as serious a country as Japan, an idea that even has attracted the attention of the American utility industry, seems strange at best."

And in 2003:

Sam Smith, Progressive Review - The Review - in its role as a way station for the new, the imaginative, and the abused - has remained hospitable to the cold fusionists without offering the slightest guarantee that they are right. They simply deserve to have been treated a lot better than they have been. but don't trust me. You can check it out for yourself by attending the Tenth International Conference On Cold Fusion at the Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge, MA in August. Some professor at MIT is the chair. He can probably explain it better than I can.

Now it's five year's later so perhaps an update is in order. Incidentally, along the way cold fusion has picked up the grander synonym of low energy nuclear reaction or LENR.

Steven B. Krivit, New Energy Times
Only one U.S. government group, the Navy's SPAWAR San Diego has published LENR papers (19) and does research openly. Some of the other government groups recently received internal funding to begin research, but they have been told not to publish.

Is this a good thing for science? For the U.S.? Probably not. On the other hand, the science community in India has come to terms with the fact that it missed out on 14 years of research on LENR. Will science leaders in the U.S. and other nations take notice of India's newfound interest?. . .

The U.S. may take a wait-and-see attitude with LENR research. The rest of the Western World also may wait. India is not likely to wait. Its people cannot afford to take precious food and burn it in their cars. Their hydro power is maxed out. Their coal, while plentiful and providing 67 percent of India's total electrical power, is low-grade and dirty. . .

In January, I flew to India on a speaking tour to discuss low energy nuclear reaction research. . . The unique aspect of our lecture tour in India was that, in contrast with 13 other nations, not a single LENR research project, to our awareness, had taken place in India since 1994.

One of the attendees of our Jan. 9 workshop, C.K. Mathews, succinctly explained the problem. Mathews is a managing director for Indus Scientific Pvt Ltd. and was the director of the chemistry group at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research in Kalpakkam, one of the largest nuclear research centers in the country.

"In the beginning, we did some cold fusion research, and we published our results," Mathews said, "but the negative pressure on us was so overwhelming that we had to give up everything. I am glad there is a revival."

A few of the people we met with had been extremely hostile toward the subject in the early days, many had been neutral and some had been open-minded and optimistic. But everywhere on our tour, we were received warmly and enthusiastically.

All in all, we never faced any hostility with regard to LENR. Only one person we met, a nuclear physicist at BARC, remained openly skeptical after the lecture. In general, a nearly unanimous consensus emerged; the attitude in India regarding LENR flipped. The questions shifted from "How could it be real?" to "How should we restart our research programs?" and "How can we best serve the needs of our country?". . .

I found a surprising amount of talent in high places in India with regard to materials science, which is highly applicable to LENR research. Sri Kumar Banerjee, the director of BARC, is, for example, a specialist in hydrogen in metals. The BARC research facility, perhaps the largest in India, employs 15,000 people, of which 4,500 are researchers.

Even though Banerjee did not have direct experience with LENR, that domain was not such a foreign concept to him. During our breakfast meeting, he immediately understood one of the key problems with the field. "Breakthrough science cannot be peer-reviewed," Banerjee said. "Only known science can be peer-reviewed.". . .

The most important meeting on our tour was at the National Institute for Advanced Studies on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. The title of the meeting was "One-Day Discussion Meeting on Emerging New Energy Concepts for the 21st Century - Low Energy Nuclear Reactions.". . .

The audience comprised 40 of India's top scientists and laboratory managers. Their backgrounds included nuclear physics, metallurgy, chemistry and other disciplines. . .

The bulk of the afternoon program consisted of a panel discussion with the three speakers from the morning program along with dignitaries Sreekantan, M.R. Srinivasan, Bikash Sinha and Sarukkai Krishnamachary Rangarajan.

One statement by Rangarajan carried with it a profound message. He expressed regret that he had not gotten involved to support the research earlier. "I was in a position to do something," Rangarajan said. . .

Sinha spoke about the treatment of the subject by the general science community in the past and their a priori dismissal of it.

"That kind of dogma is completely unscientific," Sinha said. "Science is not religion. It should not be faith, to believe or disbelieve. I must offer my congratulations. I see that the field has come out of the cloud of dogma. Instead of the word ‘rebirth,’ I would suggest the word ‘resurrection.’ When lots of evidences come together in one place, it is highly likely that something is there.". . .

Our journey in southern India concluded with a visit to the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research in Kalpakkam and the Indian Institute of Technology at Madras. As elsewhere, we were received graciously, and the interest and enthusiasm of the researchers and professors was strong. M. Srinivasan said he wouldn't be surprised if, by the end of the year, a half-dozen groups start LENR research programs in India.

K. S. Jayaraman Nature India
- The Indian government, which abandoned cold fusion research 16 years ago, is now being advised by its top scientists to revive it. The recommendation stems from a meeting of a galaxy of leading nuclear physicists, metallurgists and electrochemists at the National Institute of Advanced Studies held in Bangalore on January 9.

"We did great injustice to the country by stopping the research that was going on at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre," Padmanabha Krishnagopala Iyengar, considered the father of cold fusion in India, told Nature India. Iyengar, former director of BARC, who could not attend the meeting, said on phone that India had lost out 15 years by this wrong move but even now "it is not too late to revive it."

In a parallel development, Pentagram Research Centre, a private company in Hyderabad has come forward to financially back any Indian initiative on "Low Energy Nuclear Reactions" or LENR, the new name for cold fusion.

Nuclear fusion that powers the sun occurs under extreme temperature and pressure in which nuclei of hydrogen or its heavier cousins deuterium and tritium fuse to release energy. Achieving fusion at room temperature was widely believed to be impossible until March 23, 1989 when Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons at the University of Utah in the United States startled the world with their tabletop experiment.

They connected a battery to a pair of palladium electrodes immersed in a jar of water containing deuterium and showed their electrolytic cell produced heat energy in excess of what was consumed. They claimed that origin of the energy was nuclear and that deuterium nuclei were being packed into the palladium's molecular lattice in such a way for fusion to take place.

Later it became apparent from other groups and pioneering experiments by Srinivasan and Iyengar at BARC in early 1990s that the reaction produced tritium as well as helium indicating that cold fusion was real. However further work at BARC was stopped in the light of lack of consensus among mainstream physicists globally and denunciation of cold fusion by the US government. . .

Krishna Raghavendra Rao, a nuclear physicist and associate editor of Current Science , asked, "If India can spend millions on the international "hot" fusion project ITER, why not a few thousands for cold fusion?"



At July 23, 2008 10:45 PM, Blogger M. Simon said...

India should be working on this too:

Fusion Report 13 June 008


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