Friday, October 06, 2017

Three books about cold fusion/LENR

Steven Krivit has written three books or one book in three parts - as you wish - about cold fusion (shortly CF in the sequel) - or low energy nuclear reaction (LENR) - which is the prevailing term nowadays and preferred by Krivit. The term "cold fusion" can be defended only by historical reasons: the process cannot be cold fusion. LENR relies on Widom-Larsen model (WL) trying to explain the observations using only the existing nuclear and weak interaction physics. Whether LENR is here to stay is still an open question. TGD suggests that even this interpretation is not appropriate: the nuclear physics involved would be dark and associated with heff=n× h phases of ordinary matter having identification as dark matter. Even the term "nuclear transmutation" would be challenged in TGD framework and "dark nuclear synthesis" looks a more appropriate term.

The books were a very pleasant surprise for many reasons, and I have been able to develop my own earlier overall view by adding important details and missing pieces and allowing to understand the relationship to Widom-Larsen model (WL).

1. What the books are about?

There are three books.

  1. "Hacking the atom: Explorations in Nuclear Research, vol I" considers the developments between 1990-2006. The first key theme is the tension between two competing interpretations. On one hand, the interpretation as CF involving necessarily new physics besides ordinary nuclear fusion and plagued by a direct contradiction with the expected signatures of fusion processes, in particular those of D+D→ 4He. On the other hand, the interpretation as LENR in the framework of WL in which no new physics is assumed and neutrons and weak interactions are in a key role.

    Second key theme is the tension between two competing research strategies.

    1. The first strategy tried to demonstrate convincingly that heat is produced in the process - commercial applications was the basic goal. This led to many premature declarations about solution of energy problems within few years and provided excellent weapons for the academic world opposing cold fusion on basis of textbook wisdom.

    2. Second strategy studied the reaction products and demonstrated convincingly that nuclear transmutations (isotopic shifts) took place. This aspect did not receive attention in public and the attempts to ridiculize have directed attention to the first approach and to the use of the term "cold fusion".

    According to Krivit, CF era ended around 2006, when Widom and Larsen proposed their model in which LENR would be the mechanism (see this). Widom-Larsen model (WL) can be however criticized for some un-natural looking assumptions: electron is required to have renormalized mass considerably higher than the real mass; the neutrons initiating nuclear reactions are assumed to have ultralow energies below thermal energy of target nuclei. This requires electron mass to be larger but extremely near to neutron-proton mass difference (see this, this, this, and this). The gamma rays produced in the process are assumed to transform to infrared radiation.

    To my view, WL is not the end of the story. New physics is required. For instance, the work of professor Holmlid and his team (see this and this) has provided new fascinating insights to what might be the mechanism of what has been called nuclear transmutations.

  2. Fusion Fiasco: Explorations in Nuclear Research, vol II" discusses the developments during 1989 when cold fusion was discovered by Fleischman and Pons (see this) and interpreted as CF. It soon turned out that the interpretation has deep problems and CF got the label of pseudoscience.

  3. Lost History: Explorations in Nuclear Research, vol III" tells about surprisingly similar sequence of discoveries, which has been cleaned away from history books of science because it did not fit with the emerging view about nuclear physics and condensed matter physics as completely separate disciplines. Although I had seen some remarks about this era I had not not become aware what really happened. It seems that discoveries can be accepted only when the time is mature for them, and it is far from clear whether the time is ripe even now.

What I say in the sequel necessarily reflects my limitations as a dilettante in the field of LENR/CF. My interest on the topic has lasted for about two decades and comes from different sources: LENR/CF is an attractive application for the unification of fundamental interactions that I have developed for four decades now. This unification predicts a lot of new physics - not only in Planck length scale but in all length scales - and it is of course fascinating to try to understand LENR/CF in this framework.

For instance, while reading the book, I realized that my own references to the literature have been somewhat random and not always appropriate. I do not have any systematic overall view about what has been done in the field: here the book makes wonderful service. It was a real surprise to find that first evidence for transmutation/isotope shifts emerged already for about century ago and also how soon isotope shifts were re-discovered after Pons-Fleischman discovery. The insistence on D+D→ 4He fusion model remains for an outsider as mysterious as the refusal of mainstream nuclear physicists to consider the possibility of new nuclear physics. One new valuable bit of information was the evidence that it is the cathode material that transforms to the isotope shifted nuclei: this helped to develop my own model in more detail.

Remark: A comment concerning the terminology. I agree with the author that cold fusion is not a precise or even correct term. I have myself taken CF as nothing more than a letter sequence and defended this practice to myself as a historical convention. My conviction is that the phenomenon in question is not a nuclear fusion but I am not at all convinced that it is LENR either. Dark nucleosynthesis is my won proposal.

What did I learn from the books?

Needless to say, the books are extremely interesting, for both layman and scientist - say physicist or chemist. The books provide a very thorough view about the history of the subject. There is also an extensive list of references to the literature. Since I am not an experimentalist and feel myself a dilettante in this field as a theoretician, I am unable to check the correctness and reliability of the data represented. In any case, the overall view is consistent with what I have learned about the situation during years. My opinion about WL is however different.

I have been working with ideas related to CF/LENR (or nuclear transmutations) but found books provided also completely new information and I became aware about some new critical points.

I have had a rather imbalanced view about transmutations/isotopic shifts and it was a surprise to see that they were discovered already 1989 when Fleisch and Pons published their work. Even more, the premature discovery of transmutations for century ago (1910-1930) interpreted by Darwin as a collective effect, was new to me. Articles about transmutations were published in prestigious journals like Nature and Naturwissenschaften. The written history is however history of winners and all traces of this episode disappeared from the history books of physics after the standard model of nuclear physics assuming that nuclear physics and condensed matter physics are totally isolated disciplines. The developments after the establishment of standard model relying on GUT paradigm looks to me surprisingly similar.

Sternglass - still a graduate student - wrote around 1947 to Einstein about his preliminary ideas concerning the possibility to transform protons to neutrons in strong electric fields. It became as a surprise to Sternglass that Einstein supported his ideas. I must say that this increased my respect of Einstein even further. Einstein's physical intuition was marvellous. In 1951 Sternglass found that in strong voltages in keV range protons could be transformed to neutrons with unexpectedly high rate. This is strange since the process is kinematically impossible for free protons: it however can be seen as support for WL model.

Also scientists are humans with their human weaknesses and strengths and the history of CF/LENR is full of examples of both light and dark sides of human nature. Researchers are fighting for funding and the successful production of energy was also the dream of many people involved. There were also people, who saw CF/LENR as a quick manner to become millionaire. Getting a glimpse about this dark side was rewarding. The author knows most of the influential people, who have worked in the field and this gives special authenticity to the books.

It was a great service for the reader the basic view about what happened was stated clearly in the introduction. I noticed also that with some background one can pick up any section and start to read: this is a service for a reader like me. I would have perhaps divided the material into separate parts but probably your less bureaucratic choice leaving room for surprise is better after all.

Who should read these books? The books would be a treasure for any physicist ready to challenge the prevailing prejudices and learn about what science is as seen from the kitchen side. Probably this period will be seen in future as very much analogous to the period leading to the birth of atomic physics and quantum theory. Also layman could enjoy reading the books, especially the stories about the people involved - both scientists and those funding the research and academic power holders - are fascinating. The history of cold fusion is a drama in which one can see as fight between Good and Evil and eventually realize that also Good can divide into Good and Evil. This story teaches about a lot about the role of egos in all branches of sciences and in all human activities. Highly rationally behaving science professionals can suddenly start to behave completely irrationally when their egos feel being under threat.

My hope is that the books could wake up the mainstream colleague to finally realize that CF/LENR or - whatever you wish to call it - is not pseudoscience. Most workers in the field are highly competent, intellectually honest, an have had so deep passion for understanding Nature that they have been ready to suffer all the humiliations that the academic hegemony can offer for dissidents. The results about nuclear transmutations are genuine and pose a strong challenge for the existing physics, and to my opinion force to give up the naive reductionistic paradigm. People building unified theories of physics should be keenly aware of these phenomena challenging the reductionistic paradigm even at the level of nuclear and condensed matter physics.

2. The problems of WL

For me the first book representing the state of CF/LENR as it was around 2004 was the most interesting. In his first book Krivit sees 1990-2004 period as a gradual transition from the cold fusion paradigm to the realization that nuclear transmutations occur and the fusion model does not explain this process.

The basic assumption of the simplest fusion model was that the fusion D+D → 4He explains the production of heat. This excluded the possibility that the phenomenon could take place also in light water with deuterium replaced with hydrogen. It however turned out that also ordinary water allows the process. The basic difficulty is of course Coulomb wall but the model has also difficulties with the reaction signatures and the production rate of 4He is too low to explain heat production. Furthermore, gamma rays accompanying 4He production were not observed. The occurrence of transmutations is a further problem. Production of Li was observed already in 1989, and later russia trio Kucherov, Savvatinova, Karabut detected tritium, 4He, and of heavy elements. They also observed modifications at the surface of the cathode down to depth of .1-1 micrometers.

Krivit sees LENR as a more realistic approach to the phenomena involved. In LENR Widom-Larsen model (WL) is the starting point. This would involve no new nuclear physics. I also see WL as a natural starting point but I am skeptic about understanding CF/LENR in term of existing physics. Some new physics seems to be required and I have been doing intense propaganda for a particular kind of new physics colfusion again (see this).

WL assumes that weak process proton (p) → neutron (n) occurring via e+ p→ n+ν (e denotes electron and ν for neutrino) is the key step in cold fusion. After this step neutron finds its way to nucleus easily and the process continues in conventional sense as analog of r-process assumed to give rise to elements heavier than iron in supernova explosions and leads to the observed nuclear transmutations. Essentially one proton is added in each step decomposing to four sub-steps involving beta decay n→ p and its reversal.

There are however problems.

  1. Already the observations of Sternglass suggest that e+ p→ n+ν occurs. e+ p→ n+ν is however kinematically impossible for free particles. e should have considerably higher effective mass perhaps caused by collective many-body effects. e+ p→ n+ν could occur in the negatively charged surface layer of cathode provided the sum of the rest masses of e and p is larger than that of n. This requires rather large renormalization of electron mass claimed to be due to the presence of strong electric fields. Whether there really exists a mechanism increasing the effective mass of electron, is far from obvious and strong nuclear electric fields are proposed to cause this.

  2. Second problematic aspect of WL is the extreme slowness of the rate of beta decay transforming proton to neutron. For ultraslow neutrons the cross section for the absorption of neutron to nucleus increases as 1/vrel, vrel the relative velocity, and in principle could compensate the extreme slowness of the weak decays. The proposal is that neutrons are ultraslow. This is satisfied if the sum of rest masses is only slightly larger than proton mass. One would have mE≈ mn-mp Δ En, where Δ En is the kinetic of neutron. To obtain correct order of magnitude for the rate of neutron absorptions Δ En should be indeed extremely small. One should have Δ E=10-12 eV and one has Δ E/mp= 10-21! This requires fine tuning and it is difficult to believe that the electric field causing the renormalization could be so precisely fine-tuned.

    Δ E corresponds to extremely low temperature about 10-8 K hard to imagine this at room temperature. Thermal energy of the target nucleus at room temperature is of the order 10-11Amp, A mass number. Hence it would seem that the thermal motion of the target nuclei mask the effect.

  3. One should also understand why gamma rays emitted in the ordinary nuclear interactions after neutron absorption are not detected. The proposal is that gamma rays somehow transform to infrared photons, which would cause the heating. This would be a collective effect involving quantum entanglement of electrons. One might hope that by quantum coherence the neutron absorption rate could be proportional to N2 instead of N, where N is the number of nuclei involved. This looks logical but I am not convinced about the physical realizability of this proposal.
To my opinion these objections are really serious. In the following two posts I will disuss in detail TGD based view about these phenomena interpreted in terms of dark nucleosynthesis.

See the chapter Cold fusion again "Hyper-finite Factors and Dark Matter Hierarchy" or the article Cold fusion, low energy nuclear reactions, or dark nuclear synthesis?

For a summary of earlier postings see Latest progress in TGD.

Articles and other material related to TGD.


Alain_Co said...

There are other books you may find useful.

Excess Heat by Charles beaudette is a reference about the history and epistemological errors...

about the science itself, the book of Edmund Storms
The science of LENR
is a reference
as many of Edmund Storms articles

Current Science special section is also a reference, and refers to many interesting articles

about theory you cannot ignore (and probably will reject)
The explanation of LENR by Ed Storms

among interesting directions

about WLS theory

good struggle, it is a total connundrum

Matti Pitkänen said...

Thank you for the references: anyone interested to see what really happened, should read them.

This topic is extremely interesting as a material shattering naive beliefs about what science is. At student years I firmly believed the naive narrative about linear or even exponential development of science taking place discovery by discovery. All scientists were component, intellectually honest, and passionate in this narrative. During last decades my suspicions have been growing as I have realized that even physics resembles religions in having dogmas, which are taboos. The books gave additional details support for the new view. Written science history is history of winners and as such it should be taken.

Alain_Co said...

The vision of Thomas Kuhn on the evolution os science is explaining much, but there is more.

In recent time I'm afraid Science is swallowed by the success of theory to drive technology in a linear and predictive way.
Today I hear anti-scientific critics (or justifications) of some results, that are simply based on theoretical justifications.

This is the end of science.

Theory candidates are anyway required to design and interpret experiments, but as servants not as a masters.

Matti Pitkänen said...

Cannot but agree. The interaction of theory and experiment is absolutely necessary and requires communications. By looking how atomic physics and quantum theory were born one understand how decisive this interaction is. After the success of theory stagnation took place. One glaring example besides transmutations relates to quantum measurement theory. It was totally dogmatized and decayed into interpretations. What happened: did mediocrits replace the revolutionaries? Or did the generation of elite prevent communication? Same in particle physics after the establishment of standard model.