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294) A 1995 overview of the field by Richard Oriani

Ludwik Kowalski; 4/20/2006
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

Looking for something else I found an interesting reference to a 1995 overview of the cold fusion controversy. It is a document worth preserving. The overview was presented orally in an address by Richard Oriani to alumni of the Institute of Technology at the University of Minnesota. I worked with Dr. Oriani about one year ago and know how strongly he is motivated to solve the mystery of cold fusion. Richard's background in physical chemistry, metallurgy and material science made him .well prepared to study cold fusion as soon as it was announced. What I am posting below was taken from an e-mail message of <> posted on 3/2/1995. The author tells us that Oriani's address was printed in the University of Minnesota's Office of Technology “Research Review,” Vol. 24, No. *. February 1995, pages 1, 4-5.

Cold fusion, Richard Oriani told an audience of Institute of Technology alumni, "is certainly worthy of study and funding."

There are good reasons for skepticism, he acknowledged, but there are also good reasons for genuine interest. "Here is some new kind of nuclear physics, and it is too late to heap ridicule on it," he said.

Oriani, professor emeritus in the University's Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, spoke at a December 7 seminar sponsored by the IT Alumni Society. He wished to give his audience "an appreciation of where cold fusion research is after these five years," he said. "People have made a lot of headway."

Oriani framed his presentation with comments on the reputation and abuse of cold fusion, but he devoted most of his time to reviewing two sets of data from the scientific literature: first, "credible experiments" by twelve groups of researchers, including Oriani's own group, who have measured energy production from palladium and deuterium at relatively low temperatures; second, reports from ten groups who have measured tritium, helium, neutrons and charged particles released from combinations of deuterium with palladium or titanium. Throughout his review, Oriani emphasized the lengths the experimenters went to avoid contamination of samples and error in instruments.

When nuclear reactions release energy, Oriani's explanation of the data began, it is because some part of the mass involved is converted to energy. For example, in one of the reactions theoretically associated with cold fusion, an atom of deuterium combines with an atom of tritium to yield helium, a free neutron, a decrease in mass of 0.0188 atomic mass units (amu), and energy at the rate of 1.49 x 10 raised to the -10 joules per amu (equivalent to 8.97 x 10 raised to the 13 joules per mole).

In the five most accurate energy- measurement experiments, the energy output ranged from 106 percent to 170 percent of the energy put into a palladium- deuterium system. For two groups of experimenters, there was a net gain of energy every time they tried the experiment. Oriani's group produced a net gain in two attempts, but thirty subsequent attempts produced no energy. The inconsistent results, said Oriani, seem to depend on the sample of palladium. His third success came after the thirty
failures when he obtained a new sample of palladium from a
palladium was obtained from Texas A&M University. Other groups have measured, in three less accurate experiments, energy production ranging from 5 to 15 times the energy input.

Oriani's second set of reports dealt with observed effects that could only result from nuclear reactions. For example: Fritz Will et. al., electrolyzed heavy water with cathodes made of palladium from two different suppliers. (Heavy water is D (subscript) 2 O, i.e. water containing deuterium rather than common hydrogen. Will was director of the Utah Cold Fusion Institute). One type of palladium yielded no tritium. The other type yielded tritium at 50 times the background level, in four trials out of four. From that second type of palladium, 140 samples not subjected to electrolysis were found to contain no tritium.

Melvin Miles and Benjamin Bush, using palladium and heavy water, produced helium in concentrations ranging from 5.4 parts per million to 9.7 ppm. The background concentration of helium in air is 5.2 ppm. George and Stringham, using sound to cavitate heavy water on palladium foil, produced helium at 10 times background levels in ten trials out of ten. Y. R. Kucherov, et. al., by means of "glow discharge" with a palladium electrode in low- pressure deuterium gas, produced helium at 4 to 100 times background levels and counted 10 raised to the 7 neutrons per second.

Skepticism and ridicule of cold fusion began in 1989, Oriani remembered, when Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann announced their discovery through publicity rather than peer review. "They described their work so poorly it seems they wanted to keep it obscure," said Oriani. His own interest in cold fusion was sparked shortly after that, by the work of Steven Jones at Brigham Young University.

Since the Pons and Fleischmann debacle, cold fusion experiments have not been adequately published, Oriani argued, because the journals Science and Nature have been "caustic and abusive" toward the work. When Oriani tried to publish his own experiments, he said, the two journals' replies were to the effect of "We already know cold fusion doesn't work, and you don't understand your results. We're not going to publish them." Oriani's reply: "Many things are published without full understanding, and that's the way it should be."

Oriani then published in the December 1990 issue of Fusion Technology (Oriani, John C. Nelson, Sung-Kyu Lee, and J. H. Broadhurst, "Calorimetric Measurements of Excess Power Output During the Cathodic Charging of Deuterium into Palladium," volume 18, pp. 652- 658). Fusion Technology and the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry and Interfacial Electrochemistry, where Pons and Fleischmann first published, are the only two journals still publishing such work, said Oriani.

"I want you to understand my attitude," said Oriani. "A new idea should expect to fight its way to recognition. But in this particular case the fight has been particularly hindered by ridicule. Cold fusioneers have been accused to incompetence, self-delusion, and pathological science. Bockris at Texas A&M was accused to fraud by Gary Taubes in Science [vol. 248 (1990), pp. 1299-1304], of doping his experiment with tritium. That certainly was not the case."

Among sound reasons for skepticism regarding cold fusion, Oriani acknowledged several:

One, "the results are not yet [consistently] reproducible, and we don't know why," he said.

Two, no one has satisfactorily explained what is taking place. "There are as many theories as theorists," said Oriani.

Three, classical physics says the nuclear reaction supposedly taking place can only take place under tremendous heat and pressure, like inside the Sun.

Four, "Cold fusion has attracted a lot of crackpots and mystics," said Oriani. "You have no idea the letters I receive from people who know cold fusion works because the spirit has told them."

It may not be odd, then, that cold fusion research has been difficult to publish or fund. Small federal funding has come from only one agency, the Office of Naval Research, said Oriani. A half-dozen other U. S. groups are working "on a shoestring." The University of Minnesota originally funded Oriani's experiments. They are now "self-funded," he says. In addition, the U. S. Patent Office rejects all applications that mention cold fusion.

Nonetheless, said Oriani, there are pockets of rich funding for cold fusion: SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute) has $2 million a year from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Japanese interests have equipped a lab in Southern France for Pons and Fleischmann, and significant work is being done in several labs in Japan. "The Japanese are really going after this," said Oriani. "The U. S. is getting behind the 8-ball." A U. S. corporation is, however, buying every cold-fusion-related patent application it can get its hands on, he added.

And the reason EPRI and the Japanese are investing in cold fusion? "If cold fusion is real," said Oriani, "it's an inexpensive source of energy."

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