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79) Calorimetry of beta decay in 1930’s

Ludwik Kowalski (July 13, 2003)
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ, 07043

The book of C.B. Beaudette (“Excess Heat: Why Cold Fusion Research Prevailed,” Oak Grow Press, LLC, South Bristol, Maine, USA, 2000) has already been used to quote an interesting story (see item 78). Another story from that book refers to the dilemma of beta decay energy which confronted physicists in 1930’s. Calorimetry played an important role in that dilemma, as in cold fusion. Another similarity was in the apparent violation of the energy conservation law. The atomic masses of elements involved in beta decay were known and scientists calculated the amount of energy released in each transformation. The energy obtained from calorimetric experiments, however, turned out to be about three time smaller than expected.

According to Beaudette. “While those involved in the measurements thought this conflict meant that the missing energy got transported away by a particle presently unkown, most of physics refused the hypothesis and simply waited. They did this on a supposition that there might yet be an error in the heat measurements. In about twenty years, instruments were invented that were able to detect the neutrino. In proved to be the new particle that carried away the ‘missing’ energy. The calorimetric measurements and their corresponding hypothesis of a new particle were vindicated. This pattern of disbelief may be what is happening in cold fusion research where the measurements will be held in abeyance untill the nuclear answers are in.”

Analogies, of course, have limited validity. The beta decay dilemma resulted from difficulties associated with detection of theoretically anticipated neutrinos, the cold fusion dilemma, on the other hand, resulted from the absence of an accepted theory. Calorimetric measurements of beta decay energy were always reproducible but calorimetric measurments of cold fusion are not always reproducible. This, according to Beaudette, shows “that the determining variables were under control” in beta decay experiments but not in the initial cold fusion experiments. Irreproducibility (see item 54 on my list) is not necessarily an indication that an experimental procedure is faulty. Fleischmann and Pons were the most qualified scientists in the world to perform electrochemical experiments for testing the hypothesis of excess heat.

Describing Fleischmann Beaudette wrote: “When he arrived [from Imperial College to Durham University], most electrochemistry was done by measuringthe current and voltage applied to the electrolytic cell. Fleischmann brought to the laboratory much more in the way of instrumentation. This improvement was widely recognized, and led to a rejuvenation of the field.. . . . In 1967, Hills [chairman of chemistry department at Southampton University] invited Fleischmann to accept the position of Faraday Professor of Electrochemistry. His charge, when he arrived at Southampton, was to build a world class electrochemistry group. . . .

From 1970 to 1972 Fleischmann was president of the International Society of Electrochemists. In 1985 . . . he bacame a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the most prestigeous honor for a scientist that England had to offer.” What is the basis for accusing him to be a voodoo scientist? He came to the University of Utah to work with his former student, Pons. According to Beaudette “they published eight major papers on their measurements of anomalous power in scientific journals between July 1990 and 1995, and these have easily withstood the published criticism. . . . At Southampton, Fleischmann had gothered together components for an experiment in the early 1970s wherin hydrogen gas would be loaded into palladium metal in extreme amount. He had chosen the deuterium form of hydrogen for this experiment to see if nuclear fusion might be triggered.” That was the hypothesis he came to test in Utah.

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