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Hot Fusion in a Beaker?

By ucblockhead in News
Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 04:26:38 PM EST
Tags: Science (all tags)

About twelve years ago, a couple of scientists in Utah claimed to have discovered something called cold fusion, the fusion of hydrogen nuclei in a beaker using simple lab equipment. They were soon laughed off of the scientific stage. Now another group of scientists has claimed to have produced nuclear fusion using beakers, speakers and acetone. This time, the cries of "crank" or "hoax" may not come so quick.

This group, located at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, is not making any sort of claim for "cold fusion", but instead claims to have created conditions known to cause fusion, in a beaker at room temperature. This is not as crazy as it sounds. The process uses cavitation, which is the creation of very small bubbles in a liquid which almost immediately collapse, causing very high pressure and heat as they implode.

Cavitation has long been the bane of propeller designers, thought of only as a hinderance until just recently, when the concept has popped up both in the design of ultra-high speed torpedoes and the study of noisy shrimp.

While the recent report is still controversial the team making these claims have reported their findings not in off-the-cuff remarks to the press, but to the peer reviewed Science, which has made their papers (warning:PDF) public. Essentially what they have done is to blast beakers of acetone with soundwaves. They then detected higher levels of tritium than expected. Tritium is a fusion byproduct.

Unlike "cold fusion", this claim does not require any revision to existing nuclear physics theory. The claim is that these (very tiny) bubbles briefly create temperatures and presures that are known to be hot enough to cause hydrogen molecules to fusion.

Whether this is actually useful is an open question. Unlike the "cold fusion" guys, the Tennessee researchers are not claiming to have created a system which generates more energy than it receives, and indeed, it is very likely that the actual amount of fusion taking place is miniscule in relation to the amount of sound energy needed to produce the cavitating bubbles.


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Hot Fusion in a Beaker? | 17 comments (14 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
Is the research peer-reviewed? (4.16 / 6) (#3)
by M0dUluS on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 02:49:37 PM EST

I noticed that in the /. presentation of this story a big deal was made about the fact that it was going to be published in "peer reviewed" Science. Does this mean that the actual paper has been peer reviewed or that it is being published in a journal which mostly has peer-reviewed articles? Is it a letter-to-the-editor, a feature article or what?

I haven't taken the time to look at the actual issue of Science and would appreciate knowing whether the repeated phrase "peer reviewed journal" is an attempt to wrap some respectability around a speculative report. This wouldn't be the first time that Science has done something like that: they are in a status war with Nature and have been accused of unseemly behavior in the past when they published papers from TIGR when the Methanococcus janaschii genome was sequenced but didn't make the data available to the "peers"

"[...]no American spin is involved at all. Is that such a stretch?" -On Lawn
Yes, it seems so (4.80 / 5) (#4)
by ucblockhead on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 03:03:40 PM EST

One of the PDFs lined to, the "perspectives" article, says that it was peer reviewed.

At least one team failed to replicate the results, though.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

failed replication (5.00 / 5) (#7)
by eyespots on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 03:57:52 PM EST

It's interesting because other people tried to reproduce the team's results with the same equipment, and failed.

The original publishers say that this group failed to calibrate their equipment correctly. Who's right? I don't know yet, but at least this group is giving their equipment out so their results can be verified. Most scientists nowadays wouldn't do this, so I respect these guys. Even if they end up being wrong in the end.

[ Parent ]

Different equipment (none / 0) (#15)
by wiredog on Wed Mar 06, 2002 at 07:26:30 AM EST

According to Science, the other team used a different neutron detector.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
[ Parent ]
Most of the articles in Science are peer-reviewed. (5.00 / 3) (#6)
by demi on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 03:55:03 PM EST

Science is, along with Nature, in the top tier of the primary literature. The research articles that are printed as 'reports' have been through the peer-review process. The comments, summaries, and solicited essays are not. It's better to have a paper subjected to peer-review before publication but the process is no guarantee of quality. We discussed this here at k5 some time ago with regard to a controversial book.

[ Parent ]

I'm glad they published it... (4.60 / 5) (#8)
by demi on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 04:06:55 PM EST

because it was the right thing to do. Their results are reasonable, according to their contemporaries, although efforts on the part of others to reproduce the experiment have so far been unsuccessful. That's not out of the ordinary, however, because with some experiments there is a very steep learning curve, or a mysterious uncontrolled variable that needs to be compensated for. If, after five years, nobody has been able to duplicate their work, then I'd say it has been discredited. I wouldn't expect a major backlash in this case, though, because the stakes are not as high as some people may think.

Sonication may now be an accepted method of locally initiating nuclear fusion, which may give insights to its application in controlled fusion reactions. Unfortunately, the acoustic and thermal energy input is much greater than the small amount of spontaneous fusion energy produced, so I don't see this as a viable 'miracle energy source' and the authors don't see it that way either. Claims like that are what brought about the scathing reaction to cold fusion, and the subsequent embarassment to chemists worldwide for having put any faith into it. So putting together a paper and getting it out in the literature was the right thing to do.

from Lahey's nephew... (3.40 / 5) (#9)
by dukethug on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 04:30:25 PM EST

My friend Mike is the nephew of Richard Lahey, one of the physicists on the team. He (Richard Lahey, not my friend) is referenced in the WshPst article, which in my mind, has the most important quote about this whole thing, taken from Science:

"The premature critics of the result, and those who believe in it, would both do well to cool it, and wait for the scientific process to do its work."

You know that scientists all over the world have to be saying to themselves, "Oh well, there goes my huge DIA budget to explore laser fusion. Hey! Maybe I can get a job at (new defense contractor) Revlon!"

Couple general principles to suggest here... (3.50 / 2) (#10)
by qon on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 06:15:18 PM EST

1. The likelihood that the claimed science is accurate is inversely proportional to the audacity of the claim.

2. Approach any claim with interested skepticism.

3. Scientific discoveries often have no commercial relevance, regardless of public enthusiasm.

People get excited about reported scientific discoveries, and that's great. But it's also great to keep our heads screwed on too.


Audacity (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by ucblockhead on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 08:26:24 PM EST

That is true. What is important here is that the claim is no where near as "audacious" as "cold fusion" was. What they are claiming is not, on its face, unbelievable. It doesn't require any new models. In truth, the interesting parts of this are the fluid dynamics, not the nuclear physics.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Whoah! (2.50 / 2) (#12)
by Anonymous 242 on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 08:37:18 PM EST

Wasn't Kenau Reeves in a movie about this idea a few years ago? IIRC, he got the bubbles to burst just right by playing his electronic keyboard at just the right pitch.

The movie (3.00 / 1) (#13)
by Anonymous 7324 on Tue Mar 05, 2002 at 09:46:51 PM EST

is "Chain Reaction", as I recall. And yes, it was something like that. :)

[ Parent ]
keanu and a hot bubble bath? where is this going.. (2.50 / 2) (#14)
by Subtillus on Wed Mar 06, 2002 at 12:10:04 AM EST

I seem to remember that in that movie they had confused cold fusion with cheap H2 production.

with regard to hot fusion, i'll wait to see what nature says, while science is a good journal, they've been known to post some real flops.
i'll find a link to back that up tommorow.

Nature is not infalliable, either (none / 0) (#17)
by Hal9001 on Wed Mar 06, 2002 at 01:04:55 PM EST

I know they've published their share of erroneous results. I think I read an article in either Science or Nature about publishing gaffs and I remember that there were examples cited from both journals.

[ Parent ]
Neutrons and tritium (3.00 / 1) (#16)
by wiredog on Wed Mar 06, 2002 at 07:28:36 AM EST

The interesting thing about this is the apparent production of neutrons (more came out than went in) and tritium. Two signs that fusion has occured.

Peoples Front To Reunite Gondwanaland: "Stop the Laurasian Separatist Movement!"
Hot Fusion in a Beaker? | 17 comments (14 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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