My best friend in the world of science is now in his eighties. He worked as a nuclear scientist all his life, still does. One of his key bits of wisdom that has stuck with me is his saying, “Data, speak to me.”
Here’s an example of data speaking, even howling to be listened to.
In an experiment I performed not expecting any sort of radiation but hoping for a glimmer of it as that would prove a nuclear process was in hand I set up a simple test tube size experiment. I positioned a small Geiger counter from Aware Electronics that logs its data to a laptop just a few centimetres from the experimental tube.
When the experiment was underway suddenly the Geiger starting collecting a few extra counts. Thinking that the signal might be very weak x-rays I reached for something on the lab bench to place between the “source” and the “Geiger.” What came to hand was a lid from a tin can. When I placed it in front of the Geiger counter so as to shield it in fact the count rate went up significantly.
OK I said to myself that is strange and tried it again and again with always the same result. Now what could be coming out of the experiment and hitting a bit of iron and making more radiation. OK neutrons were always demanded by “cold fusion” skeptics and perhaps this experiment which was a “not so cold fusion experiment” might be the lucky one.
I wondered what else might catch a neutron and yield even more radiation. Ah yes, Silver might do nicely, so I scrounged in my lab until I found a piece of silver metal about the size the thickness of a business card.
Placing silver foil in between the experiment and the Geiger counter was very revealing. The instant the silver was in the count on the Geiger counter went so high as to totally saturate the counter, many thousand of counts. It only took me a couple of tries at this to realize that I was not at all safe doing the experiment at arms length and I shut it down.
OK some quick back of the envelope calculations using the data and I was a becoming a bit worried. Surely there was neutron like radiation here in abundance. Also in light of this it was not such a good idea to be doing this in the flesh. A call to a scientist friend at a major lab resulted in confirmation that neutrons were the likely beasties making these incredible counts in the Geiger counter. Not long after, a day or so, I received one of those calls one never quite expects in a scientists life.
I picked up my telephone and on the line in an Eastern European accent a man introduced himself as Edward Teller. He said he had heard of my experiment from a mutual friend and that he would appreciate it if I might tell him about what I had done. I told him I was delighted to have his help trying to think of what the heck my data was telling me. I also apologized to him that my experiment was sorely lacking in proper modern technology. I wished I had an energy dispersive neutron spectrometer but alas all that I had was a simple Geiger counter. If I was indeed measuring neutrons they were inferred from N Gamma reactions on the nuclei of the different metals I had used.
Dr. Teller stopped me in my apology by saying, “Please Russ do not apologize for the way you have measured these neutrons, you have measured neutrons in a simple way, the way we measured neutrons when real men first discovered them. Now tell me more of this experiment and these meshuga particles you are seeing.” The only ingredients in the experiments test tube was Palladium metal in a very special form and deuterium gas. A stimulus was applied to produce the reaction.
Alas while I’ve always wanted to repeat this experiment in a proper fashion various aspects of life in general took me in another direction. The recent news reports from NASA however are remarkably tantalizing as they bear some very strong similarities to my own experiment of more than fifteen years ago.
I am reminded me of Martin Fleischmann telling me his own tale of seeing the first trail of cold fusion more than 50 years ago. He found the data speaking to him so loudly but in such a heretical theme that he said he dared not follow the trail while a tenured professor in the UK. He choose to wait until he became a Professor Emeritus when following such an out of the box trail might do no harm to his “career.” It’s a shame that pioneers in science must worry not of the dodging arrows they might dodge that are shot at their hearts but rather of the many arrows they inevitably find in their backs.
So is there a theory explaining what cold fusion is in the context of a perfect physics explanation. For a lot of years I followed what I now realise was a dumb manner of talking about theory. What I learned was that theory is useful but it is a terrible task master foisted upon experimental scientists by over bearing theorists, you just have to watch a couple episodes of the television series “The Big Bang” to understand just how self engaged theorists demean and dismiss experimentalists. Long before that incitful TV show I learned this the hard way by trying to get along with my own Sheldon’s. Dumb, dumb, dumb… never again.
Cold fusion is really very much a raw pioneer territory. It’s very existence violates so many physics dogmas that it is nearly impossible to conform traditional physics to the world of cold fusion. It really is an ecosystem in the territory of the atom. The whole idea that the ancient Greeks who first created the notion of an atom being the be all end all of all things and that this notion has persevered to this day ought to set one to looking for reality far outside of that box.
Today many of my colleagues in Cold Fusion are afraid to speak of what must be a vast number of reactions with that name… they have been beaten up upon so pressingly and persistently by the drudges and trolls of conventional dogma that they dare not say “cold fusion” they now call it LENR “Low Energy Nuclear Reactions.” That’s fine, sigh.
I’ll try to provide some of the insights I have gathered since that first day in the coffee room at EPRI the day after Prof. Fleischmann and his sidekick Stan Pons announced their miracle to the world. It’s been a such a strange strange ride and it ain’t over yet.