Back in the early nineties I was in Nagoya Japan attending a conference on nuclear physics. One of the Japanese scientists had been invited by the organizers to set up a very simple electrochemical experiment demonstrating cold fusion. She had one set of test tubes with ordinary “light” water and another with “heavy” water. Identical power was being provided to both experiments. The cold fusion experiment was much hotter than the control experiment.
The apparatus was a rather typical cold fusion experiment modelled on the work of Martin Fleischmann. There was a platinum anode and a hydrogen loving metal cathode. The electrochemical process provided hydrogen evolution at the cathode and some of it “loaded” the cathode to a high fugacity. When the fugacity went higher than about 0.85 : 1 the cold fusion would start producing prodigious easily palpable and measurable heat. Dr. Natoya had a simple Geiger counter to show that no radiation was being produced. The thermal power output of the cold fusion water cell exceeded the electrical power input by tens of percent.
This was in the very early days of cold fusion and the topic was hugely controversial. Many papers were presented at the meeting showing similar results to Dr. Notoya but her’s was the only demonstrated on site. I became friends with her and we spent considerable time together that week. She like to go out on the town after the meetings and had many good stories about being a woman in a Japanese man’s world of science, and physics at that.
She was determined to prove that here particular experiments were proof of the cold fusion reaction being easy to reproduce. But she was a not sufficiently proud of her very special talent for being exquisitely careful and patient in screening materials and being patient in the requirement for careful loading of the cathode. If one over worked the cathode while loading micro-fractures would result in the fugacity or loading reaching a stopping point before it reached the fusion point. A simple fact to this day that defeats the vast majority of people who try to reproduce the classic Fleischmann electro-chemical effect.
At her demonstration countless people wanted to know why she did not convert the excess heat to electricity. Her response was simple and elegant, “why should I make my apparatus me electricity when all I need is hot water for my bath.” She was from the farthest northern part of Japan where winter is long and cold. Her logic was infallible, but not admired by many who wanted cold fusion to be something big.
There has been a raging controversy about her demonstration ever since. In my view it’s always been as much of a controversy over a somewhat frumpy Japanese woman trumping a bunch of testosterone mutants.
The take away reward for me was to meet such an earnest and careful scientist and have a chance to hang out together.
She was equally careful in her preparation to go out on the town and would always take the few of we western science geek guys to the parts of Nagoya where the most beautiful Japanese women were out for the evening window shopping walks. She saved me more than once from walking around the wrong side of an inebriated Japanese man who might be stopped near the side of the sidewalk. Had she not stopped me I’d have found my pant leg drenched with Japanese hot water.
After the meeting some of the trolls of cold fusion did their best to discredit Notoya’s work. History has shown that the trolls were just that and had their own work that was in competition to Notoya that they were intent on promoting.
The field of cold fusion, like most fields of science, is seemingly dominated by an endless cabal of self-appointed skeptics. Like internet trolls today their only contribution to science is never in doing the work but rather in always criticizing the work of others. It’s hard committing the years of work to become a good experimentalist, even harder to do painstaking experiments, and dead easy to simply cultivate a large, abusive, mouthy ego.
Notoya’s work was repeated many times with similar results to what she had shown. But the attacks on her by the detracting trolls and the fact that she was a woman in a man’s world pretty much beat her down.
Later the main detractor of Notoya became famous for his advocacy of the 9/11 twin tower collapse being a grand conspiracy with exotic explosives having been planted throughout the towers. According to his gospel the planes were merely being a ruse to distract the public from the sinister conspiracy to bring them down by secret government agents. Of course this is the same “scientist” who supports the notion that the earth is only 10,000 years old and that dinosaur fossils were intentional creation placed in the rock strata of Utah, his home state, to make something interesting for paleontologists to study as God’s infinite plan provided for.
One of the other people at the meeting wrote this description ….
I was happy to have seen Notoya’s demonstration of how to make hot water for her bath, and for her guidance on how to avoid other forms of Japanese hot water.