In the very early days of cold fusion the man who was in charge of most of the money for research, aside from what Fleischmann and Pon’s, was Tom Passell at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto. While I didn’t qualify for EPRI funds Tom and I somehow became friends, and remain so to this day.
He and I would talk and as he knew me as one of those unstoppable Palo Alto garage experimentalists we got along. Not having money I had to think outside of the box or I just couldn’t do anything. One day Tom rang me up with a tale about a strange meeting he’d had. A couple of retired guys had come into his office and told him a remarkable tale about how one, Roger Stringham, was doing garage science just like me. Well actually Roger’s work was in a laundry room under a log cabin in the hills west of Palo Alto, not anything nearly as palatial as a Palo Alto garage.
What had been revealed to Tom were some results from a few experiments where 20 khz ultrasound was used to sonify heavy water so that an asymmetric cavitating bubble collapse would take place on a metal foil target all inside a tightly closed reaction chamber which was filled with flowing heavy water, also with normal water controls. The temperature of the flowing water was measured with a hand held meter and the results recorded by hand in the lab journal. A couple of times the water was degassed after a particularly good experiment as evidence by anomalous heat. At least one of those gas samples showed very high anomalous helium!
This was in the age of single bubble sonoluminescence reports in the science news which was almost as mysterious as cold fusion.
Sonoluminesence had similar roots to cold fusion. Both go back to the 1930’s when they were first both observed and reported and then both surfaced again 50 years later in 1989.
Anyway not long after I had talked with Tom about this, and he knew I’d do this, I hunted down Roger as I had many cold fusion and nuclear scientists and went to visit him. He was first very cautious and met me at Buck’s Restaurant in the ultra-trendy back woodsy town of Woodside west of Palo Alto.
Roger lived there in Woodside in a grove of giant Redwood trees and the end of a four wheel drive only driveway. Roger talked with me about his work and discovered that as a penniless garage experimentalist and not a Silicon Valley vulture scientist or capitalist I was not a threat.
Eventually he invited me to his subterranean laundry room complete with a super population of black widow spiders which Roger said were his security service. You’d not have wanted to walk in that basement laundry room in the dark that’s for sure. I saw the apparatus and the lab notes and most of all listened to white haired white bearded Roger, who looked all the world like Gandalf, stories of his life as an experimentalist. He was/is also one of the most paranoid people I have ever met, ces’t la vie.
I volunteered to help him in his experiments. I thought it crazy that he only took temperature readings on this flow through calorimeter using a hand held thermocouple device and recording by pencil in a notebook. But Roger was old school. I said I would fix up a computer data logger as one of my volunteer tasks. I was allowed to help in a number of experiments and got my two cents worth into making modifications to the experiments that I thought might improve the tantalizing but not totally convincing results.
Over time Roger and I became partners and formed EQuest Sciences and moved into a much more proper lab down the mountain in the Palo Alto inventors heartland. Together we made many refinements and revisions to the sonofusion experiments. We were friends for a long time. The work proved to be very productive but the better the results the more we were ostracised by both friend and foe of cold fusion. For those inside the cold fusion science community the idea that our collapsing bubbles could insert deuterons into metals where fusion would occur was heretical, everyone at that time believed that only electrolysis of some sort had the ability to load metals with deuterons and keep them there.
Roger and I were far to eclectic (read scary) as garage and laundry room experimentalists for the establishment institutional science types. I however was know pretty much as the most promiscuous cold fusion scientist in the world. I would shamelessly talk to anyone in the field and being a good experimentalist and scientist I had “trade goods” in the form of results that for some were worth talking about. I managed to get us some fantastic support albeit never cash, just support services, considerable from my friend Tom Passell at EPRI.
About Sonofusion as we practised. IT JUST WORKS!
Lot’s of heat for extended periods of time, weeks… And ever better wildly crazy impossibly anomalous isotope production!
Look for another instalment of this story soon….