Skepticism Grows Over Cold Fusion SOME WERE CALLING IT the "Woodstock of chemistry." In a large arena at the Dallas Convention Center, more than 7000 chemists got firsthand details of what--if it is true--would be perhaps the greatest discovery of the century: cold fusion. Co-discoverer Stanley Pons, an electrochemist at the University of Utah, stood before his peers and explained the procedure that he says produces fusion at room temperature. It was the first time that a large group of scientists has had a chance to grill Pons on his work, and the tone of the questions indicated that many of the chemists there were beginning to accept the results.
On the other hand, many scientists in other fields remain skeptical, and that skepticism is growing as all but a few of the attempts at verification produce negative results. In general, it seems that physicists are much less convinced of the reality of Pons' results than are chemists, and fusion physicists are not convinced at all.
The fusion furor began 23 March when Pons and Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton, England, claimed they had produced a sustained fusion reaction in a simple electrochemical cell consisting of little more than a palladium and a platinum electrode placed in a glass test tube filled with heavy water. A voltage applied across the electrodes splits the water into oxygen and deuterium--a heavy isotope of hydrogen--and the deuterium is absorbed into the palladium electrode. There, Pons and Fleischmann say, it undergoes fusion. As proof, they offer measurements of heat generated by the cell as well as the observation of a few neutrons, which are by-products of fusion.
At first sight, the experiments seem unbelievable, yet Pons and Fleischmann are well-respected electrochemists, and there have been a few tentative reports of confirmation. One of the more embarrasing episodes in the fusion saga came when Georgia Tech researchers announced on 10 April that they had detected neutrons from fusion cells, then retracted te claim three days later. It seems that their neutron counters had a...
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