Cold fusion seems to be picking up steam.
A NASA scientist has now weighed in on this, Dennis Bushnell of Langley Research Center, and he seems to think there’s something to it.
There’s even a first theoretical framework for it, called the Widom-Larsen theory. It’s similar to what I outlined in general terms in a previous post, but with a small twist. Instead of needing to overcome the Coulomb barrier and jam a proton (hydrogen nucleus) directly into a nickel nucleus, this proposes that the hydrogen atom itself collapses into a neutron, which — lacking any electrical charge — effectively gets sucked straight into the nickel nucleus to produce an unstable isotope of nickel. The nickel then decays by emitting an electron and a gamma ray, converting it to copper.
From the outside, it looks exactly the same: same energy yields, same gamma rays, same everything. However, this mechanism is much more energetically plausible.
I find the signs of retrenchment even more interesting. I commented in my earlier post on how this is no longer called “cold fusion,” but instead “low-energy nuclear reaction” or “lattice-assisted nuclear reaction” (LENR or LANR, respectively). Dr. Bushnell had this to say:
The Strong Force Particle physicists have evidently been correct all along. “Cold Fusion” is not possible. However, via collective effects/ condensed matter quantum nuclear physics, LENR is allowable without any “miracles.”
The distinction here has to do with the “strong” nuclear force versus the “weak” nuclear force. Dr. Bushnell is doing some face-saving redefinition here, by making sure that “cold fusion” is directly tied to “miraculous” claims about the strong nuclear force, while what is actually happening is probably a result of the weak nuclear force. As it turns out, the strong force has been studied extensively, because it allows us to make big bombs. The weak force has received relatively little attention over the past century, because there was no obvious way to use it to make things blow up.
What Bushnell is really saying here is, “All right, we physicists were dead wrong about cold fusion, and we collectively and very publicly destroyed two scientific careers, as well as suppressing an entire field of research for twenty years. But you see, we weren’t really wrong at all, because it isn’t ‘Cold Fusion’ — it’s LANR, which is something we’ve just never looked at.”
It’s traditional face-saving, and while I’m going to point it out, I’m not going to pick it up and force him to eat it. What’s done is done.
What I find interesting is that this retrenchment indicates a radical shift in the politics of physics. This is covering fire to allow future research to reach some safe harbor of respectability, yet without requiring recantation or apology from any of the still-living and influential physicists who called cold fusion a load of bunk. Neatly done.
The fact that face-saving has begun indicates, to my mind, a very high degree of interest.