~e; fusing nuclear particulars

From bc <human@electronetwork.org>
Date Thu, 7 Mar 2002 20:03:08 -0600

  [most everyone may have heard of the pop-can fusion experiment that has
  been widely discredited. and so it is somewhat hard to know what to make
  of another 'coffee cup' experiment that demonstrates the nearness of fusion.
  also, given the bubbles, maybe it is somehow related to the quantum foam...]

Raises Promise of Clean, Limitless Energy From Bubbles

'Science' Magazine: Researchers Claim Tabletop Fusion Success

by Erik Baard

According to an article to be published in Science, tabletop 
fusion-the Holy Grail of new-energy dreamers-may have been achieved, 
possibly paving the way to cheap, clean power. Scientists say they 
have discovered that, by using the shock waves of collapsing 
bubbles-yes, bubbles-they can create the heat and compression needed 
to fuse atoms. If the experiment passes further scrutiny, tabletop 
fusion could open a means to produce power using common elements like 
hydrogen, and with far fewer nuclear waste products than traditional 
uranium-fed fission nuclear power plants.

"I think there's definitely fusion," says the paper's coauthor, 
Richard T. Lahey Jr., a professor of engineering at Rensselaer 
Polytechnic Institute. "Don't think I'm being too flippant in saying 
`Yeah, it's fusion.' There are a lot of ways to create fusion, so 
that's not a shock. But it is a shock to make fusion so cheaply. You 
should see-we have something like two coffee cups." Lahey has been 
pursuing the process for eight years, most intensively for the past 
three, with funding from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the 
Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Lahey's former 
doctoral student Rusi P. Taleyarkhan led the effort at Oak Ridge and 
secured much of the funding.

To a layman, the claims made by Talevarkhan and Lahey might sound 
very much like the cold-fusion hype that surrounded Stanley Pons and 
Martin Fleischmann in 1989. But a key difference here is that 
computer simulations of shock waves indicate a tiny area of the 
bubbles may reach up to 10 million degrees Kelvin, as hot as the 
center of the Sun, where fusion naturally takes place. The phenomenon 
of sonoluminescence-by which bubbles collapse and produce great heat 
and flashes of light-has been observed for a century, and even shrimp 
use it in nature to stun prey. What is new is simply its application 
to generate heat for fusion. Rather than water, the "bubble fusion" 
experiment used the chemical acetone with its normal hydrogen atoms 
replaced by deuterium, a heavy hydrogen isotope that can undergo 
fusion reactions.

Still, that hasn't stopped critics from blasting the paper as cold 
fusion reincarnate. Dr. Robert Park of the American Physical Society, 
who has for a decade ridiculed new-energy theorists for not 
publishing papers in respected journals, broke a Science embargo 
Friday to lash out against the prestigious publication for going 
ahead with the paper. Park's What's New weekly e-mail bulletin made 
reference to the "cold fusion fiasco of 13 years ago" when discussing 
the "bubble fusion" paper.

Science moved up its publication date to an online edition on March 7 
and lifted its embargo today because "the reports were getting 
increasingly distorted," according to Ginger Pinholster, a 
spokesperson for the magazine and its publisher, the American 
Association for the Advancement of Science. Pinholster specifically 
cited Park in the decision. "We knew the paper would be 
controversial, but it went through a rigorous peer-review process. We 
felt the best service would be to get it out in the public domain and 
let scientists debate it and try to reproduce the experiment, and 
assess if it's a viable energy alternative or not," she explained.

On that note, Lahey is cautious. While he is confident that fusion is 
occurring more efficiently than in other systems that use 
accelerators, magnets, and electric arcs, he says, "What do you do 
with it is not so clear at this point. We can reproduce it, and we 
know other scientists are going to have to reproduce it in their 
labs, but the question is, can we scale up and can we sustain a chain 
reaction? If we could it would solve a tremendous amount of problems. 
It would really be a boon, but of course that's the next dream."

While, as Pinholster notes, "Dr. Park's analysis didn't undergo peer 
review," it is drawn from work by two nuclear scientists, Mike J. 
Saltmarsh and Dan Shapira, who argue they didn't see the fingerprints 
of fusion in neutron production when they replicated the Oak Ridge 
experiment. In the review, Shapira and Saltmarsh, also of Oak Ridge, 
report that they found "no evidence" for one of the telltale products 
of fusion reactions, and that further research is needed. In their 
response, Taleyarkhan and colleagues report that Shapira and 
Saltmarsh did, in fact, detect neutron emissions, but the reviewers 
had improperly calibrated their detector, and thus misinterpreted the 
findings. But Taleyarkhan's group agrees that further study is needed.

The attacks outside academia strike Lahey as personally motivated. 
The U.S. government funds traditional fusion to the tune of hundreds 
of millions of dollars. "People are worried about the impact these 
poor little coffee cups are going to make on the Tokamac (a huge 
machine at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory). That's nonsense. 
We're not going to affect their budget, and we're at a completely 
different state of development," Lahey says. Commercial energy 
production, if possible, is "years away," he says.

Tell us what you think. editor@villagevoice.com E-mail this story to a friend.

copyright The Village Voice 2oo2. [fair use, em .edu ~e.org]

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