Con + Fusion

Opening Science Blogs, my eye jumped to, Go away, cold fusion, by PZ Myers, who writes his Pharyngula blog in the Life Science section. Myers is no physicist, but on basic scientific caution questioned the latest E-Cat demonstration reported in Extreme Tech:

Again with my childlike understanding of these kinds of processes – if I were in a room with something burning with a million times the intensity of gasoline, even if it was a tiny quantity, I’d be worried about containment. Why aren’t these guys? They all seem to be assuming that there is 100% efficiency in the conversion of hydrogen plus nickel into electricity – but where does that happen in the real world?

Despite an earlier article in which Extreme Tech’s Sebastian Anthony claimed to want to finally see results for either hot or cold fusion, he nevertheless dutifully publicized the latest E-Cat claims, though he equivocates:

The researchers are very careful about not actually saying that cold fusion/LENR is the source of the E-Cat’s energy, instead merely saying that an “unknown reaction” is at work. In serious scientific circles, LENR is still a bit of a joke/taboo topic. The paper is actually somewhat comical in this regard: The researchers really try to work out how the E-Cat produces so much darn energy – and they conclude that fusion is the only answer – but then they reel it all back in by adding: “The reaction speculation above should only be considered as an example of reasoning and not a serious conjecture.”

Anthony fails to note that the “unknown reaction” might be a heavy electrical cord that is never unplugged. Also even cold fusion believer Stephen Krivit observed that the experiment was flawed because Rossi himself inserted and removed the reactant samples.

Following up the Myers post, impressively-bearded Ethan Siegel at Starts With a Bang recalled his smackdown of the E-Cat test from a few years ago .. and then some:

The E-cat: cold fusion or scientific fraud? (Synopsis)

Throwback Thursday: The Foolish Fallacy of Cold Fusion (Synopsis)

Comments of the Week #32: From black hole death to cold fusion crackpots

Among his commenter/tormenters is Alain, who probably hasn’t forgiven me for deleting the magnum opus of links he attempted to insert in my comments section.

Writing about hot fusion, Siegel notes that we have managed Inertial Confinement, Magnetic Confinement and Magnetized Target Fusion here on Earth. Though none of them have produced more energy than they consume, he urges us to invest in nuclear fusion and in traveling to Mars – presumably by means other than John Carter’s astral projection.

We need to invest in the long-term future like it’s our only hope, while simultaneously stepping forward in the present to bring that future to reality. Whether we invest in nuclear fusion or not, we should be sending human beings to Mars. Whether we send human beings to Mars or not, we should be investing in nuclear fusion. And if-and-when we do develop and control nuclear fusion, it won’t be a quicker trip to Mars that we set our sights on, but ever farther and more remote targets. There’s a whole Universe out there, and shame on us if we choose not to explore it.

I do wonder, though, if hot fusion will ever yield dividends. Lockheed-Martin’s vaunted Skunk Works shop supposedly claimed that they would have a truck-sized fusion reactor in three to ten years. MIT Technology Review asks, Does Lockheed Martin Really Have a Breakthrough Fusion Machine?

… many scientists are unconvinced. Ian Hutchinson, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT and one of the principal investigators at the MIT fusion research reactor, says the type of confinement described by Lockheed had long been studied without much success.

Hutchinson says he was only able to comment on what Lockheed has released—some pictures, diagrams, and commentary, which can be found here. “Based on that, as far as I can tell, they aren’t paying attention to the basic physics of magnetic-confinement fusion energy. And so I’m highly skeptical that they have anything interesting to offer,” he says. “It seems purely speculative, as if someone has drawn a cartoon and said they are going to fly to Mars with it.”

Others wonder where they will get the tritium required, and Business Insider pours some cold heavy water on any claim that Skunk Works’ ideas are more than theoretical.

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