Breaking Through Editorial:
Cold Fusion Returns to MIT
by Eugene Mallove
MIT is usually only too happy to lend its official
imprint and sponsorship to conferences on subjects of scientific
and technological importance. Holding such meetings on the MIT campus
is common. But on August 24-29, 2003, when the Tenth International
Conference on Cold Fusion (ICCF10) meets in Cambridge, Massachusetts,
it will not be at MIT. Instead, cold fusion scientists will convene
a few blocks away from MIT at the Royal Sonesta Hotel. They will
come from Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy,
Japan, Korea, Russia, the U.K., the U.S., and elsewhere a
struggling, highly underfunded community of researchers. Will MIT
President Charles Vest or any other high-level MIT dignitary be
there to welcome the participants? Not a chance.
The organizing chairman of ICCF10, who will greet
the attendees, is MIT Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering
and Computer Science, Peter L. Hagelstein, who in April 1989 became
one of the earliest proponents of coherent metal lattice dynamics
theories as the underlying generic mechanism for cold fusion phenomena.
That academic "impropriety" has earned Hagelstein no honors
at MIT quite the contrary. But with the advent of ICCF10,
cold fusion will, in a manner of speaking, have "returned to
MIT" to haunt it, to annoy it with a remembrance of things
past that are not pleasant. In some sense, cold fusion can't ever
return to MIT, for in truth it never really left.
We are now almost fourteen years into the cold fusion
controversy, which began with the March 23, 1989 announcement by
Drs. Fleischmann and Pons at the University of Utah. The more things
change, the more they stay the same: Less than twelve hours after
the 1989 cold fusion announcement, the Exxon Valdez (recently de-commissioned
for scrap in 2002!) had run aground and spilled millions of gallons
of oil into the pristine waters off Alaska. In November 2002, another
oil tanker has spilled a few million more gallons, off the coast
of Spain; it has sunk to the ocean floor and will likely continue
to exude oil for years. Had the scientific process gone the way
it should have, cold fusion by now might have begun to end oil spills
forever, as the horrors of the Fossil Fuel Age receded.
On April 14, 1989 during the height of the cold fusion
furor, Professor Hagelstein gave a talk on cold fusion theory at
MIT to a packed, closed-door meeting of a few hundred faculty and
staff who hung on and debated his every word. On November 4, 2002,
Hagelstein gave an open-door cold fusion seminar in the very same
room at MIT, this one under the auspices of his department's Research
Laboratory for Electronics (RLE). Only about thirty-five stragglers
came. This intentionally understated notice had appeared on campus
bulletin boards and had made its way to Internet discussion groups:
SPECIAL RLE SEMINAR
Monday, November 4, 2002
Grier Room B, 34-401B
Refreshments at 3:45 p.m.
Talk at 4:00 p.m.
Are There New Physical Mechanisms
with the Anomalies in Metal Deuterides?
Professor Peter L. Hagelstein, MIT
Low-level neutron emission from TiD was claimed
by Jones in an electrochemical experiment in March of 1989. Pons,
Fleischmann, and Hawkins claimed an excess heat effect in PdD
in electrochemical experiments, also at the same time. It was
shown that the screening between deuterons was insufficient to
account for the effect claimed by Jones. In the case of the Pons
and Fleischmann effect, the associated theoretical problems were
far more severe: To obtain a heat effect of nuclear origin without
associated radiation, some kind of new physics and associated
reactions would be required. Moreover, whatever new process was
to account for the effect, it had to dominate by many orders of
magnitude over the conventional fusion reaction pathways. In the
absence of replications of either experiment at respected labs,
by mid-1989 both claims were rejected by the scientific community.
Several hundred researchers around the world
were uncomfortable with such a quick dispatch of these claims,
and continued to work on the problem over the years. After hundreds
of experiments, nine international conferences, and several thousand
manuscripts, the community that has continued to pursue the general
topic of anomalies in metal deuterides has more or less reached
a consensus that there are a variety of real effects that are
deserving of serious scientific research. A variety of unexpected
effects are presently claimed, including low-level fusion and
heat; observations of helium in association with excess energy;
substantial accumulation of tritium; fast charged particles that
are not from dd-fusion reactions; induced radioactivity; and transmutations.
I will outline briefly in the talk some of
what I consider to be key experimental results that appear to
shed light on the physical mechanisms that are involved. I have
recently proposed a relatively straightforward model based on
phonon exchange effects in an effort to understand the anomalies,
which I will present in the talk. The new model appears to allow
for an interpretation of most of the anomalies, and suggests the
possibility of an unambiguous clarification of the physical basis
of the effects.
Some background on the talk, which Peter Hagelstein
e-mailed me before the meeting (after my inquiry):
I was invited to give a colloquium earlier
at Berkeley [September 30] to the Nuclear Engineering Department.
. .The Berkeley talk was well received. There were a relatively
small number of attendees [since I gave a "stealth"
title and abstract, so as not to embarrass my hosts], including
some important nuclear physicists from the Physics Department.
The talk was interactive, and when everyone had a chance to air
their questions, some good got done. I got some positive feedback
I had decided to give a talk at MIT this fall as well, since in
my view things have gotten to the point that we are beginning
to know something about what is going on. . .It is not really
possible for me to do a "stealth" mode talk at MIT,
due to the history. After three different drafts of title and
abstract, I ended up deciding on one that was just straightforward.
. .I have no idea what is going to happen. I am hoping for an
interactive talk with a smallish but interested audience. . .In
my view, the primary purpose of the talk is to inform the MIT
people in my department and lab about what I have been interested
in, and to provide an overview of some of the results that I have
The talk in the oak-paneled Grier room was, indeed,
No news reporters came to Hagelstein's smallish, not well-attended.
About ten of those present were the "converted" already
myself, other MIT graduates Dr. Mitchell Swartz and Dr. Brian Ahern,
retired MIT Prof. Keith Johnson, Dr. Graham Hubler from the Naval
Research Laboratory, and a few others. The others were mostly students.
There were only a few professorial-looking people there. None of
the bitter enemies of cold fusion came the subject has been
so killed off, in their view I'm sure, that there was no need to
show up. It was a most depressing meeting, overall the passage
of time and the unfulfilled dreams for cold fusion being all too
evident. Peter did give an unusually clear explanation of his theory,
which he nicely integrated with some of the experimental evidence.
But by his own admission later, he fell short by not mentioning
right up front the huge amount of confirming evidence that already
exists! If anything, he downplayed the evidence and focused on theory
instead. He somehow failed to mention anywhere in his lecture the
multiple reproductions of MIT graduate Dr. Les Case's helium-heat
correlation in catalytic fusion experiments at SRI. So, most of
the talk was devoted to the hairy mathematics of how Peter's lattice
phonon energy exchange mechanisms work to bring nuclear energy into
the atomic realm. Some of the more erudite in the audience, who
were new to the subject, evidently were encouraged by the existence
of a plausible theory for the disputed phenomena. I suppose we should
be grateful even for such limited progress.
A most important MIT person was at the meeting
Prof. Mildred Dresselhaus, who during the last year or so of the
Clinton Administration headed the U.S. DOE Office of Energy Science.
She had signed the negative DOE report in 1989, but has been friendly
with Prof. Hagelstein for many years, and to her credit has continued
to be interested in cold fusion. But during her brief stint at DOE,
Dresselhaus evidently didn't pull any strings for greater openness
toward cold fusion either at DOE or at MIT, though she could have.
This is cowardice, plain and simple. She failed to stand up for
what she evidently can see is something that obviously needs a second
chance an official re-evaluation. Today, with no help from
Dresselhaus, a handful of cold fusioneers in official and semi-official
positions are engaged in an effort, likely to be futile, to bring
about a $10 million cold fusion rebellion from within DOE! Hope
springs eternal among the desperate. But I wish the rebels well
and, other than these remarks, I won't "blow their cover."
It might actually help them if the APS's Park found out about it
and mentioned it in his column!
After thirteen years in the cold fusion war, I've
personally had quite enough of the Establishment's shenanigans.
The mob-rule treatment of cold fusion has alienated me from MIT,
from the scientific community, and from the whole business of academic
science in general. We spend billions and billions of dollars on
all manner of dead end projects, and this "little project"
of cold fusion with potentially huge consequences is
given nothing at all. In fact, it is kicked down endlessly by paid
thugs the hot fusioneers and the well-funded "theory-of-everything"
high energy physicists. Now cold fusion is simply dead, as far as
the academic gangsters are concerned.
No news reporters came to Hagelstein's November seminar,
not even from the MIT student newspaper, The Tech. Dr. Swartz
and I tried to get The Tech to attend by going to its offices
a few hours before the meeting and explaining to them why they should
cover this; at least they listened. Some of those young "kids"
were barely out of diapers when cold fusion was big news! How depressing.
I had faxed the MIT official newspaper, MIT Tech Talk, for
which I used to write before I resigned in disgust in June 1991.
No reporter came a deliberate slap in the face. Tech Talk
has run full-page stories about MIT's hot fusion projects in recent
times. Neither the Boston Globe nor the Boston Herald
was there. It may have been just as well; there were no visible
heated science politics for them to cover. They could at least have
managed a story under this rubric: "MIT Professor Continues
Difficult Quest for Cold Fusion." Something like that would
have been appropriate.
Cold fusion continues to flounder in the doldrums,
to which the scientific establishment maliciously consigned it.
It therefore falls to the upcoming ICCF10 in Cambridge to effect
a virtually miraculous sea state change. It may happen, let us hope.
ICCF10's high profile venue is a critical opportunity for cold fusion
to show its merit and promise, and for that we have MIT to thank.
Many eyes will be on ICCF10 due to the extraordinary role that MIT
played in the history of cold fusion.
On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the startling
announcement by Drs. Fleischmann and Pons on March 23, 1989, Infinite
Energy (in IE #24) explored the major role of MIT in shaping
the history of the investigation of cold fusion. That 55-page report
will soon be available in full for free downloading (in pdf format)
from our website (www.infinite-energy.com). But because the subject
of MIT's responsibility is of such overarching importance
because of the issues of scientific ethics involved let me
abstract liberally from what I have written earlier.
Excess power evolution and unexpected ("impossible")
nuclear changes in hydrogen-metal systems come under the rubric
"cold fusion." Whatever its complete microphysical explanation
turns out to be, cold fusion is of surpassing importance from the
perspective of both science and technology. MIT's role in this affair
bares close scrutiny by all who value what they assume MIT stands
for: the open-minded quest for the truth about Nature and the application
of new discoveries in science toward the betterment of humanity.
What MIT's record says about the actions and inactions in the area
of cold fusion by one of the world's great technical universities
has far-reaching implications for everyone interested in the heated
cold fusion controversy.
Unfortunately, many people still believe that the
claims of a new, clean, abundant energy source and nuclear reactions
occurring near room temperature were quickly and definitively disposed
of by the careful work of scientists at MIT in the spring of 1989.
Nothing could be further from the truth. These investigators at
MIT did not produce definitive work. In fact, quite the contrary.
A great opportunity for pioneering by MIT was missed and the baby
was thrown out with the bath water at least temporarily.
The actions of certain MIT staff members in 1989 were
a major influence on the news media, on other scientists, and on
the funding support for cold fusion. This is a matter of record.
Though a small group of open-minded, involved faculty, staff, and
alumni pursued and continue to pursue cold fusion, MIT as a whole
did, indeed, acquire the deserved reputation as a "Bastion
of Skepticism" on cold fusion. Sad to say, it was initially
only a handful of MIT staff and faculty who gave MIT this reputation.
They inappropriately drove many others on campus and off
to dismiss the claims from Utah in 1989 and the research that has
Perhaps the greatest hope lies in the youth
the students and graduates of MIT (and of other colleges and universities)
who will examine the scientific literature objectively (a growing
body of this technical literature can be downloaded from http://lenr-canr.org).
Most MIT professors today are simply oblivious to the subject. If
they were to examine the research record of the past decade they
would readily see the opportunities to enter what is clearly an
area of enormous potential. MIT students and alumni/ae may need
to become catalysts that move faculty members and administration
in the right direction, away from the present untenable position
of denying well-established experimental facts and the theoretical
developments by professors such as Peter L. Hagelstein and Keith
H. Johnson, formerly of the Department of Materials Science and
The events of 1989-1992 are past history, but one
must learn from the past or be condemned to repeat it. As the record
shows, the first assault against the truth in 1989 was press manipulation
by faculty members engaged in the lavishly funded hot fusion research
at MIT's Plasma Fusion Center (PFC). They did not believe the Utah
work at all. They suspected that Pons and Fleischmann were engaged
in a "scam," and they were concerned that if the public
were to have a too open-minded attitude toward the prospect of cold
fusion as an energy solution, funding for their beleaguered thermonuclear
program would be endangered even more so than in its perennial
brushes with budgetary extinction.
The truth about the calorimetry experiment performed
at MIT in 1989 under DOE contract funding (DOE Contract DE-ACO2-78ET51013)
is stark and unambiguous. Its purported "negative" result
was used to influence the U.S. Department of Energy's rushed 1989
report against cold fusion. In alphabetical sequence, it is the
very first report cited in the U.S. DOE's ERAB Cold Fusion Panel
report of 1989. Some would characterize the data manipulation in
the sixteen-author MIT paper of 1989 as mere "data fudging."
We do not mince words: the use of improperly handled scientific
data to draw in the public mind and in the mind of the scientific
community a completely false conclusion about an emerging discovery
of overarching importance to humankind is high-level scientific
misconduct, plain and simple.
It is remarkable that in 2002 the press can lavish
such attention to recent instances of apparently egregious fraud
in some mainstream physics areas, yet be unwilling to tackle a scientific
fraud with far wider significance. We do not know for certain who
unethically manipulated the data in the cold fusion reproduction
experiment at MIT, and that is not important, but it was, indeed,
inappropriately manipulated. "Inappropriately manipulated"
is actually a very charitable way of describing what was done. We
do know, however, that this erroneous study in the spring of 1989
at the MIT Plasma Fusion Center was defended by then Plasma Fusion
Center Director Ronald M. Parker. Parker continues to play a leading
role in hot fusion. For several years after leaving the MIT Plasma
Fusion Center, he was stationed at the ITER (International Thermonuclear
Experimental Reactor) in Garching, Germany. Since 1989, the U.S.
government has funnelled billions of dollars into magnetically confined
thermonuclear fusion development on projects, such as ITER. Though
ITER funding was killed by the U.S. Congress years ago, funding
of tokamak hot fusion continues at MIT and elsewhere. There is now
a major push to get the U.S. back into the ITER funding racket (see
The record is clear: Had MIT researchers behaved responsibly
and ethically as scientists in the spring of 1989, it is most probable
that a position of open-mindedness by MIT on the difficult subject
of verifying the Utah claims would have averted the highly negative
U.S. Department of Energy Report drafted in the summer of 1989.
History would have been far different. Most likely, expensive engineering
programs aimed at hot fusion reactors would have been cancelled
in the early 1990s; plasma physics studies would have continued
at MIT, and MIT researchers, including those at the Plasma Fusion
Center, might have become the most eminent cold fusion researchers
in the world.
It was not to be. Cool heads could have reserved judgment.
They could have followed the experimental facts where they would
ultimately lead, but they chose not to. Heads were not cool, they
were hot. MIT could have been in the vanguard of the new scientific
field as befits its leadership role in science, but this did not
happen. MIT chose and is continuing to choose defense
of its existing professional support from the Federal government
over meticulously documented evidence of a new scientific field
and the pathway to revolutionary technologies. In fact, the current
President of MIT, Dr. Charles M. Vest, who ignored my written concerns
in 1991-1992 and those of Dr. Mitchell R. Swartz, is on a Federal
panel that now has major impact on U.S. DOE energy research funding.
Dr. Vest played a key role in papering over the misdeeds of 1989.
To use press manipulation and data manipulation to misdirect billions
of dollars in Federal scientific funding is scandal of the highest
To use the phrase "scientific schlock,"
which then MIT Plasma Fusion Center Director Prof. Ronald M. Parker
used against Fleischmann and Pons' work in 1989 (and later falsely
denied using it, perhaps fearing legal action), aptly characterizes
the methods used by certain MIT researchers against the new science
of low-energy nuclear reactions. It was not only data manipulation
or "processing," as Parker later would contend on the
1994 BBC and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation cold fusion documentary
"Too Close to the Sun," but there was a whole range of
dirty tricks, deceptions, and self-deceptions that MIT professors
and senior officials employed against cold fusion.
Some may say, "Why drag up the negative past?
Why not just emphasize the positive in the pages of your magazine?"
To some degree that argument has merit, and we would like to be
as positive as we can be. But we cannot ignore the reality that
MIT's reputation as a "bastion of skepticism" against
cold fusion has had a devastating effect on the progress of scientific
investigation. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is using bogus
conclusions from MIT investigators in 1989 to deny U.S. citizens
their Constitutional rights to be granted patents on their intellectual
property. Some of those are MIT graduates! If generations of MIT
students, alumni/ae, and professors do not learn from the tragic
errors of the past, how can the future be anything but dim?
How can the scientific and technological might and
the vast resources of MIT be turned to this most important scientific
problem of cold fusion and new energy, if the subject is relegated
to nonsense and pseudoscience by past unacknowledged misdeeds
done by individuals, but with the implied imprint of MIT? How many
scientists are not tuned into cold fusion precisely because in their
minds MIT's "smart people" back in 1989 proved that there
was nothing to cold fusion claims? Lots. We hear from them all the
MIT's Plasma Fusion Center (PFC) continues to receive
tens of millions of dollars per year for its tokamak hot fusion
program. This clearly makes no sense now that cold fusion has begun
to demonstrate its commercial potential as both an energy source
and in the low-energy remediation of radioactivity generated in
the past from the commercial and defense industry fission nuclear
enterprises. Who would wish to waste further billions of dollars
on a technology hot fusion that has already come under
serious question for its technological and economic viability as
a twenty-first century energy source, if there were a clear alternative?
At least one alternative is here low-energy
nuclear reactions (LENR), a.k.a. "cold fusion." Does the
world want it badly enough to find some way to pay for this research?
If most governments won't fund it, will entrepreneurs and venture
capitalists? Not many of the latter have stepped forward. And if
venture capitalists won't fund LENR, who will? Will people of generous
spirit consider donating tax-deductibly with targeted contributions
for this research through the mechanism of the charitable New Energy
Foundation, Inc. (see the NEF
section of our site) One can hope. The grand experiment begins
Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.