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Since 1988 when Professors Fleischmann & Pons from University of Utah first discovered “cold fusion”, there has been controversy as to whether the effect was an experimental artifact or whether it could be used to provide safe and inexpensive clean energy. The results claimed were not in agreement with the then-known laws of physics and skeptics drew attention to the many early negative experimental results to argue that the experiment could not be replicated. When their early experiments couldn’t be validated, most researchers concluded F&P’s results were “junk science”—and there has subsequently been little government sponsored research in the US.
Nevertheless, over the last 30 years, researchers around the world have found out why the initial results weren’t easily duplicated and some experimental configurations have been consistently able to generate net power. Largely ignored by the traditional physics establishment in the US, research efforts continue in Japan, China, Russia, India and Italy, with governmental support ramping up in Japan.
Cold fusion experiments produce little of the dangerous reaction products (neurons, gamma rays, or radioactive isotopes) that are seen in fission or traditional fusion reactions. Furthermore, the conditions necessary for cold fusion are modest compared to traditional hot fusion or fission, supporting much lower cost, high energy density implementations.
So, even though it has been demonstrated to be relatively safe and inexpensive to implement, the phenomenon is not theoretically understood yet and much work remains to convert experimental results to useful products.
Professor Hagelstein will trace the early history of cold fusion, highlighting important results and implications along the way. He will then review the theoretical issues and present his own model of what is going on, followed by a discussion of an experimental effort to test the model, with some preliminary results. Finally, he will discuss what he considers to be the necessary future directions in order to achieve commercialization.
Peter L. Hagelstein is a principal investigator in the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE) and an associate professor at MIT. He received a BS and MS degree in 1976, then his PhD in Electrical Engineering in 1981, all from MIT. He was a staff member of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1981 to 1985 before joining the MIT faculty in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1986.
Hagelstein's early work focused on extreme ultraviolet and soft X-ray lasers, receiving the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award in 1984 for his innovation in X-ray laser physics. While working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory he pioneered the work that later produced the first X-ray laser, which helped stimulate the US Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”) program.
In 1989 he started investigating cold fusion (also called low-energy nuclear reactions) and has written more than 50 papers on cold fusion while collaborating with key experimental researchers in the field. Hagelstein is the co-author of the textbook Applied Quantum and Statistical Mechanics and chaired the Tenth International Conference on Cold Fusion in 2003.