The Fate of Oxypolygelatin

An original container of 5% Oxypolygelatin in normal saline. 1940s.

During World War II, Linus Pauling, along with Dan H. Campbell and Joseph B. Koepfli, created a blood plasma substitute which they dubbed “oxypolygelatin.” This new compound seemed to be an acceptable substitute for human blood, but needed more testing to be approved by the Plasma Substitute Committee. Unfortunately when Pauling asked for additional funds to carry out more testing in 1945, he was denied by the Committee on Medical Research, which had been funding research up until that point.

By the time Pauling received more funding the war had almost come to a close, and it ended before oxypolygelatin got off the ground as an acceptable blood substitute. Likewise, the need for artificial blood was less pressing after the conclusion of the war. More information on the creation and manufacture of oxypolygelatin can be found in our blog posts “Blood and War: The Development of Oxypolygelatin, Part 1,” and “Pauling on the Homefront: The Development of Oxypolygelatin, Part 2.” Today’s post will focus on the patenting, ownership and uses of oxypolygelatin after World War II.

Pauling seemingly gave up on the project after 1946, mostly because widespread blood drives organized by the Red Cross and other organizations lessened the demand for artificial blood. In 1946 Pauling, Campbell and Koepfli decided to file for a patent on oxypolygelatin and its manufacturing process, which they then transferred to the California Institute Research Foundation with the stipulation that one of the inventors would be consulted before entering into any license agreement. They also noted that the Institute should collect reasonable royalties for the use of the invention, but only so much as was needed to protect the integrity of the invention.

The “Blood Substitute and Method of Manufacture” patent was filed December 4, 1946, and the Trustees of the Institute agreed to take on ownership of oxypolygelatin and the patent application in early 1947.

Notes by Linus Pauling on a method for producing oxypolygelatin. July 23, 1943.

Although it would appear that Pauling gave up on the oxypolygelatin project with the transfer of ownership, he still pushed for its manufacture years later. In October 1951, he wrote to Dr. I. S. Ravdin of the Department of Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School to inform him that oxypolygelatin was not being considered seriously enough by the medical world as a blood substitute.

Pauling insisted, “…that it is my own opinion that Oxypolygelatin is superior to any other plasma extender now known.” He likewise noted that it was the only plasma extender to which the government possessed an irrevocable, royalty-free license, so he could not understand why it was not being stockpiled and utilized.

As far as Pauling knew, only Don Baxter, Inc., of Glendale, California, was manufacturing oxypolygelatin. At this point the rights to oxypolygelatin were owned by the California Institute Research Foundation, not Pauling, and the Institute was not authorized to make a profit from it. Consequently, Pauling’s insistence on the production and usage of his invention can only be explained by a concern for humanity, coupled perhaps with an urge to see the compound succeed on a grander scale.

Later in 1951, Pauling continued to push for the usage of his invention, arguing in a February letter to Dr. E.C. Kleiderer that oxypolygelatin was superior to the plasma substitutes periston and dextran. In Pauling’s opinion “the fate of periston and dextran in the human body is uncertain…these substances may produce serious injuries to the organs, sometime after their injection.”

Oxypolygelatin, on the other hand, was rapidly hydrolyzed into the bloodstream and would not cause long-term damage. It was also a liquid at room temperature, unlike other gelatins, and was sterilized with hydrogen peroxide to kill any pyrogens (fever-inducing substances) while many other gelatin preparations failed because of pyrogenicity. One of the only problems with oxypolygelatin was that the chemical action of glyoxal and hydrogen peroxide could potentially produce undesirable materials, but the matter could be cleared up with further investigation.

It appears that Pauling’s interactions with Ravdin and Kleiderer did not result in the mass manufacture or marketing success of oxypolygelatin, but this did not deter Pauling from pursuing the matter many years later. In 1974, after visiting Dr. Ma Hai-teh in Peking, China, he sent Ma his published paper on oxypolygelatin, and discussed the possible production of the substance in China. He wrote to Ma, “I hope that you can interest the biochemists and pharmacologists in investigating Oxypolygelatin. I may point out that no special apparatus or equipment is needed.”

In reply, Ma expressed interest in oxypolygelatin and said that he had passed Pauling’s paper on to a group of biochemists, but that he was personally more interested in Pauling’s work on vitamin C. The rest of their correspondence focused primarily on the benefits of vitamin C, especially in the treatment of psoriasis.

In a 1991 interview with Thomas Hager, author of the Pauling biography Force of Nature, Pauling claimed, “I patented, with a couple of other people in the laboratory, the oxypolygelatin. I don’t remember when I had the idea of making oxypolygelatin. Perhaps in 1940 or thereabouts.” He added that it was not approved by the Plasma Substitute Committee, so it was not usable for humans, but was manufactured instead for veterinary use.

At the time of the interview, Pauling believed that oxypolygelatin was still being manufactured in some places, but was unsure of the details since there were many rumors floating around. According to him, the Committee on Plasma Substitutes did not approve his oxypolygelatin because it wasn’t homogenous; meaning that, on the molecular level, it included a range of weights. Pauling, however, believed that the range in molecular weights should not matter, since naturally occurring blood plasma includes serum albumin and serum globulin, whose molecular weights fall in a wide range anyway.

Joseph Koepfli

In 1992 Hager also interviewed Joseph Koepfli, one of the co-inventors of oxypolygelatin. Koepfli claimed that oxypolygelatin was at one time used by motorcycle officers around L.A. because they were the first to the scene of accidents. He also remembered that, in the early 1980s, Pauling had told him that oxypolygelatin was used for years in North Korea, but that no one was ever paid any royalties.

These and a few other rumors about oxypolygelatin circulated, but evaluating their worth is virtually impossible due to the secrecy surrounding wartime scientific work, as well as the scarcity and ambiguity of the surviving documentation. Judging from Pauling’s opinions though, what can be said is that perhaps if it had been pursued more vigorously, oxypolygelatin could have benefited the war effort and proven successful on a commercial level.


The Propellant and Burning Method

Notes re: high explosives and propellants. October 2, 1942.

We’ve discussed in the past the story of how the National Defense Research Committee was created by President Franklin Roosevelt in the summer of 1940, how Pauling joined in September of that year, and how he was assigned to work on hyper-velocity guns along with a group of other scientists. The committee Pauling belonged to was specifically charged with creating a high-performance propellant to use in hyper-velocity guns, and came up with experimental methods for studying powder combustion.

In 1943 Pauling began investigating a powder that resisted the destabilization to which contemporary powders were prone. He discovered that dinitrodiphenylamine was a more effective stabilizer than any other product used at the time. Pauling’s research team engineered several new powders, and his discovery led to a universal changeover from diphenylamine to dinitrodiphenylamine as the new compound was far safer to work with in industrial settings.

Adding to our previous writings on this subject, today’s post will focus specifically on the process of patenting Pauling’s “Propellant, and Method of Controlling the Burning Thereof,” filed June 18, 1945.

Because the research that Pauling and his team were conducting was directly related to the war, a secrecy order was issued by the Commissioner of Patents on Pauling’s application. As a result, certain documents related to the invention appear to have been either embargoed or destroyed, and some information on the subject has been lost.

Pauling’s NDRC authorization papers permitting work on explosives in warfare. May 1, 1944.

I patented, during the war, a class of composite explosives – propellants. And it may be that they are used, to some extent, now. I never got any royalties from that, because the government had an irrevocable royalty-free license, and nobody else was interested in the powder for propelling bazookas and things like that.

So said Linus Pauling in an August 1991 interview with Thomas Hager, author of the Pauling biography, Force of Nature. However, documents held in the Pauling Papers indicate some discrepancy from Pauling’s recollections.  On May 15, 1945, Pauling wrote a statement in which he agreed to assign to the California Institute Research Foundation his entire right, title and interest in the “Propellant and Method of Controlling the Burning Thereof,” OEMsr 881 Pat 1, along with any patent which the Foundation might file, as long as Pauling received a quarterly payment of 15% of the income from the invention. However, as Pauling stated in his interview with Hager, he never received royalties from his propellant invention, so either the California Institute Research Foundation never patented Pauling’s invention, or there was never any income.

Pauling’s patent attorneys, Lyon and Lyon, wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Patents in November of 1948 “in response to the Office Action of June 8, 1948,” in order to amend a patent application, and included a “remarks” section in which they listed all of the unique aspects of Pauling’s rocket propellant. According to them, “The only reference [in Pauling’s amendment] which is directed to a rocket or rocket propellant, is the British reference Piestrak.” (Piestrak was a scientist.) Lyon and Lyon continued, “It is inherently impossible for the propellant shown in this reference to function in the manner of applicant’s propellant…” In other words, Pauling’s propellant was different enough to where it would be impossible for Piestrak’s invention to replicate it.

Lyon and Lyon went on to list all of the different ways in which Pauling’s propellant was unique. According to them, only if the propellant shown by Piestrak were “arranged to burn from one end only and the central or (33) was filled with a propellant” and if the “slow burning cylindrical layers (34) were changed to fast burning cylindrical layers,” then the Piestrak propellant would be similar to Pauling’s. Further, in Piestrak’s invention, one cylindrical portion of the propellant would burn completely before the next one in order to create “spaced impulses,” while in Pauling’s, the portions were all fast-burning.

Next, they compared Pauling’s invention to an that patented by an individual named Maxim. Maxim’s invention “consists in providing in an explosive colloid, throughout its structure, uniformly arranged cells. These cells are shown in his preferred form as being voids.” The voids could also be filled with a fast burning powder, in order to expand the flame rapidly to the walls of the cells. However, Maxim’s methods did not apply to Pauling’s invention because Pauling’s product would be utilized in the confined space of a high-velocity gun.

The Maxim patent was issued in 1896, and was not meant for use in the same conditions as Pauling’s. Furthermore, Maxim’s powder could only function like Pauling’s on occasion and seemingly by accident. Likewise, Maxim’s black powder would not burn at the same rate as Pauling’s product, according to the attorneys.

Lyon and Lyon finished their letter to the Commissioner of Patents requesting favorable reconsideration of the application, which indicates that, in 1948, Pauling was still working on obtaining a patent for his rocket propellant.

Memo from Pauling to Lyon & Lyon, March 22, 1951.

Some three years later, on March 22, 1951, Pauling wrote a memo to Lyon and Lyon titled “Patent application on explosives.” In it, he compared his product to other inventions. According to Pauling, “In our case we are interested in controlling the burning rate – in conferring upon the major propellant material a burning rate other than that characteristic of it.” Pauling added that he was interested in controlling the burning rate by controlling strands, or by other special methods of manufacture of the propellant. He mentioned that another researcher named De Ganahl was not able to control the burning rate of his own propellant.

On March 7, 1952, Pauling received a letter from J.P. Youtz, business manager of the California Institute Research Foundation, informing him that the application serial no. 600,043, (Pauling’s rocket propellants patent) which had been pending in the Patent Office, had finally been rejected by the Examiner “in spite of the fact that there is more evidence to indicate your invention is patentable over the references cited.” April 12 was the deadline for an appeal.

From there, it is unclear as to whether or not Pauling’s claim to a unique rocket propellant and method of burning were ever acted upon. It is possible that the process was patented by Pauling and then passed on to the California Institute Research Foundation or the government. It is also possible that it was passed along to one of these entities and patented later. Or maybe it was not patented at all, and Pauling’s statement in 1991 was the result of a long, complicated legal process carried out during wartime and clouded by secrecy.

In any case, Pauling’s new method of creating rocket propellants and controlling their burning, and particularly his discovery of the stabilizing effects of dinitrodiphenylamine, resulted in an important contribution to safer working practices in the explosives manufacturing industry.

Patenting the Pauling Oxygen Meter

Series of diagrams of the Pauling Oxygen Meter. June 8, 1942.

The story of how Linus Pauling’s Oxygen Meter came into being has already been well documented on this blog.  In our previous discussion we outlined the workings of the oxygen meter itself, the improvements that were made, and the fate of the invention in the aftermath of World War II. Today’s post will add to that story by focusing on the uniqueness of Pauling’s invention and the means by which the Oxygen Meter came to be patented.

On October 7, 1940, a contract was drawn up between Caltech and the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) for the development of the instrument. In a letter addressed to the NDRC, Pauling stated that, in view of the circumstances, and because his desire was to be of service to the country, he was willing to grant the government a non-exclusive, royalty-free license covering the entire invention throughout “the period of national emergency,” referring to World War II. He also expressed his desire that the National Defense Research Committee decide who would be given the rights to the apparatus at the end of the war.

Pauling wanted to file an application for a patent on his invention “inasmuch as it seems it will be of use in various fields other than that of national defense” – a correct supposition as it turned out. At the end of the letter, he commented that he wished to “proceed with the greatest speed in developing the instrument to the point of maximum usefulness in national defense.”

Irvin Stewart, secretary of the NDRC, wrote back and essentially told Pauling that, according to the patent clause, because he had created the invention after signing a contract with the Committee, the government was entitled to a royalty free license on the invention not only during the war, but throughout the life of the patent.

In a letter to Dr. James B. Conant of the NDRC, written February 15, 1941, Pauling next expressed a desire to patent the fundamental idea of his oxygen meter, “now that my oxygen meter will soon be put in use in other laboratories,” rather than the actual device itself. He mentioned the contract agreed to by the NDRC and Caltech, which stated that the Committee would have the sole power to determine whether or not a patent application should be filed. He also noted that “there are many uses to which the instrument might be adapted other than the original one.”

Pauling received an answer from Irvin Stewart on March 28, 1941, in which Stewart advised Pauling to apply for a patent on all of his developments that antedated the contract between the Committee and Caltech. Pauling replied that it was only after attending a meeting of the National Defense Committee in Washington, D.C. on October 3, 1940, that he initially learned of the need for an oxygen meter, and it was from this meeting that his ideas stemmed.  Pauling’s desire to patent his idea was running into roadblocks, but the uniqueness of what he had devised could not be denied.

The Pauling Oxygen Meter. approx. 1940.

Pauling’s “Apparatus for determining partial pressure of oxygen in a mixture of gases” was unique for many reasons. For starters, it was both light-weight and tough. It also made use of the fact that oxygen is a strongly paramagnetic gas, which means that its magnetism does not become apparent until it is in the presence of an externally applied magnetic field. Only a few gases other than oxygen are paramagnetic, but they are less susceptible to magnetism than is oxygen. For this reason, the apparatus was valuable in determining the oxygen content of a mixture of gases, except where other paramagnetic gases such as nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and chlorine dioxide were present.

Because Pauling’s device was going to be used in war, the government wanted to limit the number of people who knew of its existence. The NDRC eventually granted permission for Pauling to reveal the nature of his invention to his patent attorney in Los Angeles, provided that he did not disclose the nature of the invention to anyone else. When Mr. Richard Lyon, of Lyon and Lyon, Attorneys, requested information on the assembly of Pauling’s invention in order to better research existing inventions like it, Pauling asked Dr. Reuben E. Wood, who worked on the device with Pauling, to fill in the attorney. It is from this exchange that we learn a bit more about what made the device special.

Wood told Lyons that Pauling’s device was novel in many ways. For one, Wood could not find any other reference to the use of the magnetic susceptibility of oxygen as a means of analyzing a mixture for it.  Also unique to the Pauling method were the facts that the composition of the gas sample was not altered by analysis, and that “the moving part of the device is actuated directly by the presence of the gas in the analyzing chamber.”

A similar apparatus, designed by Glenn G. Havens, had a recovery time of three minutes after being jarred or after a gas sample reading before it could be used again, while Pauling’s only needed one second. Another major difference between the two devices was that Pauling’s was portable while Havens’ was immobile and fragile.

Furthermore, Pauling’s model utilized a permanent magnet instead of an electromagnet, which meant that his magnet weighed less. Also, no source of electricity was required for the instrument to work except that required to operate a light bulb, which could be powered using a flashlight cell. All in all, Pauling’s model was more efficient, portable and dynamic than any competing instrument. Wood believed that all of these unique attributes were patentable.

Pauling filed a patent application on August 23, 1941. Having done so, he was promptly informed by the Department of Commerce of the United States Patent Office that the contents of his application “might be detrimental to the public safety of defense,” and was warned by the government to “in nowise publish or disclose the invention or any hitherto unpublished details of the disclosure of said application, but to keep the same secret.”

Later, Pauling discussed with the Office of Scientific Research and Development the procedure for obtaining a suitable manufacturer to produce his invention. The parties involved ultimately decided on Dr. Arnold O. Beckman and his organization as the likely purveyors, as they were familiar with instrument production problems through their experience in manufacturing parts for this and other technical equipment for laboratory use.

Reuben E. Wood. March 1948.

Dr. Wood, who had worked on the oxygen meter with Pauling, was also interested in patenting certain features which he had developed, so he wrote to the NDRC for permission to apply for a patent in March 1942. Important aspects which he improved upon were a “method of balancing the test body;” an improvement “which reduces the effect of temperature changes in the indication of the meter;” and “a method of selecting range of maximum sensitivity.” He later wrote to Richard Lyon enclosing four Records of Invention statements detailing his improvements on the Pauling Oxygen Meter.

However, in a letter to Captain Robert A. Lavender of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Pauling communicated that it was not the intention of the California Institute Research Foundation to apply for patents on the inventions of Dr. J. H. Sturdivant and Dr. Reuben E. Wood. As concerned the Oxygen Meter patent, Wood was left out in the cold.

In March 1944 the Naval Research Laboratory of Washington, D.C., sent a confidential statement to the Chief of the Bureau of Ships in which it was stated that

this Laboratory has been interested in the development of an oxygen indicator suitable for service on submarines. The most satisfactory instrument has appeared to be the Pauling Oxygen Meter and a detailed study has been made of its operating characteristics, ruggedness, dependability and general efficiency with very promising results.

The letter also noted that the Pauling Oxygen Meter was found to be superior to a similar instrument – namely, the one created by Havens.  The efficacy of Pauling’s invention was becoming manifest.  As he himself had predicted, the device would be of use for both the war effort and in peace time.

Finally, after much brainstorming and years of collaboration, hard work and improvement, and after having been proven exceedingly useful during World War II, Pauling’s Oxygen Meter was patented on February 25, 1947, some five and a half years after the initial application was submitted.

Pauling Tinkers with Cold Fusion

Pauling family photo, 1993. Barky Kamb is pictured on the far left. Also pictured are Linus (Gubby) Kamb, Linda Pauling Kamb, Linus Pauling, Pauline Pauling Emmett and Linus Pauling Jr.

[Part 2 of 2]

The idea of cold fusion flourished for a few weeks in 1989, but was quickly abandoned and even ridiculed by the majority of the scientific community due to a lack of evidence in its favor. Because of this, further research after the Fleischmann-Pons cold fusion electrolysis experiments was often dismissed as something less that “real” science and was consequently not peer-reviewed, which further discredited the field.

However, the phenomenon continues to be pursued by groups of scientists to this day, mainly because some researchers have achieved results in their experimentation – namely, the appearance of excess heat or neutrons. On the other hand, scientists who have not been able to reproduce these results in their own laboratories have discredited its existence, often adamantly. To date, cold fusion has not been made to occur dependably every time an experiment is performed, but there have been some results that support its existence.

During the years following the Fleischmann-Pons 1989 experiments and subsequent press conference, Linus Pauling’s interest on the topic of nuclear fusion, and particularly cold fusion, continued. In May 1992, while at home on his ranch in Big Sur, California, Pauling had a conversation with his grandson Barclay J. “Barky” Kamb, during which he revealed his idea for a nuclear fusion invention.

Pauling had taken note of the fact that many experiments reported a “liberation of neutrons or helions or other indication of nuclear reaction greater than the background count,” but that not all interested researchers had observed the phenomenon. As he thought about the problem, he reflected back on his 1989 letter to Nature magazine in which he suggested that the decomposition of small amounts of PdHx were responsible for thermal anomalies, and that related explosions, including one that killed an SRI researcher, are due to large amounts of PdHx decomposing.

Branching off from this train of thought, Pauling had an idea for increasing the amount of energy within certain compounds, and came up with a few theories on how to maximize the amount of energy held by particles in order to achieve cold fusion. He hypothesized that “the stored energy in PdDx, x > 0.6, might be produced either by high pressure of H2(D2T2), (heavier hydrogen isotopes) with Pd, Ti, or other metals.” The metastable or unstable compounds resulting from this high pressure compound would then be heated with the use of converging laser beams or through the application of thermal energy, which could be obtained by chemical explosives.

Pauling suggested utilizing the Monroe Effect in conjunction with the chemical explosives.  The Monroe Effect arises when one cuts a hollow into the surface of an explosive with the intent of focusing the force of a blast. When combining the surface cut with a conical liner of PdDx, or a similar unstable metal like deuteride, the technique works to direct a blast toward a particular location.

Alternatively, Pauling also proposed superheating pellets made of compounds such as M(H, D, T)x and using laser beams or explosions to increase the energy within the compound.  In essence, Pauling’s idea was to increase the energy stored in Pd(H,D,T)x, x > 0.6, or M(H,D,T,X)x, M = PdTi, by applying external sources of energy in specific ways with the goal of catalyzing fusion.

Pauling speculated that an augmented detonation could produce shock waves that would accelerate particles, perhaps along channels in the metals, to prompt fusion by reaction. His proposed methods of increasing stored energy involving M(H,D,T,X)x included shooting pellets of the compound into a heated chamber, utilizing plasma in a tokamak (a donut-shaped device used in hot fusion which uses a magnetic field to confine a plasma) or focusing a detonation wave within conical metal or something similar.

Notes in support of Pauling’s cold fusion method invention claim, which was never filed. October 12, 1992.

Clearly there were many pieces to Pauling’s invention claim, as revealed to his grandson Barky, all of them describing methods of increasing the yield of nuclear fusion energy. Some increased the yield from explosion or decomposition of high-energy metastable or unstable compounds, while others augmented the process of nuclear fusion by subjecting the material to additional energy. The methods suggested were varied but similar: augmenting the process of nuclear fusion with the use of laser beams or explosives; using shaped charges with conical or other-shaped cavities; introducing pellets of high-energy material into a furnace; introducing the pellets into a plasma; or using physical force (like a hammer). All of these methods depended on an increase in the momentum of the atomic nuclei involved, an increase provided by a source of energy supplementary to the stored-up energy of a given high-energy compound.

A month after Pauling’s conversation with Barky, Pauling followed up with a letter to his grandson in which he detailed two additional ideas. The first was to augment the internal energy of portions of PdDx, or other high-energy materials, by introducing portions into a rotating cylinder containing “spheres or other aggregates of hard materials, such as steel or other hard metallic alloy…such as to cause vigorous contacts of these spheres or other aggregates with one another.” The object of these collisions, again, was to add to the internal energy of the materials.

Another similar idea for augmenting the yield of nuclear fusion energy was, Pauling suggested, “by a method, similar to a ball mill in the manufacture of Portland cement, in which there is a rotating cylinder containing spheres or other aggregates of hard materials that can collide with one another…” Portions of “palladium or titanium or other alloy with deuterium or tritium or other fusionable nuclei” would then be introduced into the mix, producing high-energy material. Pauling felt that the excess heat emerging from reactions of this type could be utilized for generating electric power, and that the unreacted alloys could be reused as additional spheres or aggregates.

Although Pauling tinkered around with these methods of prompting fusion with the idea to someday patenting them, the ideas lay fallow and a little over two years later, Pauling passed away. His notes, however, remain useful insofar as they contribute to the on-going conversation as to the possibility of cold fusion and of ways of facilitating hot fusion. Pauling’s thoughts on modern subjects such as nuclear fusion and cold fusion were also further evidence of an active and inquisitive mind even as he neared the end of his life.

The Cold Fusion Craze

Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann

[Part 1 of 2]

At a press conference in Salt Lake City held on March 23, 1989, electrochemists Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton, Britain, and Stanley Pons of the University of Utah made the blockbuster claim that they had achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature in a laboratory in Utah. If true, the discovery would carry with it the potential to revolutionize energy science and could conceivably change the socio-economic fabric of the entire world.

This announcement was the result of a series of experiments in which Fleischmann and Pons had attempted to enable fusion by forcing deuterium ions into a palladium cathode using electrolysis. During their electrolysis process, an electric current was passed through “heavy water” – water that contains the hydrogen isotope deuterium – and split the water into its constituents of oxygen and deuterium.

Fleischmann and Pons’ big breakthrough occurred while the duo were carrying out some exploratory tests.  In the midst of these tests, a 1 cubic centimeter block of palladium disappeared in an explosion that occurred overnight. The explosion, nuclear or otherwise, also destroyed part of the building where the experiments were taking place.  Fleischmann and Pons were motivated by this event, destructive though it was, to further pursue what appeared to be cold fusion. From then on, they kept a careful account of the power output and input of their experiments.

After a few weeks of subjecting the heavy water to first .05 amps, then .1 amps, and finally .2 amps of electricity, Fleischmann and Pons recorded an excess heat output of about 25 percent. Heat output is an indicator of nuclear fusion, but the duo could not find evidence of neutron production, another indicator of fusion. However, learning that Steven E. Jones of Brigham Young University, who had worked on muon-catalyzed fusion, had observed weak evidence of neutron production from cold fusion experiments, Fleischmann and Pons were encouraged to believe that their own experiments were probably producing neutrons as well.

Their morale boosted by this bit of news, and feeling some measure of pressure from the University of Utah to spread the word of what they may have uncovered, the scientists published their findings and then participated in the March 23 press conference.

The scientific community immediately began to scrutinize their published data, keen on either confirming or debunking the phenomenon of cold fusion.  But the reviewers met with mixed results: no one could reproduce the required results of excess heat and neutrons, perhaps because many were still uninformed as to the exact details of Fleischmann and Pons’ experiments. Meanwhile, the media speculated that this new form of energy could be the answer to global concerns over diminishing fuel supplies, sparking international furor about cold fusion and producing varying accounts of the original experiments.

A month after the press conference that sparked it all, Linus Pauling wrote a letter to the editor of Nature, the esteemed interdisciplinary scientific journal, titled “Explanations of Cold Fusion” which discussed Fleischmann and Pons’ potential breakthrough. In it, Pauling noted that palladium is saturated with hydrogen at the composition PdH0.6.  This given, Pauling suggested that the introduction of additional hydrogen atoms brought about by the Fleischmann-Pons experiments caused extra deuterons to be forced into the palladium cathode and form the unstable higher deuteride PdD2. The instability resulted from the free energy of the EMF (Electromotive Force) used during electrolysis, and also because palladium is saturated with hydrogen at the composition PdH0.6.

Pauling’s letter to Nature, April 24, 1989. Pg. 1.

Pg. 2.

According to Pauling, it was the decomposition of this unstable deuteride that caused the increased heat observed by the scientists.  In other words, what Fleischmann and Pons observed was not an occurrence of cold fusion.

Pauling further opined that the unstable higher deuteride PdD2 “may begin to decompose either slowly, resulting in the increased liberation of heat, or explosively, as was observed when a 1-cm cube of the deuterated palladium disappeared,” overnight in Fleischmann and Pons’ laboratory. Pauling believed that “because of the difference in amplitude of the zero-point vibrations of the nuclei with different masses, palladium dihydride would be less stable than palladium dideuteride.” Reasoning that the decomposition of the unstable compound was causing energy output to exceed input, Pauling provided the world with a rational explanation for why cold fusion was not occurring.

Pauling’s letter was published in the May 1989 issue of Nature, but it did not mark the end of his interest in the subject of cold fusion.  In our next post, we’ll talk more about how this interest developed during the peak of the cold fusion craze.

Building a Better Road Sign

[Ed Note: This is the first installment in a multi-part series investigating Linus Pauling’s patents and patent disclosures.]

Linus Pauling was a man concerned with the well-being of others who thought a lot about ways in which the average person’s quality of life could be improved. Over the course of his life, he developed a number of patents that arose out of his novel ideas – developed both alone and in collaboration with other scientists.

But Pauling’s ideas for patents were not always successful, in some cases because other people beat him to the punch. Pauling’s interest in a non-blinding road sign is an example of one such idea that seemed novel, but which had already been claimed by others.

In December 1983, Pauling wrote to James A. Thwaits, President of International Operations and Corporate Staff Services at 3M (a global innovation company responsible for inventions such as the Post-it Note) with an idea that he felt might solve an everyday problem. Pauling’s concern was that he and many other motorists encountered difficulty reading road signs when the sun or a very bright sky was positioned directly behind the sign.

To solve this problem, Pauling suggested that transparent glass or plastic rods be embedded in a road sign “penetrating from one side of the sign to the other.” The end of the rods facing toward the sunlight would be shaped to gather light from the “sun side” and redirect it along the rods in such a manner that it outlined the words on the sign. This could be achieved with the use of “several small rods…grouped together” like fiber optics in a manner that would promote internal reflection across their surfaces. Pauling concluded that many accidents were caused by the illegibility of backlit road signs and the resultant distraction of motorists trying to make out the letters.

Later in December, Pauling received a letter informing him that his road sign idea had been forwarded to the Corporate Technical Planning and Coordination Department at 3M, and was advised to obtain a patent for the idea in order to protect it and to aid in the idea-sharing process with 3M. If Pauling did not pursue the patent, his idea would be treated as non-confidential. He was also advised to consult a patent attorney on the patentability of his road sign. Included with the letter was a booklet titled “About Your Idea!” which discussed policies for idea submissions.

Nelson, et al., who were among Pauling’s competitors for a non-blinding sign.

Pauling’s next step was to write to Reginald J. Suyat of the law firm Flehr, Hohbach, Test, Albritton & Herbert, outlining the non-blinding road sign idea and inquiring as to the patentability of it. Suyat answered with the news that, in order to ensure that Pauling’s idea was a novel one, Suyat’s firm would need to conduct a search of the Patent Office literature, at a cost of $600. Pauling complied, and within a few weeks Suyat’s firm had discovered eleven existing patents that originated from ideas similar to Pauling’s, most of which had been registered between 1928 and 1939.

In his response, Suyat noted

The patents…disclose signs and a game which are illuminated by reflective sunlight or artificial lighting.  Light is transmitted through translucent or transparent inserts.  In particular, Slutsky…discloses the idea of a sign whereby sunlight is transmitted through openings formed in the sign to cause sign characters to be visibile from the front side of the sign.  Nelson, et al. …also disclose that a sign may be placed such that sunlight from the rear of the sign would be transmitted through translucent members in the sign.  Speers…discloses light-transmitting pegs, while Gill…discloses a translucent member with opaque material applied thereto.

Thus presented with convincing evidence that his idea was already taken, Pauling abandoned his road sign and directed his energies elsewhere.