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cold fusion electrolysis experiments was often dismissed as something less that “real” science and was consequently not peer-reviewed, which further discredited the field.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.