The sun, Rossi’s ”energy catalyzer” and the “neutron barometer”

Posted on May 16, 2011


One hundred years ago the sun’s source of energy was a complete mystery. The famous professor Svante Arrhenius is said to have asserted that the sun’s energy output could not be due to combustion and that there was no other explanation. Today our knowledge of physics allows us to explain why the sun can radiate energy for millions of years – hydrogen is transformed to helium. Regarding Rossi’s ”energy catalyzer” there are assertions and facts. If we combine these assertions and facts there is no known physics that can explain the amount of energy released the way the experiment is presented. It is asserted that nickel is transformed into copper and if so the energy can be released, but a transformation requires that the atomic nucleus in nickel is transformed into the atomic nucleus of copper. This transformation can be performed in a physics laboratory and is nothing remarkable. We ourselves have done similar reactions for many years and we know the conditions required. To use a hydrogen nucleus to transform nickel into copper requires a particle accelerator that can give the hydrogen nucleus energy sufficient to approach a nickel nucleus close enough for absorption. Putting nickel and hydrogen in a tube under pressure as described by Rossi does not create the conditions required for this nuclear reaction.

We know from Einstein’s equation that mass can be transformed into energy and if we compare the combined mass of a nickel nucleus and a hydrogen nucleus then we see that it is greater than that of copper. The energy that this difference in mass represents could explain the energy released in Rossi’s catalyzer. The only thing we know with certainty is that there must be a physical explanation for the catalyzer’s energy output. One hundred years ago it was possible to state that the sun is radiating more energy than could, at that time, be explained. Despite their ignorance of nuclear physics the scientists of that time could, nevertheless, make measurements to support that statement. As scientists we are naturally frustrated that we are not allowed to know all the details of Rossi’s experiment. Validation of a scientific discovery requires that an experimental phenomenon be reproducible by others when they are told how to perform the experiment. Verification and explanation are the next two important steps that must now be taken.

The term “cold fusion” spread like wildfire around the world in 1989 when researchers Pond and Fleischmann reported from Utah that an experiment using heavy water (that contains deuterium) and palladium released more energy than had been input. They also reported that they had measured increased neutron activity due to the phenomenon. Researchers around the world attempted to reproduce the experiment without success. At that time I worked in Studsvik outside Nyköping and in my experiments measuring delayed neutrons I used a very sensitive neutron detector. In our attempt to observe cold fusion our group was examining the effect of forcing deuterium into palladium, a metal that has the ability to absorb hydrogen gas. Since Pons and Fleischmann have reported the formation of neutrons we constructed an experimental apparatus in the centre of a very sensitive neutron detector. It took several hectic days of work to construct the apparatus and then, at around 6 PM, we were ready to begin the experiment. At first the neutron detector registered the low level of background neutron flux that always exists. We then gradually increased the amount of hydrogen in our palladium sample and, after about an hour, we noted that the neutron flux was increasing and this continued for about 6 hours. After midnight there was no further increase and by dawn the neutron flux declined. We had apparently seen an increased neutron flux but the question was whether this was from fusion of heavy hydrogen (deuterium) nuclei. The following day we could not reproduce the experiment. What had caused the increased neutron flux of our first experimental attempt?

Neutrons are formed when cosmic rays collide with the Earth’s atmosphere but the atmosphere also absorbs neutrons so the volume of air between us and the stars determines how great is the neutron flux that reaches us. If we are under an atmospheric high pressure system (i.e. there is increased air between us and the stars) then the neutron flux is lower than if we are under a low pressure system. When we reviewed the air pressure during our first experimental attempt we saw that, by coincidence, a deep low pressure system had happened to pass over us so that the increased neutron flux we observed could be explained as increased background radiation. The neutron detector had functioned as a barometer, but I must confess that that those first hours of the experiment were very exciting!

My experience above leads me to point out once again that Rossi’s experiment must be reproduced by other independent researchers and that, ultimately, a physical explanation must exist.

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