Dicuss the nature of the Nuclear Fusion experiment and what we learned or could have learned from its failure.Sometimes in formal science, what we learn from failure is more important than what...

Dicuss the nature of the Nuclear Fusion experiment and what we learned or could have learned from its failure.

Sometimes in formal science, what we learn from failure is more important than what we'd have gained from a success

Asked on by granny54

1 Answer | Add Yours

boblawrence's profile pic

boblawrence | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

Nuclear Fusion is when two or more atomic nuclei are fused to produce a heavier nucleus.  This is accompanied by either a release or the absorption of a large quantity of energy.  The reverse process is Nuclear Fission.

Nuclear Fission was the mechanism for the atomic bomb developed in Los Alamos, New Mexico in the 1940’s (the Manhattan Project).  Development of Nuclear Fusion atomic weapons (Hydrogen bomb) occurred later on, in the 1950’s.

The “Nuclear Fusion” experiment referred to in your question was actually called “Cold Fusion”.  Electrochemists Fleishman and Pons in 1989 did a small, tabletop experiment involving electrolysis of heavy water on a palladium electrode.  The result was the production of excess heat, much greater than expected, and therefore assumed to be from a new form of nuclear reaction, "cold fusion".

The two scientists released their preliminary findings without detailed description of the experiments, and virtually no supporting data.  The result was a media frenzy, fuled by the hope for a source of cheap and abundant energy.  Unfortunately, the experiments and results could not be reproduced.

In 1989 the Department of Energy (DOE) released its report on cold fusion, concluding that there was not enough evidence of a new nuclear process to justify serious pursuit.  They did, however, recommend “modest support” of such research.  Another DOE panel in 2004 arrived at the same conclusion.

Here is what I believe we have learned from this failure:

1.  If something is too good to be true, it probably is not true.

2.  To date, no one has successfully challenged the first law of thermodynamics…energy cannot created or destroyed. Output is never greater than input.

3.  In science (as in life) one seldom if ever gets something for nothing.

4.  A scientific ”discovery” that is announced with fanfare, but without thorough details and supporting data, should be allocated to the category of “we shall see”.

5.  Like any complex activity, scientific experimentation is subject to errors, including errors of concept, design, methodology, execution and interpretation.

6.  "Science is science", and results should always be verifiable and reproducible, and not accepted merely on the reputations of the scientists.

We’ve answered 318,988 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question