Scientists aren't stopping at "unorthodox" or "extraordinary" to describe this week's separate announcements promising two clean energy sources. If either theory is proven true, it would be a discovery akin to when precouch-era dwellers discovered television.
National experts are dropping words like "flaky" and "wacky."But Steven L. Jones, a Brigham Young University physicist, thinks the experiments are remarkable. Not because they prove that cold fusion occurs in simple, table-top experiments like those proposed by Utah chemists B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann. Jones thinks results of new experiments clearly points to this: Whatever Pons and Fleischmann got, it ain't fusion.
That's not a new revelation, particularly. Jones has been saying that for some time. But he thinks the new experiments backstop his skepticism. "The heat should not be confused with cold fusion any more," he said. "That, to me, is very nice that that is becoming experimentally grounded."
Randell Mills, a medical doctor, chemist and electrical engineer in Lancaster, Pa., said Thursday he can produce energy with water and nickel, as opposed to Pons and Fleischmann's heavy water and palladium. He calls his process "hydrogen emission by catalytic thermal electronic relaxation."
In simple terms, Mills claims he can induce the single electron that orbits the hydrogen nucleus to drop to an energy orbit lower than its normal "ground state," releasing extra energy as heat. If proved true, Mills' theory is as profound as the-world-is-round-rather-than-flat pronouncement, altering quantum physics principles believed true since the 1920s.
At the same time Mills was making his announcement, Michigan physicists Frederick Mayer and John Reitz were generating energy at a Boston press conference. They contend they've found small particles, which they call "hydrons," smaller forms of the hydrogen atom that fuse more easily than science has thought.
Both announcements came from private research firms, rather than government-funded labs, such as the University of Utah's National Cold Fusion Institute. Mills' paper will be published in the August issue of the journal Fusion Technology. Mayer's will be published in August in the same journal. Both claim their experiments are easy to test.
Robert Park, director of the American Physics Society, described both theories as "wacky." Another physicist described Mills' work as "beyond the horizon of professional science."
Both theories claim to be answers to Pons and Fleischmann's two-year-old claims to have harnessed the power of the sun. Their experiments generated energy by passing electricity through palladium metal in a jar that contained deuterium, a heavy form of water called deuterium.
Now some researchers say they can generate trace amounts of heat or fusion byproducts, like neutrons or tritium. But that result appears to be sporadic.
Both Mills' and Mayer's theories are weak, according to Jones, but the experiments are crucial.
He said the most salient point is Mills' contention that he can generate heat in both light and heavy water. That result makes it clear that Pons and Fleischmann didn't achieve fusion, Jones believes.