20 years ago, in the wake of the cold fusion excitement-turned-debacle, I noticed an interesting fact. The people doing the experiments were divided into two classes: The electrochemists who believed that fusion was happening were doing their experiments in plastic tubs and glassware, whereas the physicists who believed that no fusion was really happening were doing theirs behind walls of lead bricks. (I mentioned this to several people at the first Foresight Conference on Nanotechnology late in 1989 and was bemused to have some of the same people repeat it to me in later years, having clearly forgotten where they’d heard it. Such is the nature of memetic success.)
Cold fusion is all over the science blogosphere and news today due in large part to this experiment from SPAWAR which shows believable (at least to Naturwissenschaften reviewers) evidence of energetic particle production.
What I know about nuclear physics could be written on a palladium nucleus with a blunt crayon, but the mechanism for the (cold) fusion of deuterium just never made sense. Perhaps a tiny bit more sense is that there might be some form of electron capture (the decay mode of 7Be) going on, but in hydrogen, as proposed in this paper. That would leave free thermal neutrons to wander around and get into all kinds of trouble (generating secondary decay reactions with energetic ionizing particles). Who knows? At least Widon/Larsen’s mechanism doesn’t have electrochemistry overcoming nuclear Coulomb barriers. And inter-lattice effects are known to put electrons into other interesting quantum states, e.g. Cooper pairs.
There may be some interesting physics ahead — but I wouldn’t sell my oil stocks just yet!