The neglected puzzle of low energy nuclear reactions


Cold fusion won’t go away and perhaps rightly so. Numerous groups have reported idiosyncratic behaviour of palladium hydrides sitting in heavy water when a current passes through them. Many of these experiments are said to be repeatable.

Of course, serious questions remain over what exactly is going on in these experiements. They may or may not involve fusion but either way, something interesting will have to be dreamt up to explain many of the results.

These days cold fusion goes by the name of LENR (low energy nuclear reactions). And Allan Widom from Northeastern University in Boston and a couple of mates have taken the trouble to spell out how they think the electroweak force may be behind one class of these reactions.

They say that the well known decay of a neutron into a proton and an electron is mediated by the electroweak force. And that the reaction can be reversed to turn electrons and protons into neutrons, a process that would also result in nuclear transmutation, which in turn my be responsible for the release of excess heat and of nuclear by-products. Both of these things are claimed to be seen in LENR experiments.

Surely it’s time we bury the hatchets on this one and start working out exactly what is going on in LENRs. No?

Ref: A Primer for Electro-Weak Induced Low Energy Nuclear Reactions

3 Responses to “The neglected puzzle of low energy nuclear reactions”

  1. Lewis Larsen says:

    Re: LENR transmutation experiments conducted at the University of Chicago back in 1922 -

    In our arXiv preprint, “Energetic Electrons and Nuclear Transmutations in Exploding Wires,” by Widom, Srivastava, and Larsen, we extend our theory of low energy nuclear reactions (LENRs) beyond the relatively benign domain of roughly room temperature chemical cells to include closely related nuclear phenomena that occur in much more energetic, violent environments associated with high-current exploding wires.

    Incredibly, exploding wire experiments involving LENRs were actually conducted at the University of Chicago some 86 years ago. Unfortunately, they did not realize it at that time.

    One aim of this preprint was to resolve an old controversy. In 1922, Wendt & Irion, two chemists at the U of C, reported the results of relatively simple experiments that consisted of exploding tungsten wires with a very large current pulse under a vacuum inside of flexible sealed glass “bulbs.”

    A huge scientific controversy erupted because Wendt & Irion claimed to have observed the presence of anomalous helium inside the sealed bulbs after the tungsten wires were blown, suggesting that transmutation of hydrogen into helium had somehow occurred during the “disintegration of tungsten.”

    After announcing their results at a regional American Chemical Society meeting held at Northwestern University in Evanston, widespread global media coverage in the form of breathless newspaper headlines about “transmutations of elements” triggered a response from the existing scientific establishment in the form of a very negative critique of Wendt & Irion’s work by Sir Ernest Rutherford that was promptly published in Nature.

    Sadly, Rutherford resoundingly won the contemporary debate; he was believed. Wendt & Irion, mere chemists and comparative nobodies from the University of Chicago, were not. They were crushed by the withering blast from Rutherford.

    After 1923, Wendt and Irion abandoned their exploding wire experiments and turned to other lines of research. Sadly, Gerald Wendt died just a few years later; Irion then left the University of Chicago to teach chemistry at a small Midwestern college. No other researchers at Chicago continued their line of inquiry.

    After seeing what Rutherford had done to them, who on earth would have had the courage to follow in Wendt & Irion’s footsteps? In the US, little subsequent research was done on the subject of exploding wires until around W.W.II when Luis Alvarez invented the exploding-bridgewire detonator for the Fat Man-type first-generation fission weapons that were developed under the Manhattan Project.

    In 1942, exactly 20 years after the Wendt/Irion/Rutherford controversy erupted, another important event in nuclear physics happened at the University of Chicago. As you may know, in a hidden location under the Stagg Field bleachers, only several hundred yards from the chemistry building where Wendt & Irion had worked years earlier, Enrico Fermi activated the controls on the first crude nuclear fission reactor. Today, that site is marked by a dark, haunting Henry Moore sculpture and brass plaque that reads, “On December 2, 1942, man achieved here the first self-sustaining chain reaction and thereby initiated the controlled release of nuclear energy.”

    Until recently, this 86 year-old controversy had been almost totally forgotten. Ironically, it now appears to us that Rutherford was incorrect in his criticisms; Wendt and Irion appear to have been right.

    In our preprint, we first cite experimental evidence on exploding wires from contemporary experiments (e.g., the US Navy in the 1970s and very recent results on Sandia National Laboratories’ huge Z-pinch machine) that decisively settles the experimental issues in favor of Wendt & Irion. Neutrons are produced in such experiments, making it entirely plausible that nuclear transmutations can and did occur in Wendt & Irion’s experiments back in 1922.

    In some of the cited Navy experiments, “… fast neutrons have been seen in exploding wires even though there were no deuterons initially present.” Since distinctive gamma signatures not been observed along with any such neutrons, it appears very unlikely to us that D-D fusion is the mechanism that is responsible for the neutrons produced during such experiments. In our opinion, LENRs occurred in those experiments — not deuterium (D-D) fusion.

    In this paper, we also aimed to resolve the remaining theoretical issues. Utilizing collective effects with electrons in wires, well-established physics, and just a few equations, we go on to explain a “theoretical paradox in low energy nuclear reactions that has remained unresolved for over eight decades.” We conclude that, “It is presently clear that nuclear transmutations can occur under a much wider range of physical conditions than was heretofore thought possible.”

    The present resolution of this rather old controversy is rather poignant when one considers that: (a.) in 1920 Rutherford himself had predicted the existence of a neutral nuclear particle with about the same mass as a proton (i.e., the neutron), saying that it could be formed by the capture of an electron onto a proton ; (b.) the existence of the neutron would not be experimentally verified by James Chadwick until 1932; (c.) fission would not be discovered by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman until 1938; and (d.) Fermi’s fission reactor first went critical at Chicago in 1942.

    There is also an issue of some measure of scientific justice and rehabilitation for the groundbreaking transmutation work of Wendt & Irion at the U of C — in the end it appears that they were right after all.

    Please follow the URL link to obtain the original publications from 1922 as follows: (1.) Wendt & Irion’s initial paper, “Experimental Attempts to Decompose Tungsten at High Temperatures,” from the Amer. Chem. Soc. 44 (1922); (2.) Rutherford’s comments about their work in Nature 109 pp. 418 (1922) – also reprinted with permission in Science; and (3.) Wendt’s subsequent response to Rutherford in Science 55 pp. 567 (1922). For readers’ convenience, these three papers have been combined into a single Adobe Acrobat file.

    Please note a famous 1933 quotation from Rutherford himself (11 years after his critique in Nature destroyed the academic careers of Wendt & Irion), “The energy produced by breaking down the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformations of these atoms is talking moonshine.”

  2. Lewis Larsen says:

    The URL link to the original source papers on the 1922 Wendt/Irion/Rutherford controversy is:

  3. Roger Derby says:

    I really enjoyed reading about Wendt and Irion. Yesterday I was daydreaming about the possible use of exploding wires as a way to get at controlled fusion. In my concept a thin rod, say 1mm in diameter would be fabricated out of a machinable wax and then coated with a conductive paint. Next the rod would be electroplated with a thin coating of iron, perhaps .0003 inches thick. (As an old plater I still use inches.) The iron plated rod would then be made the cathode in a salty solution of heavy water. Deuterons would invade the iron lattice. (Hydrogen invasion of steel during plating is seen as one cause hydrogen embrittlement.) Next,the rod would be plated with gold or copper. The final steps in the preparation of the test specimen would be the removal of the wax by heating and the conductive paint with a sovent. I suspect that if the specimen is then “exploded” by putting a very high current through it a fusion reaction will occur. I’d welcome a comment. Perhaps I’d better stay in the plating shop.