April 1st, 2010

Hurray for the Leaners!

Rated-S_scientific_300.jpgSay what you want about cold fusion; it's been a great show and a huge amount of fun. If time allowed I would read more on it; right now, the only book I've been through is Fire from Ice by Eugene Mallove, the cold fusion culture's first martyr. In 2004, Mallove was murdered, probably by muggers, but Certain People are sure that it was the government, or the oil companies, or Arabic sheiks, or somebody else who would be on the losing end of the energy stick if cold fusion actually came true.

Mallove's book is now 11 years old and is strongly pro, and I need to read Gary Taubes' book Bad Science (1993) for balance. Beyond that, well, the literature, having lain low for many years, is exploding again in celebration of finding a whole new name. (More on this shortly.)

I know, I know. How can I take any of this seriously, you ask? Back off, man. I'm a scientist. I also like street theater, especially science and technology street theater. I suffer fools gladly if they entertain me, because I learn best when I'm entertained. (Fools spouting politics rarely entertain me; street theater has its limits.) I've stated my official position here many times, and I'll say it again: It's probably not fusion. But it's almost certainly interesting, and if pursued may actually turn out to be something useful, if not a source of free energy. Desktop fusion is nothing new, after all: Philo Farnsworth, needing to do penance for having invented television, went on to create desktop fusion. The nut they couldn't crack is releasing more energy than their gadget absorbed, but hey, neutrons are useful, and they don't just come when you whistle.

I was pleased to learn quite recently that "cold fusion" as a term has been deprecated in favor of Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR) which has the authority of an acronym and no obvious links in the public mind to a name more properly associated with margarine. A recent presentation on YouTube from a cold fusion guru admits that it's not about fusion, and that's a big step forward. I'm not sure that there as many rabbits in the LENR hat as Krivit thinks, but even one rabbit would be delicious, especially with melted butter.

LENR is supposedly caught up with the electroweak force. One thing I do need to do is hunt down a good summary of what we know about the electroweak force; there are a few too many Greek letters in the Wikipedia article for my tastes, and probably my forebrain as well. Suggestions always welcome.

As an SF writer LENR fascinates me, especially the notion that it could be implemented in biological system. Nuclear-powered cockroaches, anyone? The bugs wouldn't need to make breakeven; LENR could act as a storage mechanism: After gathering and processing fuel during times of energy abundance, they'd consume the fuel when their only sun sets for a decade or two and temps go down to double digits K.

The show goes on. LENR can and should replace all mention of "cold fusion." The LENR acronym suggests to me a general term for people pursuing (or cheering on) research in that area: Leaners. I'm a Leaner. I'm cheering for these guys, and with more lifespan ahead of me, more time, more brains, and another small fortune in machine tools beyond what I already have, I would go downstairs and see what I could throw together. Damn, this stuff calls to me.

It's April, the month to be mad as a hatter, and you know all about me and hats.