Just a Thought - Warming Up To Cold Fusion
by- June 10th, 2005
Man, I love science fiction. I'm not talking about the melodramatics of Star Wars, or the pious moralities of Star Trek, both with their technologies so far outside of what we currently believe is truly possible that we may never see anything remotely like a light saber, for instance, or warp drives.
No, the science fiction I'm talking about is the stuff that's juuuuust beyond our current level of understanding, and all it takes is the right mind in the right place for that 'Eureka Moment' to happen. The next thing you know, we've got shoes and gloves that can let us scale walls like Spider-man, or artificial gills that lets us breath under water like fish.
These relatively small steps from science fiction to science fact aren't as glamorous as a purple light saber slicing and dicing a Sith, and they don't command the eye-popping 'Wow Factor' of matter transporters, but if we think about them a little bit, we find that our lives, and lives of nearly everyone and everything around would be fundamentally changed.
It's not so farfetched to read a bit of fiction about a man, for instance, who is determined to climb The Matterhorn using nothing but a set of wall-clingy gloves and boots, or a woman who has a lung replaced by an artificial gill, and so allowing her to live both in and out of the water.
A friend of mine once told me that it was the baby steps that mattered, because those are the ones that ultimately allowed Neil Armstrong to walk on the Moon.
I like that.
I just recently heard of another scientific baby step that has me all goose-pimply: A group of egg heads out at the University of Los Angeles have come up with a way of producing a fusion reaction at a temperature that folks in Barstow and Phoenix might call a mid-Summer cold wave.
Cold Fusion it is called; "Fusion' because the reaction tries to force like subatomic particles (protons, for instance) to do what nature intended for them not to do; play nice with their own kind and hang out together. 'Cold' because the new method is room temperature cool, as oppose to the form of fusion scientist currently know a lot about occurs at the heart of our Sun, and most other efforts to produce a sustainable fusion reaction were attempts to simulate conditions at the Sun's core. Hot stuff, but, to date, those attempts have not been sustainable, and far more energy goes in to create what fusion reaction that does occur than comes out. So, we have no solar Mini-Me sitting in our basements powering our tanning booths.
Back in 1989, two scientists (Ponds and Fleischman) became famous for claiming that they had produced a sustainable fusion reaction in a bottle. The world went nuts over the idea of a low cost, infinitely renewable source of energy that could sit on a coffee table. But, when other researchers attempted to reproduce the fusion experiment, and failed, claims of fraud spread even faster than a Colorado brush fire.
Still, the idea of using finesse to fuse subatomic particles instead of force was appealing enough that still other scientists tried new approaches to the problem. Hence, the UCLA fusion solution. The fusion reaction the boyz at UCLA have produced still requires more energy in than what gets produced, but it proves that you don't need several hundred million dollars in super-conducting electro-magnets, exotic gases, and high powered lasers to produce fusion.
You can read a full account in the Christian Science Monitor.
What really gets me happy about this new cold fusion thing is the potential benefit it will have for just about everything and everyone on the blue ball in space we call home.
While the method the UCLA crew used to fuse may never power so much as an LED, it opens the door to new ways of thinking about cold fusion, and one of those new ways may just be the way to power ten thousand LEDs with a AAA battery, or it could be a new propulsion system that can push a spacecraft to Mars in 2 months instead of a year, or it may allow us to run a PowerBook for several years (even one with Intel Inside®).
What the UCLA boyz, and even the arguably infamous team of Stanley Ponds and Martin Fleischman, has given the world is another baby step towards energy independence. With any luck, within a few years, we'll be walking on the Moon subatomically speaking.
How cool would that be?
is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.
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