In every field and area of experience there are wishlists. Wouldn’t it be nice if…and the like. Some are fantasies. For the work I do, it’d be great if viruses didn’t exist. This isn’t going to happen, sadly. Above the level of fantasies are the possiblities that lurk just around the corner. It’d be great if I could connect remotely to any computer connected to the internet (with appropriate safeguards), for example. Intel and Microsoft are working on a new kind of BIOS that would allow exactly that. Inbetween the two are the maybes. I’d like a computer game system that plugs directly into my head and provides complete sensory simulation. This may be possible, but also it could be that the human brain is just not up to this kind of manipulation. Nobody really knows about them. In this area lies the idea of Cold Fusion.
I noticed the other day that a US panel has convened to listen to the arguments of the proponents of cold fusion. This interested me, as cold fusion is one of those ideas that I really really want to be true. Half the world’s problems would be solved overnight. In the early nineties there was a flurry of activity after two scientists reported that they had directly observed cold fusion on a tabletop. The basic problem with their results and the associated follow-up studies was that the energy generated appeared to come at random, nobody could find a way to produce it on demand other than by waiting for a while. The whole thing was debunked by three Caltech professors, and quickly became the black sheep of the scientific establishment. In a most unscientific manner, cold fusion is now treated with disdain; nobody wants to be sullied by association with such a controversial topic, and hence results are not peer-reviewed.
It’s a fantasic idea, though. Energy from, essentially, a glass of water. A generator in everyone’s back garden powered by a nearly limitless resource. The only field I can think of that compares in potential is nanotechnology. Research is, thankfully, still going on. I like to hope that if results were ever produced, and progress is apparently being made, that it would not be difficult to return to the scientific mainstream. Dr David Goodstein is a professor of physics at Caltech, and has an excellent write-up of cold fusion on his website. His attitude seems to me to be the correct one: skeptical but not cynical. I was expecting the concept to be completely destroyed by the end, but it isn’t. There’s definitely a case for hope over faith.