A new experiment at the University of Utah will attempt to measure the solid-state fusion experiments of chemists B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann in a different manner.
U. mechanical engineering professor Kevan Crawford has built a special cell to better measure heat from the now-famous experiment.Crawford, an assistant research professor, says the fully instrumented cell relies on the first law of thermodynamics: Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only converted from one form to another.
Crawford's cell will be a closed system, including a clear glass cooling jacket surrounding the cell. The jacket will help determine heat changes occurring within the electrolytic cell, which, like Pons and Fleischmann's original experiment, contains heavy hydrogen and electrically charged palladium and platinum rods.
The original Pons/Fleischmann experiment also measured heat output. Because that experiment gives off up to 100 times more energy than it takes to start it, Pons and Fleischmann believe nuclear fusion - the changing of hydrogen to helium - is taking place within the cell.
Crawford's cell will be about 10 inches high and 3 inches in diameter. The Mass/Energy Balance Experiment, as he calls it, will be conducted in the College of Engineering's Nuclear Engineering Laboratory, where Crawford is supervisor of the TRIGA nuclear research reactor.
The objective of the latest experiment is to account precisely for all energy production and loss, says Crawford, including the electric power input, all heat transferred out of the cell and the amount of heat generated through chemical or nuclear reactions.
Pons and Fleischmann have been criticized by other scientists for the manner of their experiment. One scientist even said the pair didn't stir their experiment and so measured "hot" water in one part of their test tube that was really created by an error in the experiment, not fusion. Pons and Fleischmann then showed how they did stir their mixture.
On Crawford's experiment, gas flow meters at two points on the cell will separately measure the amount of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and oxygen gas given off as well as account for heavy water vapor release. A computer will store data continually around the clock.
"We will not only study the magnitude of the excess heat but also how the heat is taken out of the electrolytic cell. If we get a burst of heat and no gas production, that might point in the direction of a particular kind of reaction. And if the burst produces an excess of deuterium and oxygen gases, something else might be indicated," Crawford said.