I have always liked the magazine Popular Science. It’s the kind of magazine you can pick up and browse through to find articles and pictures of interesting technologies and scientific ideas written for the layman. It is geared towards the general public rather than professionals. I am sure many, if not most of the technologies and topics it has covered have never materialized, but I think there is a place for articles that present readers with interesting new ideas and spark the imagination with new possibilities.
“Andrea Rossi’s Black Box” by Steve Featherstone in the November 2012 issue of Popular Science, is the kind of article that might attract the attention of a new audience of readers who haven’t been following the cold fusion story closely.
The full article can now be read here. Following is a summary and a few selected excerpts.
Featherstone starts the article discussing the January 11th News Conference in Bologna, when Rossi and Focardi first introduced the E-Cat to the public. He then goes on to provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the history of cold fusion, starting with Pons and Fleischmann through to the present day. Looking at all the evidence, he says that it seems like there might be something going on, and discusses the idea that cold fusion may not really be fusion in the way that physics defines the term.
The focus, however, is on Andrea Rossi — Featherstone wants to know if Rossi really has the goods, and does not hide his suspicion that Rossi could be a con man (he brings up his past legal difficulties). Featherstone went to the Cold Fusion conference held this summer at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, and talked with many of the attendees to get their opinions about Rossi. He writes:
To my astonishment, after three days of asking every cold fusion researcher in the house, I couldn’t find a single person willing to call Rossi a con man. The consensus was that he had something, even though he didn’t understand why it worked, or how to control it. The more I learned, the more confused I became. Could Rossi actually have something real? The only way to know for sure was to go to Italy.
Featherstone received an email invitation to visit Rossi to conduct an interview at his factory in Bologna, but when he arrived in Italy, he found an email from Rossi cancelling his interview. Apparently Rossi suspected that the interviewer was out to assassinate his character. Finally, after intense negotiations via email, Rossi gave permission for the interview and a demonstration of an E-Cat module.
Rossi had been warming up the E-Cat for an hour, which he said was necessary to trigger the nuclear reactions. The module was plugged into the wall. Critics have slammed him for not unplugging it for live demonstrations, casting doubt on his claims of excess energy output. Some even suggested that Rossi juiced the E-Cat through hidden wires. To show me he had nothing to hide, Rossi methodically circled the table, methodically clamping a hand held ammeter around every wire.
“Zero amperes,” Rossi said, showing me the ammeter’s display. He clamped it again. “You see? Zero amperes.”
He decoupled the E-Cat’s power cord with a theatrical flourish and darted over to a laptop. The computer logged temperature data from a probe stuck in the top of the E-Cat. The temperature gradient on the laptop’s screen peaked around 140 degrees C and remained there. The E-Cat was running in what Rossi called “self-sustained mode,” implying that the reaction occuring inside of it — whatever that reaction might be — generated enough excess heat to keep itself going. The E-Cat ran at 140 C for about an hour.
Featherstone reports of some of his conversations with Rossi, most of which is known to followers of this story, and which has been covered here. This meeting took place well before the Zurich conference, and Rossi mentioned the Hot Cat device, but did not display it.
Following this meeting, Featherstone visited three Italian skeptics, Ugo Bardi of the University of Florence, and Giancarlo Ruocco and Antonio Poloso, both of the University of Rome, all of whom were dismissive of Rossi’s work.
Following his trip to Italy after reading a statement of Rossi on his blog that the University of Bologna would be conducting independent tests of the E-Cat, Featherstone contacted Dario Braga, vice rector for research at the University of Bologna who denied any relationship between the university and Rossi. Braga said, “I am not aware of any work being done by our scientists with Mr. Rossi in a formally correct way. I don’t know how Mr. Rossi can say this.”
The article concludes with Featherstone reporting about a visit with Francesco Celani before he left Italy. Celani took him to his lab at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Frascati where he had been working on his LENR reactors, and where one device was working.
He pointed to a narrrow glass cylinder that resembeled an oversize hypodermic needle resting on its side. It had been running for six weeks straight, Celani said. He called it his “special reactor.” Kneeling down for a closer look, I could feel the heat coming off it. It was difficult to fathom that nuclear reactions thousands of times more energetic than any known chemical reaction were occurring on the hair-thin wire coiled inside the gas-filled cylinder . . . he opened his logbook to show me a “very nice correlation” between a decrease in restivity of the wire and an increase in heat production.
The last person that Featherstone talked to was James Truchard, CEO of National Instruments who said he was very impressed with the precise experimentation of Celani and others working in the LENR field. Truchard’s assessment of the state of affairs in this area is, “I think we are just on the edge, and this could happen tomorrow or 10 years from now, because I don’t know when the spark will come. But we are, I believe, close.”