An interview with
Professor Martin Fleischmann
conducted by Christopher P. Tinsley
(Originally Published November, 1996 In Infinite Energy Magazine
Now that you are retired from IMRA, what do you intend to do? Are
you really retired?
Martin Fleischmann: I don't suppose I'll
ever retire completely. I retired from full-time work at the University
of Southampton when I was age 56, but I didn't "retire." I started
a number of part-time projects and, eventually, of course went full-time
to IMRA Europe. At the moment I am taking a very careful look at
some of the work which we have done in the past. It has been suggested
at various times that I should start an operation in the United
Kingdom but--bearing in mind my age and medical history--I think
this would be not a very sensible way to go forward. So I am now
interacting strongly with a group in Italy. I anticipate that we
will take a very careful look at what we and other people have done
during the past eight years and move on eventually to try to implement
some of the work which I have wanted to carry out in the past.
T: You've been giving some assistance to
Mr. Evan Ragland with regard to his cell. This cell is of course
the one which our magazine is hoping to provide to people as a demonstration
device of the basic thermal effect.
F: I think my interaction with Evan Ragland
will be principally concerned with the form of the electrodes. I
have had this view of the optimization of the electrode design for
a long time. Historically we went through various phases in the
work and eventually worked on large sheets--very large sheets--of
palladium. That work was stopped in March 1988 because of concerns
about the safety of the device. At that stage we switched to using
rods, which, as everybody knows, we have used because we felt it
was very important to be able to reduce the scale rather than to
increase it again because of our concerns about safety.
T: Are you thinking here of mechanical
safety in the sense of the famous "centimeter cube of palladium"
F: Yes. That was always a big factor. You
know, as the work moved forward, it included the work on this cube
which disintegrated--unfortunately unobserved, because it happened
T: Perhaps, very fortunately it was not
watched under the circumstances?
F: Perhaps fortunately -- yes. After that
we moved to using sheets under very mild conditions. We tried to
reduce the scale of the phenomena. Incidentally, as we were discussing
earlier, this included unexplained increases in the temperature
of the cell. In March 1988, we decided that we had to take further
steps to scale-down the experiments.
F: There is a famous diagram which has
Stan Pons' and my writing all over it, about these unexplained rises
in temperature of the cell. As it happened, I was just recovering
from an operation here in the UK. At that stage, we decided that
this line of work had to stop and we switched to the rods. However,
rods are not satisfactory mechanically because there is a stress
concentration in the center, so it is obviously better to use something
like a continuous sheet. That's why I believe that we should now
look at tubes.
T: Perhaps with one anode down the center
and another anode as a coil around the outside, so that you make
a triode arrangement in that way?
F: Indeed. I think my interaction with
Evan Ragland will be along that line.
T: In the matter of the centimeter cube
of palladium, the solid block, would you say that the disintegration
incident had some effect on you in the way of being a stimulus to
your continuing the work?
F: Indeed, yes. It was our incentive to
continue with the work but, at the same time, it was a one-off,
so you can't really say anything definitive.
T: You don't want to do it again?
F: No, I don't want to do it again. You
can specify various things which might have caused it. If you assume
that it was a valid experiment, then its disintegration reveals
a very substantial part of what has been found since then, including
the fact that you can get heat generation at high temperature.
T: You're suggesting it was a thermal runaway
F: Yes, you can see that even with a relatively
modest enthalpy output and a uniform generation of excess heat in
the volume, you would get rather strange conditions in the center
of the cube.
T: Rather like a haystack spontaneously
F: Yes, it is like that.
T: That although the process producing
heat is at a comparatively gentle level, if you do that inside a
F: It'll catch fire. Yes. You can do the
calculation on the back of an envelope to show you that this will
happen, that it could melt in the middle. It's just strange that
people haven't done this ...you know that people say "pooh, pooh,
pooh, it can't possibly be," so the discussion never gets going.
So if I could just go back now to something which
I am sure we should cover here regarding our original scenario:
we have, in fact, four ways--four major potential lines of research.
The first was the topic electrodiffusion, I'm sure we shall cover
that at some length; the second one was electrochemical charging;
the third one was a collection of experiments which really bridged
the topics of hot fusion and cold fusion. Interestingly enough,
no one has ever asked us about that, they are not in the least bit
T: They perhaps haven't had the opportunity
to ask that?
F: Well, what is so interesting is that
no one has asked.
T: Well we are interested.
F: The fourth one was another set of experiments
which I may do with my friends in Italy. So there were four distinct
lines and, of course, we became committed to electrochemical charging
although our real intention was always to work on electrodiffusion.
A discursive answer to the first question.
T: We're just a few months on from the
ICCF6 Conference. What do you anticipate will happen in the field
in the course of the future from now on?
F: It is very difficult to say. I've always
said there is the "seven year barrier." Yes, we've passed that.
Usually, if you have a new idea, you very rarely break through to
anything like recognizable development or implementation of that
idea the first time around--it takes two or three goes for the research
community to return to the topic. So I thought it would probably
all peter out in '96 if we didn't break through, but I don't think
it has done that. I think this is one of those situations where
although people think it is crazy, the value is so high that they
will continue with it. If you think about the meeting in Japan,
what was revealed was that if you do the experiment correctly--especially
with the correct materials, then you will make successful observations.
As regards the materials aspects, I'm very keen on Johnson-Matthey
material Type "A" or something which looks like Johnson-Matthey
material Type "A." If you use that, you will find it relatively
easy to to reproduce the findings in a reasonably short space of
time. However, I think that the meeting revealed that there are
several research groups entering the field who are doing this. I
think that the real success will come from the next phase, which
will include experiments in electrodiffusion or combinations of
electrochemical charging and electrodiffusion.
T: We are seeing a considerable increase
of interest in this whole general area --even in recent months there
has been a considerable shift. And yet, of course, Max Planck set
his "constant" at 20 years for new ideas to penetrate.
F: Did he? Well, he said that all the opposition
has to die out, didn't he?
T: He said that science proceeds by funerals.
F: Yes, yes. There is a lot of truth in
T: And yet in cold fusion it's really not
been the "young Turks" that have been coming in...
F: It's the "old Turks."
F: I think that we were starting to talk
about that earlier. I think this was a subject for older people
who were not afraid to...who didn't care about their scientific
T: But perhaps in the past there have been
periods where people have been able to do science without having
to worry about their reputations?
?F: That's gone now.
T: Perhaps it will come back.
F: Maybe it will come back. I think that
at some time we will want to talk about the general malaise of science.
T: John Bockris has suggested that science
had become very rigidified in around 1972. Do you have any comment
on that at all?
F: I think there was a very unfortunate
development in the 70's, a sort of "anti-Francis Bacon development."
People developed a view that a subject is not respectable unless
it is dressed up with a suitable overload of theory, and consequently
we have had this "top dressing" of theory put on the subject which
has tended to make the approach very rigid. Also, the theories are
of course written in terms of rather old-fashioned ideas.
T: But we have been seeing a shift in general
F: To science?
T: No. Specifically towards things like
towards cold fusion. This may be a kind of pre-millennial tension
or something of that kind, but we are finding that companies and
individuals are taking the whole field of cold fusion very much
more seriously and positively than they were doing even months ago.
F: I think that's probably true.
T: It's a strange thing.
F: I don't think so. I think that it is
a question of economics. I don't know whether you have done your
calculations but, about two or three years back, I did a first assessment
of what the first successful device would be worth and it came out
at about 300 trillion dollars. So, at that sort of value, people
are prepared to take a rather high risk on the research. You know,
for a long time people have always had a list of the first ten projects.
I don't think you should over-emphasize the value of cold fusion
necessarily, but if you make your list of the ten most valuable
projects, high temperature superconductors will always be on the
list; fuel cells will always be on the list. It doesn't matter whether
you can or cannot achieve high temperature superconductivity or
fuel cells, they will always be on the list because if you could
achieve them they would be extremely valuable. So these ideas will
keep on coming up. Now, of course, cold fusion is the daddy of them
all in a way, in terms of value, so I think that viewed in a social
way, from the point of social considerations and economics, it will
tell you that this thing will stay around.
T: Do you think that physics and chemistry
took something of a wrong turning at some point in the last 150
years or so and started to perhaps head into something of a blind
alley? That what we now are seeing -- perhaps with cold fusion,
and so forth -- is that mistakes have been made? We have something
that doesn't appear to fit comfortably.
F: I don't think so. You see, I am a very
conventional scientist, really. Extremely. I always explain that
-- I'm really very conventional. We arrived at this topic from various
inputs to the subject and, in the end, we could pose a very simple
question, namely: would the fusion cross-section of deuterons compressed
in a palladium lattice be different to the cross-section which you
see in the vacuum? Now, I think that was a very simple question
-- either yes or no. The answer turned out to be different.....I
should explain that what we said was, "Yes, it would be different,
but we would still see nothing." That was the starting point in
1983 or whatever, yes 1982-83. Of course, it would be different,
but we will see nothing. But it turned out to be radically different
than that. Now, of course, you have to say, "What do we do with
such an observation?" Many people--as was shown subsequently and
even though they were told what had happened--couldn't believe this
and ignored their own experimental evidence. But that is not for
As for taking a wrong turning -- well it has in
an organizational way. I always say that if you recall Leonardo
da Vinci and Michelangelo holding a painting competition in the
Town Hall in Florence during the Renaissance then you cannot conceive
of that happening in the present age. The early development of science
was really a dilettante type of aristocratic preoccupation...
T: Lavoisier and company?
F: Yes. You cannot imagine that somebody
would now give a latter-day Faraday carte blanche to investigate
the interaction of forces.
T: Mind you, for what he cost at the time,
we could really afford it. It wasn't that expensive.
F: Nor is cold fusion expensive. One of
my theme songs is that if you can't do it in a test tube, don't
do it. It is not necessarily true that expensive experiments are
not worthwhile doing but there are plenty of rather cheap experiments
which are certainly worth doing. So if you haven't got the resources,
do think a bit and try the cheap experiments. So has science taken
a wrong turning? Well, this is one instance where it has taken a
wrong turning, but, of course, there is also this whole overlay
of Copenhagen-style quantum mechanics which we have not been able
to shake off.
T: You feel that was a wrong turning?
F: Oh, that was a massive wrong turning.
Massive wrong-turning, although we have to give credit to Niels
Bohr and the Copenhagen school, for a great deal of valuable development
of theory. However, that approach should have been abandoned a long
time ago. The problem is that replacement of Quantum Mechanics by
Quantum Field Theory is still very demanding.
T: Now, how about the difference between,
in cold fusion, but perhaps in science generally, the way things
are done in Japan and in, for example, the United States? There
are obviously significant cultural differences between the countries
and this runs into the way they work in every field. A World War
II Japanese battleship can't help but look Japanese. Perhaps you
could include the UK as examples. How would you characterize the
F: Yes. That's an enormous collection of
questions; it's not just one question. I just had an ex-student
of mine here, who is now an academic in Coventry. He has a very
interesting collection of post-graduate students working on a range
of topics. One of these led us to discuss globalization in the context
of the difference between Christianity and Islam, and I said, "Well,
this is not the question. I think Islam and Christianity can be
reconciled but Shinto and Buddha on the one side and Islam and Christianity
on the other, that is a much bigger problem." The cultural difference
between the Pacific Rim and the Greco-Judaeo tradition is going
to be a much bigger problem for the world. And, of course, I think
that it is very difficult for people to lock into science if they
haven't got the Hellenistic tradition.
T: But the Japanese are notoriously fine
F: Yes, they are very good at retro-science
for example, where teamwork is very important, but I don't think
their system lends itself to innovative research. I think that many
senior people in Japan, who are now unfortunately dying out, realize
that Japan will have to take a step towards innovative science,
they cannot go on using innovative ideas developed in other countries
and develop them themselves. Incidentally, this is one of the problems
with the development of cold fusion--they went into it too soon.
I think they have a very important role to fulfill, but by stepping
in too soon--before the boundaries of the subject had been defined
--then this was going to create a great deal of difficulty. So I
think that as science is organized in Japan at the moment it will
not make a great deal of headway in innovative science. That's my
T: But, in Japan, is it not also true to
say that they hold in very high esteem persons such as yourself--a
Fellow of the Royal Society?
F: Outsiders. A prophet is not recognized
in his own land.
T: "A prophet is not without honor save
in his own country." But is it not generally true that the Japanese
have particularly strong respect for high-powered academics from
F: Yes. But this is because they don't
recognize their own prophets. Because they don't fit into the system.
T: But then neither do we. That's a universal
F: Well this has now come upon us. I think
this was not true--especially if you take the United Kingdom --
this was not true in the past. I mean prophets in other endeavors--politics
or the social sciences--might not have been recognized, but in science,
prophets were recognized in the United Kingdom.
T: Would that explain the disproportionate
role that British science has played?
F: Well yes. I think you know that I classify
science as British science, American science, and everybody else.
British science has a certain style and, of course, my problem is
that, although I was born in Czechoslovakia, I am the archetypal
T: You are indeed.
F: I am. I am a caricature of what British
science is about in the way I work. American science is much more
organized, much more hierarchical than British science has been.
I think British science is becoming more like American science--and
then there is everybody else, I'm afraid. Is it not true that 55%
of R&D, ie. innovative science, since the War has been done in the
USA and Britain.
T: So, it is extraordinary...
F: It is extraordinary and now, unfortunately,
we have found ourselves in the position where I think some decisions
have been taken by the mandarins in Whitehall that Britain should
become a "super Belgium." The fact that we have not been able to
exploit our ideas is taken as an indication that we should not do
innovative science. When in fact, of course, what has been wrong
is that we have not exploited our ideas. Removing the ideas is not
going to do us any good whatsoever.
T: That's certainly a fascinating view.
You say that science is a highly organized endeavor in the United
States, but surely a great deal of innovative and exciting work
has been done in the United States as well.
F: However, the cost is very high. It is
not a very effective system, though they could afford it, or historically,
they could afford it but the cost/benefit analysis of science in
America is not very good.
T: Yes, I've always been entertained by
chauvinism in science, for example, in this country we have Crick
& Watson and in the United States we have Watson & Crick. There's
an extraordinary and highly inappropriate chauvinism, is there not,
in science or would you say that's only in the public perception?
F: It's in the public domain, I don't think
scientists themselves do that. Scientists are really very conscious
of the fact that they stand on the shoulders of an enormous tree
of preceding workers and that their own contribution is not so enormous.
What I've always said about cold fusion is that "everything I can
say about cold fusion can be condensed onto about half a page now
and I will know the subject has arrived when it is a footnote."
When there is a lot of verbiage then you know you haven't arrived.
T: Is this your comment about from simplicity
through complexity back to simplicity again?
F: Well that is part of it, yes, it is
a little bit of it. You have to in the end, distill out that which
is simple, to think about and re-investigate that which is simple
T: Yes, that's very interesting. Arthur
C. Clarke once had a character in a novel comment that the French
make the best second-raters at everything in the world.
F: But that's their objective. It's a conscious
decision. Historically they have been very good at mathematics,
and occasionally you get a peak like Pasteur and they recognize
the peak. I think you could hardly ignore Pasteur, but basically
the French system also doesn't lend itself to innovative research.
T: And Russia?
F: Well, the Russians have been extremely
innovative considering their resource base. So how one should analyze
this, why the Russians were so successful? It's a good question.
T: Perhaps they have been in a continually post-diluvial
F: Probably yes, I think they could only
escape from the system via some sort of profession. You had to hide
within your profession. You know, you had to become immune from
the political pressures.
T: If you became a Sakharov no one could
touch you seriously - though they tried.
F: But if you even go lower down the scale,
scientists were left alone, so the clever people who could make
it into science hoofed it and made it into science as fast as they
T: To return to cold fusion: if you had
to do it over again, would you have participated in that press conference
F: Here again, is an enormous collection
of questions. Of course, I was opposed to it as you probably know
and I tried to stop it -- even the night before--and I failed because
there was a key person I needed to contact.
Stan and I funded the first phase of the work
ourselves. It was secret. We reckoned we would get our first answers
for about $100,000, which was as much as we could afford to spend.
In the Summer of 1988 we reckoned that we would need $600,000 to
complete the first phase in about September 1990. We planned to
review the question of publication in September 1990.
We had at that time, and continued to have all
the way through, tremendous hang-ups about whether this work should
be published at all. In fact, in '88 we went through several discussions
about whether the work should be classified.
T: For reasons of....
F: National security. However, in '88 we
had the twin problem that we certainly did not have $600,000 between
the two of us to spend on progressing this research properly, and
we needed the $600,000. We also had to inform the American Department
of Energy in the States, and I had to inform Harwell [Laboratory
in the UK--Ed.] about this work. So I said let's kill many birds
with one stone: let's write a Research Application rather than a
patent--which we submitted to the DOE. Initially, it didn't go to
the DOE, but it finished up at the DOE in August 1988 and that,
of course, brought us into this conflict situation with another
scientist who was interested in the subject, who had been interested
in the subject previously. He had not done the experiment in a way
in which he could possibly have succeeded, mainly because he had
used 10% D2O in H2O and, of course, he would have had
hardly any deuterium in the lattice--and he started to work on this
There is nothing wrong with that incidentally,
people object to that, but I don't object to that at all. I think
that he should have disclosed his intention to restart his work
when he refereed our proposal. What was hard for Stan and me was
that he wanted to disclose his results. Now Stan and I were still
working in secret at that time but, because of this development,
we had to inform the University of Utah because we thought that
they might need to take patent protection. They said yes, so then
the patent became the driving force. And it was the patent consideration
which produced the press conference, the "prior claim." I was not
in favor of that at all, but it was that which produced it. Of course,
you might ask if we would have done it any other way. Well, I wished
we had carried on for 20 years in a mild way and I wish I had started
it in 1972 and done it all myself, quietly and over a long period
of time. I think the press conference was a mistake.
But it was inevitable.
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