Hopes about cold fusion have been raised once again by two Italian researcher who claim to have fused atomic nuclei at room temperature.

Cold fusion has been a holy grail of physics for decades. If it could be achieved, it would be a cheap, clean, and limitless energy source.

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According to a column at Physorg.com:

Italian scientists Andrea Rossi and Sergio Focardi of the University of Bologna announced that they developed a cold fusion device capable of producing 12,400 W of heat power with an input of just 400 W. Last Friday, the scientists held a private invitation press conference in Bologna, attended by about 50 people, where they demonstrated what they claim is a nickel-hydrogen fusion reactor. Further, the scientists say that the reactor is well beyond the research phase; they plan to start shipping commercial devices within the next three months and start mass production by the end of 2011.

If this all sounds fishy to you, it should.

This is of course not the first time that scientists have made such a claim. On March 23, 1989, two chemists at the University of Utah, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, announced that they had discovered a technique for creating cold fusion using deuterium.

That was surprising enough, but they also claimed to have done it with inexpensive equipment that could be found in most high school chemistry classes. It caused a big stir in the media and in science circles, but months and years passed without the promised cold fusion.

Physics professor Robert Park, in his book Voodoo Science (Oxford University Press, 2000), notes: “One reason Pons and Fleischmann had to be wrong was because the number of neutrinos they claimed to see was at least a million times too small to account for the energy they reported.”

Furthermore, there were early indications that something wasn’t right about the researchers’ experiments. For one thing, the byproducts of deuterium fusion include neutron, tritium and gamma rays. In fact, their experiment would have produced lethal doses of nuclear radiation on a scale that approached Russia’s Chernobyl reactor. It didn’t.

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The University of Utah, embarrassed by the whole affair, announced in 1998 that they would let Pons’ and Fleischmann’s cold fusion patent lapse. The researchers remain adamant that their research was valid, though no one has been able to reproduce their findings.

The Italian scientists, like Pons and Fleischmann, skipped the typical route of publishing their study and results in a peer-reviewed science journal, instead taking it directly to the press and public. This is a strong sign of pseudoscience, and smacks of a mistake, if not an outright hoax.

In many ways cold fusion is similar to perpetual motion machines. The principles defy the laws of physics, but that doesn’t stop people from periodically claiming to have invented or discovered one.

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