Fleischmann recently — on some journal, a month or two ago — related the episode once again. He’d gone home in the evening from the lab where he was conducting an electrolysis experiment, a common enough experiment in Chemistry. In the morning, when he came back, his found that his experimental apparatus was gone. He looked around and he saw a hole in the ceiling: it had flown upstairs.
At this point he says: “I understood that it must have been a nuclear phenomenon”. I’d like to raise some objections here, it’s as if Chemistry experiments never blew up … and he was a Chemist, on top of it!
In any case, he thought is was nuclear, he believed to have discovered a nuclear reaction; and since he was using palladium as a metal, and compounds in which instead of hydrogen he had used deuterium (deuterium is “heavy” hydrogen, hydrogen with twice the mass), he thought that hydrogen and palladium were involved, and announced this in a Press conference.
He was imitated by many research groups -- even in Italy -- who went on carrying out similar electrolysis experiments for twenty years: they never got any results, just minor effects which are in fact fluctuations. The last thesis I assigned to an undergraduate before I retired was to look up the relevant results; and I was able to verify that this was exactly the case: nobody had got any results, except minor effects which are fluctuations.
We might say that this is the main line taken up by Fleischmann’s followers.
As for myself, however, two or three years after this discovery, I was at a conference in Trento, in the company of two friends, one from Cagliari, Habel, and one from Siena, Piantelli. Piantelli told us he had seen similar phenomena with hydrogen; we talked and decided to check out these effects again. The three of us all worked in Siena, as Piantelli had a lot of support there (At the time, the President of the University was [Luigi] Berlinguer, who is now an MP in the European Parliament, and he had given him a lot of help and support). We carried out the first experiments and saw the first effects.
So there were two parallel lines of research: on one side, the deuterium and palladium people, who never got anything: there’s a quite a few of them, and they believe they are the guys with results. [On the other side] we, using hydrogen and nickel, did get, at a certain point, some small effects ... not important ones. For instance, we built several devices .. we input some (electrical) energy in them, and in the end the system put out twice that amount of thermal energy. We had therefore doubled our energy. However, if we reconverted that thermal energy into electrical energy, we were right back were we started from. So this was ... a game, not a system. But this is the result we got in Siena .. and there were physical effects as well … we published them, etc. …
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