Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

July 25, 2013 Volume 34, No. 34

International experts of low-energy nuclear reaction meet at Mizzou

Alternate text

NEW SCIENCE Robert Duncan, MU’s vice chancellor of research, is host of the International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, being held at MU July 21–26 for the first time. Photo by Shane Epping.


Most experiments fail to replicate chemical reaction

The Defense Intelligence Agency reported a few years ago that LENR, or low-energy nuclear reaction, is a new clean energy source with “unlimited potential applications.” Scientists at MU and around the world are trying to harness LENR. The problem is that its tremendous heat effect, which generates more than a thousand times its original energy, cannot be replicated consistently in a laboratory. 

From Sunday through Friday, MU and other scientists are discussing LENR (formerly called cold fusion) at the International Conference on Condensed Matter Nuclear Science, hosted by MU for the first time. The conference, now in its 18th year, features panels on entrepreneurship and innovation in the LENR field. 

Robert Duncan, MU’s vice chancellor of research, is leading the conference. James Truchard, cofounder of National Instruments, a Texas-based global company with 6,850 employees that assists researchers through technology, gave the keynote address earlier this week. On Sunday, MU is hosting a post-conference workshop open to those who had registered for the weeklong event.

Throughout the week, attendees, which include scientists from 30 countries, have been taking tours of the campus that feature the Research Reactor, the Center for Nano/Micro Systems and Nanotechnology, and the Nuclear Science and Engineering Institute. In February 2012, MU founded the Sidney Kimmel Institute for Nuclear Renaissance thanks to a $5.5 million grant from the philanthropist Kimmel.

Scientists want to harness LENR’s theorized potential to produce high-performance, inexpensive energy with few or no emissions. Such a sustainable energy source could eliminate the problems of greenhouse gases and heavy air pollution, scientists say. 

Duncan said it has taken years for mainstream scientific communities to embrace LENR science. “It has been undervalued and treated as a ‘pariah science’ in the past, but now the world is beginning to realize how important it is,” he said.

An expert in measuring energy, Duncan has published extensively in low-temperature physics. Among his $8 million of funded projects, Duncan developed ultra-sensitive measuring equipment for a proposed NASA experiment in space aboard the 2005 International Space Station.

At the request of 60 Minutes in 2009, Duncan served as an independent scientist to test the validity of research in LENR by examining the scientific methods used in the experiments.

The ingredients involved in creating the chemical reaction are quite simple: a palladium wire, an electric current and the heavy hydrogen deuterium. When placed in deuterium-enriched water, the wire generates a wallop of heat when electricity runs through it. 

Researchers have made advancements in understanding the physics and in developing small units capable of initiating low-energy reactions, but the mechanisms of the phenomena still pose many questions. 

David Robertson, professor of chemistry and associate director of research at the reactor, said in Mizzou Weekly in 2012 that the success rate of LENR experiments is roughly 20 percent, which means four of five experiments fail to generate the windfall of heat. Identifying and correcting those mistakes could uncover the secrets that lead to an alternative form of energy, Robertson said.

— Nancy Moen and Mark Barna