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Jacobson-fig7

Haroche’s Cockroach: A nuclear fusion breakthrough?

This information regarding cold fusion is being presented with great humility, in hopes that more educated and experienced physicists than myself will review my findings, and offer further thoughts or commentary.

Muon-Catalyzed Fusion

Muon-catalyzed fusion (MCF) is a little-known type of fusion reaction that occurs at ordinary temperatures and pressures. As the name suggests, the reaction is facilitated (catalyzed) by muons, which are negatively charged subatomic particles which are similar to electrons, but are much more massive.

Like all particles, electrons and muons have a dual nature, manifesting themselves not only as particles, but also as waves. With their greater mass, muons have a smaller inherent wavelength than electrons. Therefore, atoms shrink to a much smaller size than normal, if muons are used to replace the electrons. In this highly dense form of “muonic matter”, the nuclei can are spaced far closer together than in normal matter, and the electrical (coulombic) barrier to fusion is dramatically reduced. Thus, fusion can occur at manageable temperature and pressure levels.

Muons can be produced using particle accelerators (“atom smashers”), but they are relatively expensive to make in terms of energy. However, because the muons are used to catalyze nuclear reactions without necessarily being consumed in the process, it might seem that whatever energy is used in making muons could yield large dividends in fusion energy yield. Unfortunately, the utility of the reaction is limited by the “alpha sticking” problem. “Alpha sticking” means that a muon is carried away along with the alpha particle (helium nucleus) produced by the fusion reaction, rather than being released to catalyze more reactions.

In 1986, Dr. Steven Jones and his colleagues published a landmark paper: “Observation of unexpected density effects in muon-catalyzed d-t fusion” (Phys. Rev. Lett. 56, 588–591). In this paper, they described an experiment in which they set a world’s record for efficiency of the MCF reaction. The results of the experiment were surprising in that they showed that the alpha-sticking problem was much less severe than theoretical predictions had indicated. Jones (along with Johann Rafelski) went on to report their excitement in an article simply called “Cold Nuclear Fusion” in the July 1987 issue of Scientific American, boldly discussing “the configuration of a possible, commercial cold-fusion reactor that could be built with existing technology.”

In spite of this early optimism, the development of a practical energy-production technology based on MCF has remained tantalizingly elusive. According to conventional wisdom, this has remained the situation right up until the present time.

Beginning in 1989, Dr. Jones and the entire field of “Cold Fusion” research took a strange detour, effectively disappearing into an obscure, marginalized rabbit-hole. I will have much more to say about this detour later in this chapter. Meanwhile, throughout the decade of the 1990’s, there was very little to say about muon-catalyzed fusion as such. Research was poorly funded, and no visible progress was made. As far as can be discerned from any publicly available sources, the story of MCF doesn’t become interesting again until 2006. Meanwhile, my narrative will take a detour of its own.

Haroche’s Cockroach

The 2012 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Serge Haroche and David Wineland. As the Nobel committee explained, the prize was awarded “for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”. As is typical for the committee, the prize was awarded for work that was essentially completed many years earlier (in this case, mostly in the 1990’s), allowing time for a distant perspective to illuminate the importance of the work. In his speech at the Nobel Prize banquet, Haroche explained what he and his colleagues had accomplished, using a vivid metaphor which I believe was quite possibly “prophetic” in the Biblical sense of predicting something which had already come to pass. Haroche said:

Let me, at the close of this wonderful banquet, evoke the memory of Erwin Schrödinger. His work has had an impact on all the fields of science and culture celebrated tonight. He received the Nobel prize in Physics in 1933 for finding the equation which explains the behavior of matter at the quantum level. Schrödinger’s equation also accounts, at least in principle, for the structure of all the molecules studied in chemistry and  biology. It has also a strong influence on the world economy. Most of the devices which have changed our lives are based on quantum physics, from the laser to the transistor, from the GPS to the cell phone, from the magnetic resonance imaging to the global communication network. Schrödinger’s equation is essential to explain the workings of these technological marvels, whose sales reach billions of dollars.

What about Schrödinger’s merits in literature? He may not have written any novel, but he invented a character about which a lot has been written in many books, a character which has even featured in movies, generating endless metaphysical discussions. I am of course referring to the legendary Schrödinger’s cat, suspended between life and death by the laws of quantum physics and its superposition principle. In his famous thought experiment, Schrödinger could have chosen an inanimate object or a less lovable living being, a cockroach for instance. Just think about it. What about Schrödinger’s cockroach? The story would have been as demonstrative to explain the strange logic of the quantum world, but much less impressive. By the stroke of genius of choosing the right animal in the right dramatic situation, and by having fathered an immortal character as famous as the Cheshire cat of Alice in Wonderland, Schrödinger has made an impact on the world culture.

My fondness for this quantum feline is of course biased. David Wineland and I have been awarded the Nobel Prize for creating miniature versions of this famous cat, made of a few atoms or photons. We have both been accompanied in our long research adventure by wonderful colleagues, without whom we would never have succeeded. We are very glad that many of them are here this evening. Other groups in the world are also working in this field, raising various ersatz of laboratory cats and trying to preserve as long as possible their quantumness. What is the future of these cats? One easy – may be too easy – answer, is that they will turn into a quantum computer. I don’t know. I rather guess that they will lead to some unforeseen application, even more astonishing than this mythical machine.

The cockroach, of course, is the indestructible insect that is metaphorically expected to be the only survivor of a nuclear holocaust, the ultimate heir of all mankind’s efforts on earth. And if I am correct, a new type of extraordinarily dangerous nuclear weapon is the the ‘unforseen application’ of Haroche and Wineland’s quantum-level cockroach.

Schrodinger’s enigmatic cat is considered a paradox of quantum theory. As the story goes, a radioactive atom is placed in a box with a radiation detector, a vial of poison, and a cat. When the atom decays, releasing a quantum of energy, the detector releases the poison. According to the equations of quantum mechanics, the radioactive atom exists as a superposition of its two quantum states: either decayed, or intact; but it is meaningless to ask which state exists, until it is observed. By placing the particle in the same box with the cat, and then closing the box, Schrodinger’s paradox purports to create a non-observable system in which the cat must also exist in a state of being simultaneously dead and alive, until such time as the box is opened.

According to Schrodinger, the resolution of the paradox is that the cat is a separate, macroscopic system from the atom; there is no single wave equation describing them both as a coupled system, nor can any macroscopic object necessarily be described by a quantum wave function. The detector in the system is responsible for “collapsing” the wave function of the radioactive particle and amplifying this quantum-level effect to a macroscopic level, so that it can kill the cat. But how is it, exactly, that the detector collapses the wave function; and what is it that determines when it is appropriate to use Schrodinger’s wave equation to describe ensembles of particles? In the 1980’s and 1990’s (and to some extent, still today), this was a matter requiring further research — as Haroche and Wineland undoubtedly pointed out as they wrote their grant applications.

When Haroche says that he and his colleagues were “creating miniature versions of this famous cat, made of a few atoms or photons”, what he means is that they created small ensembles of particles that behaved as Schrodinger imagined that his postulated cat ought to behave; that is, the system’s quantum state could not be described independently, but rather that a single quantum wave equation encompasses the entire system. Such an equation must use enough variables to describe the state of all particles; yet (consistent with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle) it cannot simultaneously determine their position and velocity.

Since Schrodinger’s day, such an ensemble of particles has also been known as a “quantum entanglement”. An entangled pair of photons was the subject of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) effect, another famous and controversial paradox of the early era of quantum physics. The EPR effect predicts that after the entangled photons are separated, their quantum states would continue to be engaged, so that a resolution of the spin state of one photon would be instantaneously reflected in the state of the other — across any distance, no matter how great. This was what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”, and he argued that the prediction couldn’t possibly be right. However, most physicists today accept the reality of the EPR effect (aside from a few stragglers still searching for “loopholes”), and Anton Zeilinger received the 2008 Isaac Newton Medal of the UK Institute of Physics for his 1997 experimental demonstration that the EPR effect could be used for teleportation of quantum states.

Haroche’s work used a superconducting mirrored cavity to trap a single ion (or a few ions) and a single photon (or a few photons), creating a small entanglement or superposition of the two types of particles. This conceptually simple entanglement was the subject of the studies that enabled Haroche to examine the transition of particles into and out of the entangled state.

Also in the early 1990’s, “the field of atomic interferometry exploded” (Borde et al 1994) with experimenters realizing that they could use these instruments to study Schrodinger’s cats made of atoms. Experiments at two of these labs, at headed by Dr. David Pritchard at MIT and Dr. Carlos Cloud at Rochester University, were written up in a 1995 article in the New York Times, which explained:

At the heart of such experiments lies a fundamental question: Is there a sharp dividing line between the “macro world” encountered by human beings and the “quantum world” of ultra-small objects, where the rules seem wildly at odds with ordinary existence?

Put another way, how large can an object be and still remain subject to such quantum rules as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which forbids simultaneous measurement of an object’s position and its momentum?

“This whole emerging field is of interest to people studying mesoscopic physics — the physics at the border between the quantum domain and the everyday world,” Dr. Pritchard said.

A series of quantum mechanical experiments at the University of Rochester in New York is digging into many mesoscopic mysteries, including the troublesome scientific paradox known as Schrodinger’s Cat.

One tenet of quantum physics is that all probabilities of all possible histories must be taken into account when calculating the outcome of some event. Erwin Schrodinger, a German physicist awarded the Nobel Prize in 1933 for his work in quantum physics, lightheartedly suggested a hypothetical device for equating the quantum world with the everyday world. The device would consist of a sealed box containing a live cat and a poison capsule. The capsule would be connected to a triggering device actuated by a radioactive atom with a 50 percent chance of decaying. If the atom decayed during the experiment, the cat would die; if not, the cat would live.

In the most widely accepted interpretation of quantum mechanics, the cat would exist during the experiment in a “superposition of states” — that is, it would be simultaneously dead and alive — until and unless someone opened the box to look, thereby “collapsing” the cat’s quantum mechanical wave function and reducing it to a single state, either dead or alive, but not both.

At the University of Rochester, Dr. Carlos Stroud and his student, Michael Noel, are attacking atomic equivalents of the fabled quantum cat, in the hope of closing in on some of the deep philosophical questions that have always clouded quantum physics.

The object of their attention is the single electron in the outermost electron shell of a potassium atom.

Because of the rules of quantum mechanics, physicists find it convenient to regard the electrons bound to atoms as smeared clouds of probability, not as point particles that circle atomic nuclei as if they were little planets. But as a matter of fact, electrons remain both waves and particles. In Dr. Stroud’s experiments, a pair of laser pulses, each lasting about 25 trillionths of a second, are used to “excite” the outermost potassium electron into two different “superimposed” quantum states, roughly equivalent to the simultaneously dead-and-alive cat. These states are made to interfere with each other, and the resulting interference pattern is measured with the help of a laser probe.

Among the interesting results of the Rochester experiments was the finding of the electron in two different places, one of them very close to the atom’s core, at the innermost point along a highly elliptical orbit. The experiment proved that when viewed by bombarding an atom with a laser so that it briefly swelled to large size, the positions of an orbiting “wave packet” representing an electron can be determined by a series of snapshots; for an instant, the electron becomes discernible as a little orbiting blob rather than a hazy fuzz ball representing merely the region probably occupied by the electron.

Quantum mechanics has served for seven decades as the theoretical underpinning of such immensely practical devices as tunneling diodes and transistors. But the paradoxes of quantum mechanics — the possibility of simultaneously being and not being, for example — continue to trouble philosophers and some scientists. Dr. Stroud believes those paradoxes cannot be simply ignored, as many physicists and engineers prefer to do.

“Without a sound philosophical foundation we can’t go forward,” he said, “but we need more clues to get past idle theorizing and debate. That’s the motivation for the Schrodinger’s Cat experiments we’ve started doing.”

The Times article also mentioned another scientist, Joseph M. Jacobson, who was working at the time as a postdoc at Stanford:

While much of the new research explores the wave nature of matter, a physics team at Stanford University in California has taken the opposite approach by designing an apparatus that could create a “molecule” from a light wave — a cluster of linked photon particles analogous to the clusters of atoms that make up molecules of matter. The idea, explained Dr. Joseph M. Jacobson, the team leader, is to launch a bunch of coherent photons of light into a quantum switching device (or a special wave guide) that would arbitrarily either let all of them through or none of them. In operation, he said, the apparatus could generate an “ensemble” of photons existing in two simultaneous “superposition states,” all or nothing.

“Provided you don’t look into the box and collapse the wave function of Schrodinger’s Cat,” Dr. Jacobson said, “you can get the superposition states to interfere with each other and extract useful information from the interference pattern.”

Also in 1995, Jacobson published a theoretical paper with Dr. Yoshihisa Yamamoto and other colleagues, discussing the results of the atomic interferometry experiments as well as his own quantum switching device for photons (which was based on Haroche’s photon trap design.) Jacobson predicted that for photons, the effective mass and energy of an entangled ensemble would be increased, and the effective wavelength would be smaller, just as had already been proven for ensembles of atoms. Other researchers later verified this prediction for photon ensembles, although it’s not clear whether Jacobson was able to personally complete this aspect of his experiment.

Jacobson’s “Low Cost, Compact Size” fusion patent application

By 1997, Jacobson had seemingly moved on from his postdoctoral interest in the quantum theory of Schrodinger’s cat. He joined MIT’s media lab, where he headed the “molecular machines” group, and developed a “microsphere” technology for electronic information displays. He also became an entrepreneur, and founded E-Ink, a company that used the microsphere technology to implement the display for the original (“paperwhite”) Kindle as well as other products.

However, apparently his past was not completely left behind. In 2006, Jacobson filed a remarkable patent application. A veritable grab bag of wonders, the patent proposes four different methods to achieve desktop nuclear fusion. As the patent states:

http://www.google.com/patents/US20080008286

Systems and methods are described for carrying out fusion reactions by changing either the Coulombic energy barrier or the reaction cross section or both. Such systems and methods are useful for creating fusion reactions which exceed energy breakeven (Q>1) and which have a relatively low cost and compact size.

The patent application is strangely defiant of the basic rules of the patent office. An elementary principle is that a patent should describe a single invention, no more than that. Putting three inventions in one application only guarantees that two of them must be ultimately filtered out. Furthermore, in order to get a patent awarded, an inventor must either prove that the invention has been “reduced to practice”, or describe the invention in sufficient detail that it could be implemented by someone with “ordinary skill in the art”, or preferably both. Jacobson came nowhere close to meeting this standard, as the examiner quickly noted.

Furthermore, there’s nothing in Jacobson’s background to indicate any specific interest or experience in fusion technology. Although quantum mechanics and nanotechnology are certainly related fields, it’s hard to imagine how Jacobson, as a dabbler in the desktop fusion business, could come up with four such excellent ideas; or, if he did indeed somehow come up with these inventions in his spare time, why he would have revealed such valuable trade secrets to the world without any hope of having a patent awarded. As a successful first-time entrepreneur, Jacobson would have been in a prime position to pursue funding for these ideas; that is, before he gave them away to the world for free.

The first method suggested by Jacobson in the patent application is to use an interferometer setup to aim beams of atoms at each other with great precision, so that they would impact together directly and fuse, without deflecting each other from their straight path. The cross-sectional area of such a reaction would be extremely small, and Jacobson gives no hints as to how such precision aim could be accomplished. It is very difficult for anyone without specific experience in the field of atomic interferometry, to judge the technical feasibility of such an achievement. And, since this method relies on aiming single atoms at any moment, it seems an unlikely method for building a bomb; much more promising for a desktop power plant. However: if I were a government agency or a well-heeled private entrepreneur looking for a way to solve the peak oil crisis and save our civilization from man-made global warming, I would certainly consider funding the research necessary to test or implement Jacobson’s first method.

Jacobson’s second method is related to Steven Jones’ old friend, Muon-Catalyzed Fusion, which was more or less abandoned for dead in the early ‘90s. The patent application states:

Here we disclose means for reducing the sticking probability of said Muon to said fusion product by means of incident x-ray photons of energy tuned to (or photons which have energies which are integer fractions of) the Muon-fusion product bond energy.

Jacobson gives no direct experimental evidence for this claim, but simply states that it is “known in the field of laser chemistry” that photons can break bonds between particles. If Jacobson is factually correct, this raises the possibility that muon-catalyzed fusion could become a fully operational technology for energy production, if it isn’t already. It certainly would be an easy experiment to try, at least conceptually: re-construct Steven Jones’ 1986 apparatus and add x-rays. But again, this seems unlikely to be a viable technology for building small, inexpensive bombs for tactical applications. Muon sources known in the public domain are based on particle accelerator technology, so they are huge and power-hungry. Compact muon sources may exist, but if so, they would be unlikely to supply enough muon flux to fuel a big reaction.

Jacobson also mentions that muons could be added to the interferometer in his first method, to make the reaction rate higher. Again, this is a good idea, but not a likely approach to building a weapon.

Jacobson’s third method is the one that fascinates me most. From the patent application:

Referring to FIG. 7, Jacobson, Bjork, Chuang, and Yamamoto in their paper entitled Photonic De Broglie Waves (Physical Review Letters 74, 4835 (1995)) describe an effective Hamiltonian … [wave function equation here] … which can turn the coupling between atoms on or off. In that paper it is shown that the de Broglie wavelength is proportional to 1/(Number of coupled atoms). As described in the paragraph above, a successful means of carrying out low temperature fusion processes is to substitute the electron in tritium with the 200 times more massive muon thus decreasing the Bohr radius sufficient for the muonic tritium to approach a deuterium atom at room temperature. He we describe a similar situation however instead of using muons which are expensive (in terms of energy) to create a reduced Bohr radius we employ the idea of creating an effective Hamiltonian in which, because they are coupled to one another, the effective mass of each electron is increased and thus the Bohr radius is decreased. Referring to FIG. 7, a cavity (610) containing deuterium atoms or tritium atoms (640) has incident upon it a microwave source (630) and a magnetic field source (620) used to couple electron orbital states with the collective magnetic states of the ensemble of atoms in the cavity resulting in a Hamiltonian in which the effective mass of each atom’s electron scales as the number of atoms in the ensemble thus reducing the size of the effective Bohr radius and decreasing the coulombic barrier to fusion.

By the term “effective Hamiltonian”, Jacobson is referring to an entanglement or quantum superposition of electrons. His claim is that in this Haroche’s cockroach (microscopic Schrodinger’s cat) made of deuterium and tritium, the space occupied by the electrons will essentially collapse, creating a massive core of atoms whose state should easily proceed to nuclear fusion. This is clearly related to muon-catalyzed fusion (MCF), except that there are no muons, nor any catalyst. So we need a new name for it. As I will argue below, it seems quite likely to me that this has already been successfully implemented, but there is little reason to believe that Jacobson is the true inventor. Thus, until further information becomes available, I am calling this “Megalomaniac Controlled Fusion.” (At least this way we can keep the acronym, MCF.)

If this technology was actually discovered and implemented by Steven Jones and/or his colleagues at Brigham Young or the University of Utah, it may be renamed “Mormon Controlled Fusion.” Weaponized, it should be known as the Haroche’s Cockroach Bomb.

Jacobson-fig7

Jacobson’s apparatus is shown in the enigmatic cartoon-like drawing in “Figure 7” of the patent application, above. It appears to depict a nuclear-magnetic resonance chamber similar to those used for diagnostic imaging in hospitals. A magnet (presumably superconducting) is used to align the magnetic spins of the particles, while a microwave source supplies energy to entrain the vibrations of the atoms and electrons. However, obviously you can’t build a fusion reactor simply by putting some deuterium in a hospital NMR machine. The drawing hides some mysteries: what size of cockroach (how many atoms) can be assembled by such means? What pre-configuration must exist to allow them to be entrained? What sort of chamber walls can be used to contain such a reaction? How can the fusion reaction be triggered? Overall, it is a large parameter search space.

Perhaps Jacobson was safe to reveal his trade secret concerning the basic method; after all, who would ever believe that something so simple could actually work? All I can say is, this theory looks highly plausible to me. I would really appreciate some help from a knowledgeable and experienced nuclear physicist to review this.

Practical and strategic implications

My concern is that a secret breakthrough has already been achieved in pure fusion weapons technology. Most likely, the breakthrough was completed in the 1990’s, and may have been utilized in the demolition of the twin WTC towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, the new weapon may have seen limited use in Middle Eastern war theaters, but its existence remains a closely guarded secret (if, indeed, it exists at all).

Through false dialectics, manipulation of academic process, and control of the popular press, I believe that whatever cabal has invented and controlled this weapon, has succeeded in completely diverting the world’s attention away from themselves and their tremendous new source of power.

The weapon seems to have extraordinary properties. With moderate explosive force, it converts buildings and people to powder and dust. It produces intense heat and radiation, probably in the form of gamma rays. But, it does not seem to produce the high-energy neutrons that create unstable, highly radioactive heavy nuclei in conventional nuclear explosions, nor does it create any fission products. I believe this may be because it uses the “aneutronic” boron-hydrogen fusion reaction, rather than the deuterium-tritium reaction used in conventional fusion technology. Thus, it is very “clean” compared to conventional weapons, and its use is basically invisible to the scientific instrumentation used to detect violations of the nuclear test ban treaty. It may be available in the most militarily useful sizes for tactical applications, unlike conventional nuclear weapons that are only efficient and cost-effective as blockbusters, if not city-busters.

If this is correct, of course, it is a matter of the greatest possible importance and urgency for the world. Such a weapon would have tremendous potential for war and genocide. Especially if it is reasonably inexpensive to produce, its owners have now had enough time to produce and stockpile the weapon in enormous volume. While conventional nuclear weapons create intolerable levels of “blow-back” to the aggressor in terms of radioactive fallout as well as possible “nuclear winter”, this new weapon could be used with impunity.

Internationally, we can only speculate as to which nation-states have been given the secret (or have been able to independently re-discover it) and would therefore be ready to put it to use during wartime. It seems reasonable to guess that the smaller, less powerful peripheral states of Africa, South America and Asia have largely been kept in the dark; while in the states of Europe and North America, it may be only the citizens who are clueless. Alternately, it is possible that the secret was discovered by a very small group of elite insiders, and that only a few people on the planet are now aware of it.

The alert reader, of course, will also consider the possibility that the author is reading too much into the rather meager evidence provided. However, I will leave it to wiser minds than mine to find flaws in this theory.

If there is indeed a pure fusion-based weapons technology, it seems highly likely (although not certain) that there is a peaceful power-generation technology as well. Again, this would have the most extraordinary implications for mankind, as our human civilization is faced with a new Dark Age caused by the possible exhaustion of readily accessible “fossil fuels” such as oil, coal, and natural gas, as well as the potential for “man-made global warming” to cause dangerous or even runaway changes in the climate. These hazards could, of course, be averted if a clean and abundant nuclear fusion energy technology could be deployed in an expeditious fashion. However, if the reasoning in this page is correct, apparently the elite owners of this technology would prefer to risk these disasters rather than prematurely release their secrets for the benefit of mankind in general.

 

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