Cold Fusion

Martin Fleischmann, right, with his associate, B. Stanley Pons, in 1989, announcing that they had achieved nuclear fusion. Photo: Ravel Call/Associated Press.

In spring 1989, two research teams attracted the attention of researchers and the public: they seemed to have succeeded to conduct the fusion of light atomic nuclei at room temperature and under very simple experimental conditions. According to previous schools of thought, these fusion reactions can only take place if temperature and pressure conditions like those of the sun exist. A comprehensive body of sources was assembled for this case study: articles published in more than 700 specialist journals on the hypothesis of “cold nuclear fusion” and more than 8,000 emails exchanged over computer networks documented the intensive research activities triggered by this “discovery.”

Concepts, models, and questions of the scientists changed during the process of their work on the subject. It is the aim of the present project to reconstruct the original approaches and their gradual transformations on the basis of the scientific articles published during the debate. Using a model of causal explanation, the argumentative content of each article has been formalized and collected in a data base. On the basis of the representations of the argumentation in the computer, the course of the discussion and the possible influence of external factors can be investigated in detail.