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A calorimeter designed by UBC researchers that is capable of detecting anomalous heat at high temperatures and high pressures. Photo credit: Phil Schauer

Scientists revisit the cold case of cold fusion

Four academic laboratories partner with Google to explore how materials science can help make fusion more accessible

Scientists from the University of British Columbia, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Maryland, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Google are conducting a multi-year investigation into cold fusion, a type of benign nuclear reaction hypothesized to occur in benchtop apparatus at room temperature.

A progress report published today in Nature publicly discloses the group’s collaboration for the first time.

The group, which included about 30 graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and staff scientists, has not yet found any evidence of the phenomenon, but they did find important new insights into metal-hydrogen interactions that could impact low-energy nuclear reactions. The team remains excited about investigating this area of science and hopes their ongoing journey will inspire others in the scientific community to contribute data to this intriguing field.

Operating as a “peer group” with a stringent internal review process, the team started out by vetting previous claims of cold fusion, which have not been pursued in mainstream academic research for the past 30 years. If cold fusion could be realized, the heat released by this process might offer an attractive option for decarbonizing the global energy system.

The collaborative effort has produced nine peer reviewed publications and three arXiv posts. The team continues to search for a reproducible reference experiment for cold fusion.

Read the full perspective in Nature“Revisiting the cold case of cold fusion,” Curtis P. Berlinguette (UBC), Yet-Ming Chiang (MIT), Jeremy N. Munday (UMD), Thomas Schenkel (Berkeley Lab), David K. Fork, Ross Koningstein and Matthew D. Trevithick (Google).


“We need a fundamentally new energy technology that can be scaled within the span of a human lifetime. Achieving this goal requires scientists to be afforded the opportunity to do daring work. This program provided us with a safe environment to take the long shot – given the profound impact this could have on society, we should remain open to it even if there is an unknown probability of success.”

Curtis Berlinguette, principal investigator and professor of chemistry and chemical and biological engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“If any research project ever met the definition of high-risk, high-reward, this would be the one. Electrochemistry can create interesting states of matter. If those states of matter help us in the search for new clean energy sources, all the better.”

Yet-Ming Chiang, principal investigator and Kyocera professor of materials science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“This program explores several intriguing and overlooked problems with the potential for significant impact. Even if we do not find a better way to produce clean energy, our discoveries along the way will still shed new light onto a variety of areas in science and engineering.”

Jeremy Munday, principal investigator and associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Maryland (UMD).

“We shouldn’t shy away from looking into areas that may have been written off. Not frivolously – but with new ideas and a recognition that there are things we don’t know and that we should be curious about.”

Thomas Schenkel, principal investigator and interim director of the Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

“Google cares deeply about data and sustainability. When we looked into the scientific record of cold fusion, we found some bold claims, but not a lot of current, credible data. Given the positive impact cold fusion could have if true, we saw an opportunity to help the situation. We are impressed with the research team that rose to this challenge, and are pleased with what has been accomplished so far.”

Matt Trevithick, senior program manager at Google Research.

Materials provided by University of British Columbia

magnetic levitation superconductivity

Scientists successfully demonstrate superconductivity at highest temperature till date

A group of researchers from the University of Chicago has observed superconductivity at the highest temperature recorded till date. With the help of highly developed technology at the Argonne National Laboratory, affiliated to UChicago, the team observed and studied a group of materials in which superconductivity was detected at a temperature of  -23 degrees Celsius (minus 9 degrees Fahrenheit, 250 K). This is an increase of almost 50 degrees from the previous record.

Although the superconductivity was observed at very high pressure, this observation is a huge step in achieving superconductivity at room temperatures. This is the ultimate goal of researchers using the technologies. The study has been published in the Nature journal. It has been authored by Vitali Prakapenka and Eran Greenberg, researchers at the University of Chicago.

Superconductivity was discovered in 1911 by a Dutch scientist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. Materials which display superconductivity have two main characteristics, they do not offer any resistance to electricity and magnetic field lines cannot penetrate them. There are a wide range of applications of superconductivity such as high-speed supercomputers and train based on magnetic levitation.

Earlier researchers could only create superconducting materials at very low temperatures such as -240 degrees Celsius and -73 degrees Celsius very recently. It is quite expensive to achieve this level of cooling and thus it limits the application in the real world. Recently, theoretical studies have shown that a new group of materials, the superconducting hydrides can allow for superconductivity at higher temperatures.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and researchers at the University of Chicago collaborated to create such a material, the lanthanum superhydrides and then determined its composition. However for this to be achieved the material had to be placed under high pressures – within 150 and 170 gigapascals which is one and half million times larger than the sea level pressure. Under this large pressure, the material showed superconductivity.

In the experiment, three out of four characteristics to prove superconductivity were exhibited by the material. There was a drop in the electrical resistance and in the critical temperature under the influence of an external magnetic field. It also displayed a change in the temperature when some of the elements were replaced with isotopes. However, it did not show the Meissner effect as the size of the object is very small.

For the experiment, a very small sample of the object was inserted between two diamonds for the needed pressure to be exerted. After that, high energy X-rays from the Advanced Photon Source were used to determine the structure of the material. Scientists are looking for more efficient ways to achieve superconductivity at regular conditions.

Prototype kilogram replica

Definition of kilogram changed for the first time in 130 years

The metric system originated in the times of the French Revolution. During those periods, many different units of measurement were being used. The number went as high as 250,000 resulting in confusion and difficulty of trade in the country. Hence the new system was introduced that was meant to be uniform throughout and not vary according to the whims of the local rulers.

In the current International system of units, a few units are defined in such a way that they are the same anywhere in the universe, but a few like Kilogram are not defined like this. The kilogram was defined by a Platinum-Iridium cylinder, which is clearly not a standard definition.

The Le Grand K has served as the international prototype for the kilogram for 130 years. This golf sized material is composed of 90% of platinum and 10% iridium.

However, this arrangement posed several problems. If Le Grand K got contaminated and became heavier, then it meant that the kilogram grew heavier. On the other hand, if it lost weight, it resulted in the kilogram being lighter. It has been estimated that over time, the kilogram has lost nearly 50 micrograms of mass.

But now it will no longer be a standard for the kilogram. It has been replaced with the Planck’s constant. Being a natural property, its value cannot change with time as it is ingrained into the existence of the universe. Stephan Schlamminger, a scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology commented that a fundamental constant can never change its value, unlike any physical quantity. As a result of this, now the value of the kilogram will be same on Earth as in any other part of the universe.

Scientists who have been associated with the science of measurement for a very long period view this new definition of the kilogram along with similar changes in mole, ampere and Kelvin as a great advancement of humanity.

However, most of our daily calculations will be unaffected by this change. This decision to modify the four basic units of the International System of Units was made at the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measures in November of 2018. The change was accepted unanimously by the delegates of the 60 member nations who had gathered.


However, the copies of Le Grand K will not be useless immediately as they would be used as a standard of kilogram by NIST.

Do you think that these standards are really the final standards or something more precise and universal can be found? Tell us with a short and quick comment.

lcls SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Researchers produce the loudest possible sound in water

For human beings, sound is a perception of waves in the brain. However, physically it is the propagation of vibration as an audible pressure wave which requires a medium for its transmission. The medium need not be air always as loud sounds can also propagate through water.

A group of scientists of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Department of Energy took an X-Ray laser to generate a very loud sound in water. The team reported that the loudness was such that it was almost at the edge of being the loudest sound which could be produced through water. The results of the experiment were reported in Physical Review Fluids. 

Physicist Claudiu Stan of Rutgers University Newark said that the produced sound was slightly below the threshold that would be enough for boiling the water. To achieve this result, scientists used an equipment known as Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS). This is a very powerful X-ray laser which is capable of creating molecular black holes and also raise the temperature of water to 100,000 degrees celsius in a time period which is lesser than millionth of a millionth of second. The X-rays produced by the laser have very high brightness and is considered to be the most powerful X-ray source in the world.

LCLS was used by scientists to understand how the high-intensity sound waves that generate very loud sounds impact materials. For the experiment, researchers blasted very small liquid water microjets with a thickness less than hair strand in a vacuum chamber having X-ray pulses.

As the water stream was intercepted by the laser, very rapid ionisation occurred in the microjet due to heating of the water leading to its vapourisation which in turn produced shock waves.

The researchers found out that these shock waves had peak pressures which match with high sound intensity and sound pressures above 270 decibels. This is louder than a rocket launch or a jet plane taking off. It has been found that it is not possible to reach an intensity louder than this as it would result in the break down of water.

Researchers explained that the magnitudes of the sound intensity were restricted since the wave would destroy the medium of propagation though cavitation. This makes the ultrasonic waves in jets as one of the most intense sounds possible to be generated in water. Scientists also estimate these sound waves to be the highest intensity sound waves produced in water till date.




Researchers use machine learning models for capturing fusion energy

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence which helps in face recognition, language identification, translation. Apart from this, now machine learning can help in bringing the clean fusion energy, which helps in lighting the stars, to the Earth.

Now, a group of researchers from Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory(PPPL) are taking the help of machine learning for creating a model to enable rapid control of plasma. It is the state of matter which consists of free electrons, ions and is responsible for fusion reactions. The biggest examples of such reactions are sun and many other stars which are themselves giant plasmic balls.

Scientists under the leadership of physicist Dan Boyer have trained neural networks which is the essential core of any machine learning software on the dataset produced by National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade at PPPL. This model is quite accurate in reproducing the predictions of the behaviour exhibited by the particles produced by the neutral beam injection (NBI). It is used in fueling the NSTX-U plasmas and reaching upto million degrees of temperature.

The predictions are conventionally done with the help of NUBEAM. It is a program to incorporate the information about the impact made by the beam on the plasma. The calculations are performed a hundred times each second to determine the behaviour of the plasma. But since each calculation takes minutes to complete, researchers can know the result only after the experiment is over.

This problem is solved by the machine learning software as it reduces the time of calculation to less than 150 microseconds. As a result, the outcomes will be visible to the scientists during the experiment. The plasma control system will be able to make better decisions on how to control the injection of the beam for efficient performance.

With such fast evaluations, the operators will be able to make the needed adjustments for the experiments. Boyer, who is also the principal author on a paper of Nuclear Fusion commented that the rapid modelling capacities can guide the operators in changing the NBI settings for the next experiment.

Along with scientist Stan Kaye, he generated a database with NUBEAM results for a specific range of conditions resembling the ones during the initial NSTX-U operations. This was used by the scientists in training a neural network for predicting the effects of the beam on plasma like heating. After that, it was implemented by software engineers on a computer for controlling the experiment and finding out the calculation time. Scientists plan on expanding this modelling approach for other plasma phenomena.


gas giant interior

Formation of superionic ice helps to detect internal structure of Neptune and Uranus

The magic of science has just achieved the unachievable – the most bizarre existence of “supersonic hot ice”. It is called as such because of the peculiarity of frozen water that can remain solid even at extremely high temperature.

Extreme temperature and pressure can crush the frozen substance into increasingly odd varieties. Superionic materials are dual beasts that can exist in dual state-partly solid and liquid at the same time. It is highly conductive material that exists at high pressures such as, one and four million times more than that at sea level and temperature half as hot as the surface of the sun. These conditions are fulfilled by exoplanets like Uranus and Neptune.

After a lot of research conducted by scientists, it was found that water ice becomes hundred times more electrically more conductive. But achieving above mentioned extreme conditions was not a cake walk for scientists. The study has been published in the Nature journal. 

Marius Millot, study leader and researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California remarked that the ice sample which they have observed is at a very high temperature, ranging to thousands of degrees.

Scientists have already known that there are 17 varieties of crystalline ice and they had predicted 30 years back that water can be squeezed to superionic forms through application of extreme pressure.

For that, a set up was made in which a thin layer of water was placed between 2 diamond anvils and then six giant lasers were used to generate shockwaves at pressure up to 1 to 4 million times Earth’s atmospheric pressure and temperature between 1650 and 2760 degree Celsius. But all these could only be maintained for a fraction of a second, so physicists used lasers to blast a tiny piece of iron foil creating a wave of plasma. The X-rays showed unprecedented cubic lattice structure with oxygen at each corner and one at the face.

After these persistent and consistent experiments of scientists, they finally got a hint about the unusual tilting of the magnetic field of Neptune and Uranus. They concluded that Uranus and Neptune should have superionic ice layers that act as our planet mantle and that is responsible for their unusual magnetic field tilting at different angles.

Roberto Car, a physicist at Princeton University remarked that more investigations are needed to prove that ice is superionic, although this experiment is an important step in understanding the variableness of water.

Thus, this bizarre and unprecedented but the most thrilling creation is going to help in unpuzzling the various reasons for the origin, existence and evolution of these exoplanets.

Double slit x ray simulation

Experiment proves the wave-particle duality of antimatter

Antimatter is a material which is made of not only antiparticles but also waves. However, it has been recently found that this holds true even in the case of a singular particle of antimatter. The results of the experiments have been published in the Science Advances journal.

It has been long known by physicists that almost everything in existence, from light, other energy forms to individual particles of a human body exists both in the form of particles as well as waves. This is also known as the particle-wave duality. It has been verified for microscopic elements such as electrons, protons and even atoms and molecules. However, this is not detected in macroscopic elements due to their very short wavelengths. Quantum mechanics has its foundations in this duality of matter.

Physicists now have shown that a single positron which is the antimatter twin of an electron is composed of particles as well as waves. For proving this, scientists performed a modified version of the “double-slit experiment” which was done in 1927 by Davisson and Germer to prove that electrons have both particle as well as wave nature.

In the double-slit experiment, scientists focused a stream of electrons through a plate having two slits on it, and a detector behind the plate. If electrons were only composed of particles then, then there would have been two bright lines on the detector. But this was not the case. There was a spread-out formation on the screen with alternate bright and dim lines. Hence diffraction was observed. Waves can combine or cancel each other depending on how they overlap or shift in respect to the other one, which in turn creates a pattern which is known as interference. These experiments are called interferometry.

In 1976, scientists found out how to achieve the same results with only a single electron, which brings the conclusion that even individual electrons are actually waves which can interfere with themselves.

A team of Swiss and Italian researchers have found out how to create a low energy positron beam which could be used for conducting the first antimatter form of the famous double slit experiment. When the positrons were fired through a series of multiple slits, the pattern formed by the positrons was similar to the one which would have created by waves and not particles.

This leads to a new version of the interferometry experiments. Paola Scampoli, a researcher at Politecnico of Milano said the experiment proves the quantum-mechanical origin and hence the wave nature of the positrons.


tokamak vaccum vessel

China makes progress in its quest for generating fusion power

Fusion energy has a great capacity of curing humanity’s energy woes forever but still, it has yet to reach the milestone of creating more energy in actual than it is needed to reach to keep the process continuing.

This project has an outcome of billion dollars and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor project is held in the part of the eastern side which is said to be useful for fusion power. This multi-billion-dollar project’s centerpiece will be built using tokamak which is a giant cylindrical fusion device and it is sponsored and run by the European Union, China, Japan, India, Russia, South Kore, and the United States. The parts of the machine will be assimilated which was already progressed at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) and many different sites and they will draw a conclusion on their findings of the research and about the project which is now under construction in Provence in southern France.

Fusion is thought to be a treasure filled with energy and this is the energy which gives the strength to our sun. It is seen that the fusion mixes the atomic nuclei to create a huge amount of energy and the exact opposite of the process known as fission process is used in nuclear power plants and many atomic weapons which instead of mixing the nuclei separates them into fragments. Fusion does not release any type of gases like greenhouse gases and has a low chance of risk of accidents or the thievery of the atomic material whereas in the case of fission it’s totally opposite.

The total cost of creating the project of ITER is approximately calculated as at 20 billion euros that is A$32.5 billion but in this project the strength of tolerating the high temperature and other conditions which are unstable is very important  and both the necessities are very tough to achieve and they are very expensive as we can see the cost.

Wu Songtao who is a renowned Chinese engineer with ITER gave a conclusion that China’s technical capabilities on the fusion are still lagging behind the other developed countries and other countries like the USA and Japan’s tokamaks have attained more valuable global results. The Anhui test reactor emphasizes that China is improving very quickly towards its scientific advancement and it has a lot more to achieve.

Wu said that the ability of China has improved a lot in this last 20 years and it has improved more after staring the ITER express train project. So it can be concluded that fusion needs to be worked on and achieved together and any one country can’t work on it alone.

Shield Cryostat XENON 100

Scientists successfully observe radioactive decay of xenon isotope, the slowest process ever detected

The research team of XENON Collaboration built an instrument which captures the processes that take time longer than the formation of the universe. The researchers have reported that they have noticed the radioactive decay of Xenon-124 which has a half-life of 1.8 * 1022 years. The results have been published in the Nature journal.

In this situation, researchers managed to study a special case known as double electron capture in which two protons present in a xenon atom at the same time absorb two electrons which lead to the formation of two neutrons and they also explained that this is the rarest thing which is multiplied by another which makes it ultra rare. Ethan Brown a co-author of the study and an assistant professor of physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute said that they saw the decay happening and it was the slowest process ever and that their dark matter detector can very quick to measure the rarest thing recorded.

The instrument is invented to identify the interactions of hypothetical dark matter particles which have atoms weighing 1,300kg in Xenon isotope which is packed inside the tank of the device. But in this situation the censors instead of recording the particles it recorded the decaying of the isotope in itself which lead to a rare survey of a different kind. The decaying of the xenon isotope was never noticed by scientists directly even if there was a theory behind this since 1955 and it’s the proof of something they have been examining since decades.

XENON1T detects the signals sent by the electron in atoms by reordering themselves to fit for the two that were arrested in the nucleus. Brown said that a room is created in the shell when the electrons in double capture are removed from the innermost shell around the nucleus and the rest collapses in the ground state and this process was observed by them. XENON1T can also be a cause of finding important things and that the recent study can teach us more about neutrinos which are large but very difficult to detect the particles which scientists are looking for decades now.

Here the researchers noticed two-neutrino double electron capture which is due to the reordering of electrons which means two electrons were discharged by the atomic nucleus. Curt Breneman from RPI said that this is a fantastic discovery which helps in gaining more knowledge on the basic features of the matter. Scientists are currently working on upgrading the equipment for XENONnT in which the active mass detector will be thrice larger than XENON1T. It will have an improved sensitivity as compared to XENON1T.

supersolid representation artist

Scientists discover supersolidity in quantum gases for the first time

Francesca Ferlaino and other researchers from Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Innsbruck created a report on Physical Review X on what they observed of the behavior of a supersolid in dipolar quantum gases made of dysprosium and erbium. Atoms are arranged in a crystalline pattern as well as they behave like a superfluid in a supersolid where particles can move even when there is no friction.

Dr. Lauriane Chomaz from the Institute for Experimental Physics at the University of Innsbruck and colleagues said that their work was mainly focused on attaining the supersolidity in helium but now the researchers are emphasizing more on atomic gases with strong dipolar interactions. Many experiments have been conducted and it has been observed and disclosed in one of the recent experiments that atomic gases have some common properties of that of superfluid helium and these features are the basic features required for achieving a basic condition with both spontaneous density modulation and global phase coherence.

Density modulation and global phase coherence are the indicators of supersolidity. The team created the two supersolids with the help of erbium and dysprosium quantum gases. The scientists said that they created different states by performing different experiments which will show the features of supersolidity by adjusting the relational strength among the particles in erbium quantum gases as well as the erbium quantum gases.

Dr. Francesca Ferlaino who is the senior author from the University of Innsbruck and the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information of the Austrian Academy of Sciences said that the way the erbium works is only for the short period of time and he also adds that their dysprosium realization shows an unmatched balance.

In this experiment, the state of supersolidity can not only live longer but the state of supersolidity can be straightforwardly attained through the process of evaporative cooling which can be started from a thermal sample. The simple principle here is like getting energized over a cup of tea. The principle here is removing the particles which are carrying most of the energies so that the gas slowly cools down and down and slowly achieves the quantum-degenerate stationary state along with the help of the characteristics of the supersolid at the thermal equilibrium.

Thus we can conclude here that the experiment offers a very thrilling hope for more experiments in the future and the theories as well since the state of the supersolid is a bit affected by dissipative dynamics or excitations which leads to the pavement so that it can probe its excitation spectrum and its superfluid behavior.