Albert Einstein’s famous equation, E = MC2, was contained in his 1905 Special Theory of Relativity, presented in a paper succinctly titled On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies. The motivation was to reconcile certain inconsistencies between Isaac Newton’s classical view and James Clerk Maxwell’s equations of electromagnetism. A further aspiration was to account for the Michelson-Morley enigma.
Among the many consequences, all now verified by observation and experiment, are length contraction, time dilation, relativistic mass, mass-energy equivalence, universal speed limit and relativity of simultaneity.
Mass and energy are two attributes of a physical body that are always present in the proportion E = MC2. C, the nominal speed in a vacuum, is a gigantic number, and when squared it is a large number indeed! What the equation means is that mass and energy are interchangeable and under specific conditions what we consider a small amount of mass can become a large amount of energy.
The universe is probably indifferent to this great disparity. It seems striking only because mass and energy are viewed by us experientially at vastly different scales. To us it is striking that the amount of mass contained in a penny could yield the amount of energy released by the atomic bombs that ended World War Two. We cannot achieve this sort of efficiency because temperatures and pressures greater than those at the sun’s core would be required for such total conversion. Nevertheless, Einstein’s equation is valid.
You might ask what does the speed of light have to do with mass-energy conversion, and why is this constant squared?
When mass is converted to energy, that energy commences to move at the speed of light because, like light, it is a form of electromagnetic energy in accordance with Maxwell’s theories. In accelerating the energy component to the speed of light, it is multiplied precisely by that factor.
The exponent, two, is accounted for by the established fact that energy increases with the square of speed. When body A moves at three times the speed of body B, A has nine times the amount of energy compared to B. The amount of kinetic energy is proportional to the speed squared.
These two fundamental relations are brought together in Einstein’s mass-energy equation.
Vast amounts of energy are available in nuclear reactions. Fission takes place at the heavy end of the periodic table. The nuclei of uranium atoms can be split suddenly to produce a huge explosion, or as a controlled reaction to generate usable power, in both cases the amount of fuel being quite small. Among the disadvantages are that dangerous by-products are generated and safe disposal is problematic.
At the light end of the periodic table, where the atomic numbers are low, the nuclear reaction of interest is known as fusion. This involves combining hydrogen atoms to form helium atoms, here again with release of vast amounts of energy. As a source of power, fusion would be much cleaner than fission in that radioactive waste products would not be generated. Moreover, the hydrogen for fuel could be acquired by electrolysis of water, using a minute amount of energy compared to the amount generated in the fusion process.
A slow, controlled (non-explosive) nuclear process involving hydrogen to helium conversion has been called cold fusion. This would be a totally non-polluting inexpensive source of abundant energy with no apparent downside. The only problem is that a working model has never been built. On the other hand, cold fusion has not been shown to be a theoretical impossibility. A few intelligent researchers are working with great dedication, but unfortunately the funding situation is bleak.
A viable cold fusion device could reverse global warming and provide unlimited power on a decentralized basis in conjunction with solar PV. Whether this is possible remains unknown at present but in view of the great benefits, a large investment in research would seem appropriate.
An important event in the history of cold fusion research happened in 1989 when two researchers, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, stated that their apparatus had produced excess heat indicating that cold fusion had indeed taken place. As always, other researchers attempted to duplicate their results. These efforts were unsuccessful, so the conclusion was that the original experiment had been flawed. So far, no cold fusion. Previous experiments, involving palladium as a catalyst, had also produced at first hope, then disappointment.
Another purported cold fusion device was devised by inventor Andrea Rossi with support from the late physicist Sergio Focardi. Called the E-Cat, or Energy Catalyzer, the apparatus has been described as “process and equipment to obtain exothermal reactions, in particular from nickel and hydrogen”. Rossi and Focardi claimed the device worked by infusing heated hydrogen into nickel powder, transmuting it into copper and producing excess heat. The device has been demonstrated several times by Rossi, but independent researchers remain largely skeptical of the results. No independent tests have been made, and no peer-reviewed tests have been published.
To create cold fusion, the most hopeful approach at present seems to be to combine deuterium and/or hydrogen in the presence of some metal such as palladium or nickel. To this is applied a measured amount of energy, which can consist of electricity, magnetism, heat, laser or sonic waves. This setup is often kept in place for an extended period of time, often weeks, and the hope is to detect what is known as anomalous heat, observed in either open or closed cells.