Hydrinos on the radio

Update (Nov. 21): Mack in the comments has pointed out that Blacklight Power has an mp3 of the radio story I’m talking about on their web site.  Thanks for letting me know.  I just took a second listen.  It’s just as bad as I remembered.

Our local public radio station ran a piece today on the claims by Blacklight Power to have found a way to extract huge amounts of energy from ordinary hydrogen.  I’m sorry to say this, because I’m a big fan of public radio (yes, I’m a member, and you should be too)  but this was a really lousy piece of journalism.

It’s one of the only things I’ve heard on the station that’s even worse than the Virginia Stock Report: that’s just ludicrously pointless, whereas this report was actually harmful.

The people at Blacklight Power claim that there is another energy level of hydrogen, far below the usual ones, and they have a way of causing hydrogen atoms to drop into this lower state, releasing large amounts of energy.  There is an essentially complete consensus among physicists that this is impossible.  For one thing, the existence of this energy state would violate the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, one of the best-tested laws in modern physics.

The radio report adopts the usual pseudo-balanced tone, noting that “some scientists” are skeptical, but it completely fails to make clear that this is a fringe theory and that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that the Blacklight people are wrong.  As anyone who pays attention to science and the media knows all too well, this sort of pseudo-balance is exactly the sort of thing that gives aid and comfort to creationists.  If you’re a science journalist, and you actually believe in science, don’t do this.

A couple of notes:

1. The Blacklight people say that an independent lab at Rowan University has replicated their results.  But the lab uses samples prepared by Blacklight with unknown properties, and all they see is bursts of energy that they don’t know the cause of.  I’m quite prepared to believe there are bursts of energy, but it’s just some chemical reaction having to do with the way the sample was prepared.

2. I’m definitely not accusing Blacklight of deliberate fraud.  On the contrary, as a New York Times article points out,  the company’s adopting a very poor strategy if that’s their goal.  I think they genuinely believe they’re onto something, and they’re just wrong.

Of course, if they’re right and I’m wrong, then (a) they’ll get rich,  (b) I won’t, (c) they’ll solve the world’s energy problems, and (d) we’ll have a major revolution in physics.  I’ll be thrilled by (c) and (d) and perfectly content with (a), which will be well-deserved.  And I can live with (b), which will happen regardless of whether they’re right or wrong.

But anyway, it’s all irrelevant, because they’re not right.  A century of incredibly rigorously tested science says so.

14 Responses to “Hydrinos on the radio”

  1. Mack says:

    Prof. Bunn, if Blacklight is to makes its case then they have to persuade people of your background. My question is what would you accept as proof that they are right? The evidence they publish in support of their claims on their website appears quite extensive and goes far beyond just the Rowan replication.

  2. Yes you’re right… Science has always been right when it has vehemently denied that the next big discovery is possible. I’m sure that same pattern will continue ;)

  3. Leo T says:

    I take your point that they’re probably wrong, but this doesn’t really make the thing not-newsworthy. That they are working on something so large an impact, have a whole bunch of venture capital, as well as some (apparently?) smart people working for them, makes it a news story, imho (note that this is not really the case for creationists).

    I’ll admit that I didn’t listen to the interview, so I don’t know how much their journalism failed to convey the appropriate tone (which I’d guess is something like “this smart guy has a theory and device which goes against the well-established scientific sub-domain of quantum physics, but which has a whole lot of promise for a bunch of other reasons”).

    I suppose what I’m wondering is, when is the last time anyone accomplished as much as Mills has while working with something that was ultimately false?

  4. Navigator7 says:

    Public Radio is the biggest travesty in America… except for Car Talk.

    After an election when all the MSM and NPR was in the Tank for Obama … Journalism died.

    Once BLP produces a product consumers want and money changes hands, they have proved science wrong! Until then, BLP remains the laughing stock.

    Frankly, I’ll take DR. Randell Mills views over most scientists these days … especially global warming scientists and Darwinists.

    If Mills is the charlatan you suggest, he has been a consistent charlatan for 20 years.

    There is a lot we don’t know about the unknown and I think Mills is making science nervous.

    The Catch 22 regarding patents he has tried to obtain on his process was nothing short of the dark ages.
    How can you patent something that can’t happen according to modern science?

    Could it be global warming scientists retire at the patent office?

  5. Ted Bunn says:

    A couple of quick replies:

    1. To Vaughan Wynne-Jones: In fact, science almost always is right when it says that radical new ideas that contradict a century of evidence are mistaken. Maybe this’ll be one of the very rare times it’s not, but I doubt it.

    2. To Leo T: I agree that it’s newsworthy, because people are putting money into it. I don’t object to the fact of covering it, but to the credulous and in my opinion misleading tone of the coverage.

  6. Jones says:

    Do you happen to have a link to an mp3 of the interview? If so, I’d be interested to give it a listen.

  7. Ted Bunn says:

    No, I don’t have a copy. I dug around briefly on the station’s web site, but I didn’t find it.

  8. Mack says:

    If BLP is right it doesn't mean that all experiments done previously were wrong or invalidated. It just means that our interpretation of experiments based on current understanding have added an unnecessary layer of complexity to physics that would just have to be re-interpreted. A major upset in physics would be absolutely brilliant. Think of all the arguments, the new discoveries and the technological revolution if we truly had a classically based Grand United Theory.

    BLP is claiming that their theory of physics applies classical laws at both the macro and micro world and results in a simpler model of physics from the level of quarks to the entire universe. It also has some mind blowing implications in relation to gravity which I can't quite bring myself to accept at this time even if they do have an experiment to "prove" that too. They call it "The Fifth Force".

    BLP has a vastly different model of the electron as a physical, two dimensional dynamic structure (it can change shape) with real spin and specific and classical rules as to why it can and can't radiate energy and the essence of BLP energy claims are that while the ground state cannot radiate energy it can lose energy by non-radiative mechanisms such as resonant energy transfers but only in the case where an atom, ion or compound can exactly absorb an integer multiple of 27.2ev. But i am not sure why multiples of 27.2ev are the alleged key to resonantly coupling to the catalyst.

    The claimed ultimate energy release is relatively huge for a non-nuclear reaction- the hydrino that is 1/4 the radius of the ground state that is said to be the cause of the observed energy spike of the Rowan reactor releases a total of about 204ev per hydrogen atom. The cheap energy claim is therefore founded on the premise that in an ideal situation you could input 7ev to split water and then the H2 into 2H and react each of those H for a total energy release of 408ev.

    Interestingly his theory claims that hydrinos and it's molecular form are a likely candidate for dark matter as they don't have excited states like normal H. A proof of this could be if spectra from dark matter gas clouds match hydrino or molecular hydrino transitions in the UV and X-ray range.

    In 1995 it is claimed that Mills' theory predicted the accelerating expansion of the universe which was confirmed experimentally by other researchers in 1998.

    Mills also claims that hydrino transitions are the power source of the sun's high temperature corona and that spectral lines that match those predicted by his theory can be detected from the sun. I have to admit that the alternative theory of magnetic tubules funneling heat from the colder sun surface to the extremely hot corona, is not one I thought much of.

    Hydrinos in his reactors are said to be able capture an electron to form hydrino hydride ions that bond to normal matter in addition to hydrinos forming molecular "di-hydrinos" such as H2(1/4). He claims to have isolated and separated these materials and subjected them to NMR and TOF-SIMS that indicate the electron really is closer to the proton. This really needs review by an expert in those specialties to confirm or deny the claims. He also has spectral lines of hydrino transitions from his reactors that match his theoretical predictions.

    He has created a molecular modeling software program (Millsian) based on his theory that uses only simple closed form solutions to build and model physical structures of a huge class of molecules. In order to show that he hasn't hidden the solutions inside the program, he has provided thousands of excel spreadsheets for free download that detail the actual calculations used. Would like to hear from anyone who is using the program as to how accurate they find it.

    While all the above needs review and confirmation, this company and Dr. Mills appear genuine and there's too much complimentary data to dismiss him as completely wrong. Even if he is only partly right in what he claims, there's no doubt he genuinely believes he has created a working Grand United Theory that explains all physical phenomena based on a self consistent set of rules based on classical physics and has accumulated an impressive set of experiments to back up his claims. I wish there was more interest in putting his claims to the test by third parties.

    If he actually has hydrino compounds extracted from his reactors that can be categorized with existing technologies, it kind of clinches the deal for me.

  9. Neil Ferguson says:

    How I wish I (or you) were a qualified chemist. I have tried in a few forums to entice a qualified scientist to examine the Millsian formulas as used in their molecular modelling software. I suggest that their massive publication of calculated vs. widely recognized experimental results for total bond energies of compounds offers the necessary materials for refutation or confirmation of his theories.
    Most of his calculated results are well within 1% of published experimental values (presumably within the margin of experimental error) but a few are larger. Assuming no data entry errors, doesn’t it follow that the only two possibilities are (1) current experimental values are faulty or (2) his theory fails?
    The test seems straightforward: remeasure the anomalous compounds. But I never hear a whisper of interest – always there is just an awkward silence.

  10. Mack says:

    This may be the NPR piece you heard. The mp3 is now on the BLP What’s New page.

    http://www.blacklightpower.com/NPR%20Interview/BLP%20NPR%20Interview%20by%20John%20Ogle%20111708.mp3

  11. Ted Bunn says:

    Yes, that’s it. Thanks!

  12. [...] recent post about Blacklight Power’s claim that there’s a lower-energy state of hydrogen (which [...]

  13. Jones says:

    BLP has been publishing papers on Balmer line broadening which have been observed in various hydrogen plasmas for a while now. Various other labs have also noted the effect and attempted to explain the broadening in conventional terms.

    This is an interesting paper I just came across on arxiv which summarizes, to date, the various proposed models to explain the effect and how the experimental observations stack up against each model:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0810.5280

  14. [...] don’t know whether the interviewer is aware of what I wrote about a previous piece he did; I hope not.  Needless to say, I like the piece about me [...]

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