'Hey Bill Nye, Is Cold Fusion Possible?'

Television Host and Science Educator

Did you know that our fascination with cold fusion — unlimited energy created at room temperature — all began with the holder of the first patent for the television? His name was Philo Farnsworth, and it seems his success at creating moving images convinced him he could manipulate neutrons at the atomic level. Alas, no such thing proved true then, or ever has since. We remain fascinated at the prospect of infinite energy created almost effortlessly, despite evidence from our own star about the challenging requirements.

  • Transcript


Loki: Good evening Mr. Nye. My name is Loki and I have Cerebral Palsy so I'm sorry if I sound weird or look weird, but my question to you is on cold fusion. Was it something that actually had merit or was it something that the scientific community legitimately had reasons for banning it. Your thoughts please.

Bill Nye: Loki, Loki, Loki, you don't look that weird it to us sir. You look fine. About cold fusion, so here was the idea. There's a guy who really had the first patent on television was the mythic, this is really his name, Philo Farnsworth. And it is said he told people that he had the idea for television by plowing his uncle's potato field as a kid and he looked at the way the furloughs went across the field and inferred that would be a way to make a moving picture. That same guy got it in his head that he could make neutrons do whatever he wanted, like he had this one success and he got it in his head that he could influence neutrons and he created a device which he called a phaser and that word has later been used to describe rotating vectors in light waves and heat waves.

But this thing was going to enable neutrons to fuse together at room temperature. He was not able to do it. In order to do that, as far as we can tell right now, you need the gravity of a star, which we have at our nearby star, the sun, and people have speculated that you could also contain fusion, not speculated, I'm short changing us, people have shown that you can contain fusion in a magnetic field, a very, very strong magnetic field, but no one has been able to build a magnetic field powered that fusion reaction makes enough power to establish the magnetic field strong enough to hold it. So in my experience growing up it's always 40 years from now when this will be done, but recently an aircraft company, I guess it was McDonnell Douglas, claimed that they'd be able to make fusion happen at room temperature. I'm very skeptical because I look at what happens in nature with these stars, but so far cold fusion was a myth.

Then about 25 years ago 1988, 1990 scientist at a university in the state of Utah, here in the U.S., thought if they had established cold fusion — that they had established a magnetic field powered by the energy of the fusion that would contain the reaction. But they didn't. They had the thermometer in the wrong place on their lab equipment. And I cite this as an example of journalists who were not scientifically literate enough to question this result — this published result or announced result — and the journalists let the story spiral out of control to the point where somebody like you 25 years later is asking essentially the same question. Can we have fusion at room temperature? As far as we know, no. However, it is reasonable that you will be alive when people really do figure it out. It's exciting. It's a great question.