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MIT professor devises theory for "cold fusion"

By Linda D'Angelo

MIT has applied for patents in connection with a theoretical model of cold nuclear fusion proposed by Peter L. Hagelstein '76, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. His theoretical work is based on experiments conducted at the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Texas A&M University, and Georgia Institute of Technology.

Hagelstein has submitted four "papers describing a speculative theory on the new cold fusion," according to a prepared statement he released to the press. But aside from the fact that his theoretical model "involves both quantum, collective and coherent effects," Hagelstein refused further comment until his papers have been accepted.

Although Hagelstein's work is theoretical, and theory is not generally patented, the practical applications to which it could lead are patentable. MIT, like Hagelstein, refused to discuss the specific technology involved prior to the publication of the journal articles.

Hagelstein's theory is based on the claim by Utah researchers that they had achieved nuclear fusion in a table-top apparatus at room temperature. Fueled by an auto battery, this experiment contradicts the long-held assumption that nuclear fusion can occur only at temperatures approaching those at the interior of the sun.

Since verification of these results would have a revolutionary effect on the development of fusion as an alternative source of energy, a worldwide effort to reproduce the findings is now in progress. Researchers at Texas A&M and Georgia Tech reported partial duplication of the Utah results and physicists in Moscow have announced confirmation of the original findings, but as of yet, no institution has detailed conclusive experimental evidence.

Provost John M. Deutch '61, in a press statement, said he recognized the "enormous consequences" of this phenomenon, and was "pleased to see Professor Hagelstein proposing an explanation." He encouraged "investigators both here and at other research institutions to continue their work."

After receiving three degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, Hagelstein worked at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California and contributed to the theory of the original X-ray laser. In part due to his discomfort with the Strategic Defense Initiative of which the X-ray laser is a significant part, Hagelstein returned to MIT in October 1986.