November 7, 2005

Renewable Energy and the Death of Quantum Mechanics (Wishful Thinking)

From The Guardian via Slashdot: Dr. Randell Mills of Blacklight Technology claims to have invented a new energy source that supposedly works by moving the electrons of hydrogen atoms in ordinary water closer to the nucleus, thus causing a very large release of energy. Dr. Mills calls the new form of hydrogen "hydrino." The (alleged) new technology would reduce energy costs to about 24% of the coal energy, or 20% that of nuclear. There is only one problem: according to quantum mechanics, Dr. Mills's results are impossible.

In standard quantum mechanics, the smallest possible distance between the electron and the nucleus (a single proton) in the hydrogen atom is fixed and cannot be reduced (says The Guardian - it was my understanding that just about anything could happen in quantum mechanics and the electron "shells" were merely regions where the electron's waveform might collapse with high probability, but what do I know? Then again, what does The Guardian know?). Dr. Mills has developed a new theory, which is more closely related to classical physics then is standard quantum theory. This theory was published under the title "Classical Quantum Mechanics" in the December 2003 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Physics Essays. This theory was heavily criticized by Dr. Andreas Rathke of the European Space Agency in a paper entitled "A Critical Analysis of the Hydrino Model" in the May 2005 edition of the New Journal of Physics (abstract available online here). Dr. Rathke claims that Dr. Mills's theory is the result of mathematical mistakes. There have, however, been others who have claimed that it is Rathke's calculations that are mistaken, and Mills's invention would seem to show that these are in the right.

At least two academic scientists have inspected Dr. Mills's research and been convinced that it does in fact work. These are Professor Rick Maas of the University of North Carolina chemistry department, and Professor Randy Booker, a physicist, also from UNC. Professor Maas said that the two of them had "put [their] professional reputations on the line" with the claim that Dr. Mills's data is, at the last, compelling and worthy of further investigation. However, quantum mechanics remains entrenched, and scientists will (rightly) continue to be very skeptical as the possibility is examined further.

Corporations and venture capitalists are somewhat less skeptical. Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in Blacklight Technologies to develop this idea. The first product, they say, will be a household heater, hopefully to be made available within four years. There is also research being done at NASA on using the technology in spacecrafts.

In case you are wondering how this news item came to be on this blog, I am deeply troubled by quantum mechanics and think, philosophically and theologically that it ought not to be true. The real world simply cannot be stochastic (can it?). I don't know if Dr. Mills's theory is actually deterministic, but it gives me hope that the world might be a comprehensible place after all (I never really gave up hoping). Note that the founders of modern science (Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Boyle, etc.) would have said almost unanimously that if quantum mechanics was true, science (they would have said "mechanistic natural philosophy") was a failure. I am inclined to agree.

I'll be very disappointed when Dr. Mills's theory is disproven next week.

Posted by Kenny at November 7, 2005 11:57 PM
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