I didn't realise, until I received its invitation, that there was a group called Friends On Similar Wave Length (FOSWL), comprising reputed experts and professionals in various fields of activity, with special focus on the ever expanding frontiers of science and technology.
The talk it recently organised in Chennai on Emerging Clean Energy Sources of the 21st Century by the former Associate Director of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Dr M.Srinivasan, was an eye opener.
In a speech impressive for letting facts speak for themselves, he described the revival worldwide of the tremendous interest in a source of limitless and environmentally-clean energy capable of guaranteeing humankind total energy security and independence.
Since the purport of this may not be immediately understood in all its dimensions, let me elaborate it a little.
Two scientists with solid credentials, Martin Fleishmann and Stanley Pons, took the world by storm in 1989 by claiming that they had achieved ‘cold fusion', that is, nuclear fusion at room temperatures in a simple tabletop laboratory device termed an electrolytic cell.
At one stroke, it provided an answer to everybody's prayers at a time when the oil shock was still hurting, discourses on global warming, acid rain, ravages of oil spills and greenhouse gases were causing a scare and both governments and peoples were uneasy about the harmful side-effects of nuclear power.
But there were two stumbling blocks: The claim of the researchers flew in the face of conventional wisdom that nuclear fusion — which keeps the Sun and the stars continuously emitting light and heat on a scale beyond the power of the human brain to comprehend — can only occur in nuclear reactors able to withstand temperatures of tens of millions of degrees Fahrenheit. Their assurances of careful verification of results cut no ice.
That apart, unfortunately for the two researchers, their experiments could not be replicated and within a couple of years, ‘cold fusion' was pronounced an impossibility. Indeed, this energy jackpot waiting to be hit began to be derided and discredited as ‘pathological science' peddled by crackpots.
The campaign of mainstream scientists against it was reminiscent of the contemptuous dismissals by stick-in-the-mud stalwarts of the day of Graham Bell's ‘speech carrier', Wright Brothers' ‘flying machine' and Bill Gates' ambition to put a PC in every home.
The world has now woken up to the incredible potential of ‘cold fusion', now renamed as Low Energy Nuclear Reactions (LENR), or Low Energy Nuclear Transmutations (LENT), to deliver infinite energy.
It is currently the rage of research institutions all over the world, such as the US Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Centre, the American Chemical Society, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, operating the world's largest particle physics laboratory, the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Technical Headquarters in Japan, and the Toyota R&D Centre at the Osaka University.
The Indian scientific community, however, seems to have completely skipped the entire field of research which holds the prospect of inexhaustible energy ready at hand.
Immediately after the global sensation over ‘cold fusion' in 1989, Dr P.K.Iyengar, as the chief of BARC, gave a push to the research on the subject, but his successors scrapped it following the controversy in which it got enmeshed.
Now that LENR and LENT are regarded as feasible propositions and have acquired respectability in the eyes of the research fraternity around the world, India's scientific and research establishments should take it up with full vigour so as to catch up with the advances made elsewhere.
The National Institute of Advanced Studies too has reportedly recommended revival of this research and adequate funding for it. Apparently, the initial interest shown by the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, the BARC and the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research has since died down.
Here is a golden opportunity that the Principal Scientific Adviser, Dr R.Chidambaram, should not fail to grasp, especially in view of the explicit duty cast on him to create missions and undertake multi-departmental, multi-institutional projects in strategic, technology and other areas of economic and social relevance.
The first essential step is to have the proposal studied in depth by the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet and take it before the Cabinet with a framework and a flowchart for implementation.