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A revival of interest in muon-catalyzed fusion?

Cold fusion of the late 1980's Fleischmann-Pons variety has long since fallen into disrepute, but it is interesting to recall that the coinage of the term actually dates to a 1956 New York Times article describing the phenomenon of muon-catalyzed fusion.

In a nutshell, a muon replaces one of the electrons in a hydrogen molecule (generally of the exotic deuterium-tritium variety), allowing the two nuclei to draw far closer than the normal covalent bond would allow. With proximity thus achieved, the probaility of deuterium-tritium fusion is greatly increased. After a fusion reaction occurs, the responsible muon is free to catalyze further events until it either decays (its rest frame half-life is two microseconds) or is removed from action by "sticking" to an alpha particle produced by the fusion. Economic viability of the process for creating energy would require that a single muon catalyze approximately 500 fusion events before it decays, a rate of efficiency that exceeds best efforts by at least a factor of two or three.

Muon-catalyzed fusion was originally observed in laboratory experiments and described in this article by Luis Alvarez et al., and was studied in depth by John David Jackson, he of Jackson's Electrodynamics fame. Jackson's 1957 Physical Review article is a standard reference, and remarkably, more than a half-century later, he summarized the history of the field in this 2010 review.

The prospects for muon-catalyzed fusion as an energy source seemed moderately bright during the 1980s and 1990s, following the elucidation and observation of molecular states of the deuterium-tritium-muon positive ion. The field has largely stalled in recent years, however, as workable schemes for either producing muons more cheaply, or improving their catalytic efficiency have failed to emerge.

At the close of the 2010 article, Jackson seemed optimistic, writing, "The effort for such a specialized field has been prodigious, especially in the last 30 years. On the applied side, ideas continue on how to increase the number of fusions per muon and design hybrid systems to get into the realm of net energy production." Certainly, it is fair to state that development of effective muon-catalyzed fusion for energy production would be a global game changer.

Prior to Jan 1, 2020, will a peer-reviewed article appear in the mainstream physics literature which discusses a discovery of a physical phenomenon or which outlines an engineering technique that can either (1) increase the number of deuterium-tritium fusions per muon, or (2) decrease the energy cost of muon production to the point where a break-even reactor is feasible?


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