About Chemical Innovation - Subscription Information
October 2001
Vol. 31, No. 10, pp 44–45.

Table of Contents

Peter Gluck

A new definition for “chemical element”?

Any field of science needs high degrees of standardization, appropriate and specific language, order, and clarity. Therefore, definitions of the basics are necessary. However, Nature is extremely complex, and reality has so many facets that unequivocal, comprehensive, scientifically sustainable definitions are rarely possible. On the contrary, there appears to be a Heisenberg-type relationship between the importance and the definability of concepts. Fundamental ones, such as space, time, matter, and energy, cannot be actually defined; and essential human features such as knowledge, intelligence, and creativity, each has several incomplete definitions.

In chemistry, acidity, basicity, electronegativity, aromaticity, and so forth are useful but “fuzzy” concepts. Definitions of terms like these can limit and sometimes even mutilate the integrity of these concepts. The great Polish author of aphorisms, S. J. Lec, has remarked, “Definition and finis [death] have the same Latin root” (1). Richness of a concept is sacrificed for the sake of brevity. Obsolete definitions can hamper creativity and progress in a field of research.

A chemical element is currently defined as “a type of matter composed of atoms that all have exactly the same positive charge of their nuclei”, that is, the same atomic number (2). This definition works and is perfectly justified, but it is a physical definition. Chemistry is about reactivity, bonds, structures, and properties, all of which depend on the electrons that surround the nuclei and on specific electronic configurations. Chemical events happen with electrons. Quantum mechanics has just added to the complexity of chemistry but does not change anything. As long it is certain that any atomic number imposes one and only one electron configuration, the physical and chemical definitions are equivalent. Along the same line of thinking, it seems that the periodic table of the elements is definitive, and the short-lived synthetic elements cannot introduce new chemical data. However, even a single exception to the equivalence of the definitions could open new vistas to chemistry. Until recently, this seemed to be simply impossible.

Hydrogen atoms with variable “orbitalities”
It is well known that the simplest atom, hydrogen, has a fundamental ground state, and this is believed to be unique and indisputable. An American researcher, Randell Mills, has a different opinion. In 1986, he began to develop a general theory based on fundamental natural laws, and he has questioned quantum mechanics. It is far beyond the scope of this article to present this impressive intellectual construct. It has not yet been accepted by mainstream physicists, but it has been described in papers and supported by many kinds of experiments. Extensive information can be found on the Web site of Mills’s company, BlackLight Power Inc. (Cranbury, NJ) (3).

Mills has predicted and demonstrated the possibility that hydrogen atoms can be induced catalytically to collapse to energy states lower than the ground state, corresponding to fractional quantum numbers. Usable energy is released; it’s not “free”, but it is much more intense than that produced by burning hydrogen. The collapsed hydrogen atom—for which he coined the name “hydrino”, or “tiny hydrogen”—can react with one electron to form a hydride ion. Hydride reacts with other elements, forming a variety of new compounds with interesting and novel properties. Mills and his collaborators have described and characterized a few of them (4–8), but the possibilities seem limitless. Mills calls his work “a new field of hydrogen chemistry”, but I am not convinced that this is the best description.

Chemical elements currently are characterized by their isotopicity (9)—their ability to exist with different numbers of neutrons. Mills’s discovery has generated a new concept: “orbitality”. Thus, atomic hydrogen, deuterium, and tritium differ in their isotopicity, but hydrogen and the hydrino differ in their orbitality: For the same nucleus, they have different electron cloud configurations. For a chemist, it may appear obvious that orbitality is much more significant and chemically differentiating than isotopicity.

The elements of the periodic table have reactivities and other properties determined by their orbitality. Surprisingly, it now appears that at least one element—it happens that it is the simplest and most abundant in the universe—has many kinds of orbitalities, one for each fractional quantum state, that function as different elements.

The definition of “element” is being brought into question. Originally, it meant a building block of Nature, but now a new category has appeared. A myriad applications will be created; and orbitality may be a complex subject, good for many papers and theses. We must answer the questions: Are hydrogen and the hydrino still one and the same element? What will happen if heavier elements with different orbitalities are synthesized?

The strange birth of a new chemical element
Mills’s discoveries have created a complicated and controversial situation. On one hand, he continues to publish more and more experimental data proving the creation and existence of the hydrino. Some examples:

  • Hydrinos produce excess heat caused by the shrinkage of hydrogen atoms released in electrolysis and vapor-phase catalysis experiments, and the Mills theory predicts well which elements work as catalysts.
  • Hydrinos create a hydrogen plasma under extremely mild conditions (e.g., at 1/100 of the theoretical voltage and with 1/4000–1/7000 the power input of noncatalytic controls).
  • Many compounds of hydrino hydrides with unexpected properties, not predicted by the current theory, have been synthesized. For example, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy reveals protons tightly shielded by electrons orbiting close to them.

On the other hand, no papers in peer-reviewed journals confirm or refute Mills’s ideas and results. The standard treatment is to ignore his results and to replace scientific arguments with stock answers (10) or by association with “cold fusion”, which is an entirely different subject.

It is interesting that, independently of Mills, a small English group has also concluded that lower, fractional energy states of hydrogen exist in the framework of quantum mechanics (11). But they do not speak about new compounds or use the process for generation of energy.

However, this story is about the future of chemistry and chemical engineering, and there is only one way to decide. The samples (e.g., those with the general formula MH*X, where M is a metal, X is a halide, and H* is a hydrino ion) provided by BlackLight Power must be analyzed and conclusions drawn. In the worst case, the theory will be disproved; in the best case (for chemistry), the periodic table will be enriched with one or more elements. Future science will decide, and perhaps the first new chemical quasi-element will be named millsium.

The goal of this article is simply to stimulate an immediate response from scientists. Chemists of the world, analyze those compounds and decide!


  1. Lec, S. J. Mysli nieuczane (Uncombed Thoughts); Oficyna Literacka Noir sur Blanc Sp.: Warsaw, Poland, 1996; vol 3 (in Polish).
  2. IUPAC Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed.; International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry: Research Triangle Park, NC, 1997; www.iupac.org/goldbook/C01022.pdf (accessed October 2001).
  3. www.blacklightpower.com (accessed October 2001).
  4. Mills R. Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 2000, 25, 669–683.
  5. Mills R.; Dhandapani, B.; Greenig, N.; He, J. Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 2000, 25, 1185–1203.
  6. Mills R.; Dhandapani, B.; Nansteel, H.; He, J.; Shannon, T.; Echezuria, A. Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 2001, 26, 339–367.
  7. Mills, R.; Good, W. R.; Phillips, J.; Popov, A. I. U.S. Patent 6,024,935, 2000.
  8. Mills R.; Dhandapani, B.; Nansteel, H.; He, J.; Voigt, A. Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 2001, 26, 965–979.
  9. Berezin, A. A. Interdiscipl. Sci. Rev. 1992, 17 (1), 74–80.
  10. Vijh, A. K. Int. J. Hydrogen Energy 2001, 26, 281.
  11. Davies, C. J.; Davies, C. J.; Beith, R.M.V.; Eccles, C. R. World Patent 00 25320, 2000.

Peter Gluck (pgluck@dntcj.ro) retired in 1999 after a 40-year career in the Romanian chemical industry. He is currently a senior consultant and Web searcher for Dynamic Network Technologies, an Internet service provider in Cluj, Romania.

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