University of Utah chemist B. Stanley Pons, father of cold fusion, is overseas - but no one seems to know where he is or when he'll return, U. officials confirmed Tuesday.

U. officials did say he's visiting foreign laboratories, which is not unusual."Stan has arranged informally with both Fritz Will (director of the National Cold Fusion Institute) and the (chemistry) department chair to be gone about a month," James Brophy, U. vice president of research, said.

Brophy said Pons has no teaching responsibilities until November, and he has arranged with Joel Harris in chemistry, with whom Pons team-teaches, "to take that over."

"My indication is that he feels that he is not able to do as good a job for the students as he would like to in lieu of all that is going on. That's why he has asked Joel Harris to take the classes over," Brophy said.

The vice president added, "There is also the indication that he will make some formal request regarding next quarter, but no one has seen that request."

Rumors have been flying for several weeks that Pons will accept a job with a research institute owned by the Japanese. Several Japanese firms took Pons' and British chemist Martin Fleischmann's experiments on cold fusion very seriously, state officials say, and have been working quietly on them for more than a year.

But when asked where Pons is now, university and state officials this week seemed uncomfortable responding. One state official sarcastically asked if Pons was supposed to check in before he traveled out of state.

Hugo Rossi, dean of the College of Science, said it was not unusual for a senior researcher to visit other laboratories.

"Pretty much the job of a senior researcher is oversight. This kind of oversight can be conducted absentia if necessary by maintaining a senior post-doc in the laboratory," Rossi said.

The dean said he had seen no official request for a leave of absence from Pons.

Pons and Fleischmann ignited an ongoing scientific furor in March 1989 when they announced they had achieved a sustained nuclear fusion reaction in an experiment involving electrically charged palladium and platinum immersed in a beaker of deuterium oxide, or heavy water.

Their experiments were severely criticized in the United States and research funds have been difficult to obtain. A $5 million state appropriation for fusion research, designated to open the National Cold Fusion Institute, is dwindling.