Fusion officials face a Nov. 1 deadline to show what Utah's $5 million investment in the futuristic science has bought.
It appears they'll be forced on stage without the help of the key actor in the University of Utah's science drama, B. Stanley Pons.Pons' Salt Lake home is listed for sale, according to the Salt Lake Board of Realtors. His personal phone number was disconnected on Tuesday. According to a U. source, his family has moved out of town.
Hugo Rossi, dean of the U.'s College of Science, said Tuesday morning he doesn't know Pons whereabouts or future plans. "Our understanding is that he has made satisfactory arrangements for his teaching obligation this fall, and he will be here to meet his obligation for winter quarter."
When asked about rumors that Pons was working for a Japanese laboratory, U. officials last week said they haven't received a request from Pons for a leave of absence. James Brophy, U. vice president of research, said officials are expecting a formal letter outlining Pons' plans for winter quarter. Last week, Brophy said Pons was visiting foreign laboratories, not an unusual practice for senior researchers.
Pons is a tenured professor and former chairman of the U. chemistry department.
Fritz Will, director of the National Cold Fusion Institute, would not talk to reporters Tuesday morning. His secretary, Angie Mitchell, said he was preparing for Thursday's meeting of the Fusion/Energy Advisory Council - where the issue of the missing scientist may be a popular agenda item.
Thursday's meeting of the body that oversees the state's $5 million fusion investment is a dress rehearsal before the accounting with legislators. In addition, the Fusion Institute is scheduled to undergo a scientific review called for by disgruntled U. faculty members.
Raymond L. Hixson, chairman of the advisory council, said Thursday's meeting will focus on the status of the experiments and fusion patents. "We want to know where we stand on the program and what we have to do in the future to preserve our position in this science.
"We have gone this far with it. We had better be sure we are protected for future developments."
At this week's meeting, the council expects a review of the U.'s fusion program over the last year, which includes the work of Pons and partner Martin Fleischmann. "Obviously, if they are out of the picture some way, that will have to be discussed," Hixson said. "If the patents have been well-prepared, no matter who proves it (the science), we should have a good claim on it in the future."
Hixson admits Pons' seeming disappearance is curious. "The Stan Pons thing kind of muddles everything."
But Hixson is not doubting the actual existence of fusion, hoped to be a cure-all to the world's energy problems. "As far as I can tell from the reports from people I respect, there's still something to the science. The way I feel about the science now is the way I felt about the science in the beginning," he said. "It's just this weird behavior on the part of Stan and Martin. I have no reason to disbelieve them. They are responsible people. I just don't understand their behavior right now. I'm sure it's rational in their eyes, but it's not in ours."
Hixson said there is much information Pons and Fleischmann haven't released about their experiments, but he is sure they have reasons.
That information, however, will be critical to the scientific review of the fusion institute - which was supposed to be under way in August.
A financial audit and scientific review of the institute was called for by faculty whose ire was raised by a $500,000 "anonymous" donation to the institute. Upon learning that the grant actually came from the U. itself, 22 faculty members and Rossi demanded outside scrutiny of the U.'s fusion operation.