A state committee overseeing taxpayers' $5 million investment in cold nuclear fusion demands accountability from the two scientists who say they have discovered it.
On Thursday, the State Fusion/Energy Advisory Council voted to send a letter to University of Utah President Chase N. Peterson mandating that B. Stanley Pons come home to Utah for an independent scientific review of the U.'s National Cold Fusion Institute. Council members want to see what the state's money has bought."We are perfectly willing to fund the research," said Council Chairman Raymond Hixson. "That was our objective. But we do expect accountability. We do expect to see the results of the work that is being done. We must know what we are getting for the money."
Pons, reached by a state attorney during a break in the meeting, promised to travel to Utah for the review.
"I told him he was wanted, that it was necessary," Chief Deputy Attorney General Joe Tesch told the council after a recess.
Peterson said he's been told that Pons will plan to be in Utah for the review. "You certainly cannot fund people if they are not prepared to release their data," he said.
Karen Morse, provost at Utah State University, asked why Pons or co-researcher Martin Fleischmann wasn't at Thursday's meeting, and why the two scientists aren't talking about their work.
"We have, in essence, coddled them - quite frankly - and been very reasonable," said Morse. "I'm very concerned about this. It's been all one-sided in my opinion."
Council members aren't alone in their puzzlement over the whereabouts of Pons. Fleischmann is home in England receiving medical treatment.
Pons reportedly is abroad visiting foreign laboratories and has requested a one year sabbatical from the U., beginning Nov. 15.
But Hugo Rossi, dean of the U.'s college of science, said Pons didn't followed proper procedure in making the "one line" request. "We responded by sending a copy of the policies and procedures for requesting and granting sabbatical leaves and asking (his attorney) to inform Dr. Pons that he will have to meet those standards."
Fritz Will, director of the fusion institute, admits he doesn't know where Pons is either, and he said a communication breakdown occurred because he won't contact Pons through his designated spokesman, North Carolina attorney C. Gary Triggs.
"I am not willing to discuss research and science through attorneys. I refuse."
Will said his last communication with Pons occurred last week when he faxed a request asking him to attend Thursday's meeting, but he didn't get a reply.
About the only official who seems able to contact the missing scientist is Tesch. Tesch contacted Triggs Thursday, who placed a conference call to Pons. That's how Tesch got Pons to promise to be in Salt Lake City on Nov. 7 for the independent scientific review of the fusion institute.
The review, to be performed by a team of four outside experts, was called for publicly in June by disgruntled faculty members, angry over the administration's transfer of $500,000 to the fusion institute.
Will thinks the review is crucial to proving the institute's credibility and securing future funding.
But several council members expressed concern that a review without Pons and Fleischmann's cooperation would be just half a review.
The two have spent $1 million of $2.1 million in state funds on cold fusion research in the fiscal year ended June 30.
Questions concerning the team's research were raised after institute scientists trotted out visual aids to report on progress they are making. Even with their top scientists abroad, Will said the institute is making significant advances to unlock the mysteries of cold fusion - touted as a clean, cheap, inexhaustible energy source.
Eleven scientific papers have been published, as well as numerous presentations, according to Will. He added that cold fusion experiments continue to produce excess heat as well as nuclear fusion indicators like tritium and neutrons.
"So I hope I can instill in you the sense that the institute is doing a very good job in carrying out science," he told the council. "Feel free to check with other scientists any time you want to."
Even with that assurance, council members weren't satisfied. They called for Pons' data. But Will admitted he couldn't deliver it.
"It is a very ticklish situation - and it's a situation under which all of us are suffering," he said. "I believe we in the institute have been suffering more under that situation than most other people have.
"What we are offering you is the good science in the field, as good as other groups are doing. I think you can be very proud of the results being obtained."
After the meeting, Hixson said if the $5 million in state funds already appropriated isn't enough to make a cold fusion breakthrough, the state probably won't make any additional investments. So far the institute and patent attorneys have spent all but about $1.3 million; the rest should be gone by June 30, 1991.
Hixson feels good about the investment. "I think the state's getting their money's worth. The science has been proven. It's not hokum. It's real. The question is how long will it take to be practical."
The state has secured patent rights to the cold fusion experiments, and will benefit from any practical applications, he said..
"If the science is sound, then someday, somebody will produce something practical," Hixson said. "Then it doesn't matter where it's done."