Any further infusions of state money into cold fusion research may depend on what the University of Utah has bought with the first $3.7 million - a question that's expected be answered by a team of scientists who arrived at the U. Wednesday.
The four were recruited to Salt Lake City to conduct a thorough independent scientific review of all experiments at the U.'s National Cold Fusion Institute in Research Park.But the team's focus likely was on the test-tube experiments of B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, the electrochemists whose discovery last year ignited a worldwide fusion fury and prompted legislators to invest $5 million in Utah's fusion future.
Because of health problems, Fleischmann remained in England Wednesday.
But Pons, reportedly visiting foreign laboratories this month, returned to Salt Lake City for the evaluation by scientists from New York, Canada, Michigan and Connecticut. Each was selected for his expertise in calorimetry, metallurgy, physics or chemistry. Each had to be unbiased about and uninvolved in cold fusion experiments.
"We are looking for an objective, complete review of the scientific data, the validity of our implementations, our mathematical models and the conclusions drawn - as well as the soundness of our approaches and research strategy for the future," institute director Fritz Will said during a press conference Wednesday morning.
Review meetings throughout the day were closed to the news media. A sign posted outside the door of the meeting room stated: "It is required that only those persons who have signed a National Cold Fusion Institute confidentiality agreement attend this review."
Will noted that the only difference from Wednesday's review and other scientific reviews is the attention of the media "since it involves cold fusion."
Controversy has engulfed the U., Pons and Fleischmann since the scientists announced they had discovered fusion - touted as a clean, cheap, inexhaustible energy source. In short, a possible cure-all to the world's energy problems. Two scientists, accustomed to the quiet efficiency of a laboratory setting, had their privacy invaded by curious researchers and news reporters from around the world. It was something they were unprepared for, prompting them to become reclusive.
In fact, many U. officials this month couldn't account for Pons' whereabouts.
But, he's scheduled Thursday morning to address the State Fusion/-Energy Advisory Council, which earlier this month demanded "accountability" from the two scientists before additional state money is allocated to the fusion institute.
However, the council, which oversees Utah's investment in fusion research, likely won't get a full account from the external scientific team who Wednesday toured the institute, gathering data from Will, Pons and Co.
Their review has only begun. The deadline for the team's report is Dec. 15, Will said.
State council members insist the report is crucial for the institute to receive outside funding and continued state support. To date, the institute and patent attorneys have spent all but about $1.3 million; the rest should be gone by June 30, 1991.
Some Utahns, including other U. professors, believe what's left of the state fusion allocation should be spent on something other than fusion research.
In fact, it was a group of disgruntled U. faculty members that last June called for Wednesday's scientific review. They also asked for a financial audit of the institute after learning that an "anonymous" $500,000 donation to the fusion institute had actually come from the U. foundation board itself.
Ironically, call for the audits were led by Hugo Rossi, the first director of the fusion institute, and the man who ultimately could impact Pons' future at the U.
Pons has requested a one-year sabbatical from the U., beginning Nov. 15. As dean of the College of Science, Rossi will make recommendations regarding that request.
- Stanley Bruckenstein, A. Conger Goodyear Professor of Chemistry in the department of chemistry at State University of New York at Buffalo. Former program director, National Science Foundation. Expertise: Electrochemistry.
- Loren G. Hepler, chemistry professor, University of Alberta. Total publications: 222. Recognized expert in the field of calorimetry.
- Dale F. Stein, president of Michigan Technological University and former member of the Federal Department of Energy Fusion Committee that recommended against funding for special fusion programs. Expertise: Metallurgy.
- Robert Kemp Adair, sterling professor of physics, Yale University. Former associate director for high energy and nuclear physics at Brookhaven National Lab, and past physicist to the National League (baseball). Expertise: Physics.