State science advisers aren't satisfied with the report card of the National Cold Fusion Institute issued by an independent review of scientists.
They want elusive University of Utah chemistry professor B. Stanley Pons back in Salt Lake City for another showing of his cold fusion experiments. At issue is release of the final chunk of the state's $5 million investment into cold fusion research.Members of the State Fusion/Energy Advisory Council said Tuesday that Pons hasn't satisfied information requests to colleagues within the institute or other reviewers.
"I think we are all troubled that he is being paid by the state and not being physically here doing work," said Raymond Hixson, committee chairman.
But John Morris, U. academic vice president, said an agreement had been forged with Pons. Details about his faculty status will be announced Wednesday. Sources say the arrangement is expected to be the best of two worlds for Pons - allowing him to continue his research at the U. and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Morris said Pons will let state scientists view his experiments and will meet two deadlines to produce data - one by Jan. 15, and the second on Feb. 5.
Council members accepted the results of the independent science review in their meeting Tuesday but remained riled about Pons' whereabouts. No one on the committee has been told where he is living. U. officials said they have been corresponding with Pons via fax machine.
Institute director Fritz Will said Tuesday he was pleased the review praised the quality of research at the institute. But it didn't give the institute a clean scientific bill of health. It basically said good science is bubbling in the beakers at the institute - Utah's own state-funded cauldron of controversy - but that none of the experiments had proved cold fusion.
"The present NCFI program is directed toward a direction that could result in such proof if, indeed, cold fusion is real," said Robert K. Adair, a nuclear physicist at Yale University. Institute staff "have shown that they understand that the results they have achieved up to this time fall short of proving the reality of cold fusion."
Adair's written comments were part of a review requested by a group of disgruntled U. faculty members last year.
Institute researchers believe in the reality of cold fusion while the rest of the scientific world doesn't, said Adair.
"This cleavage has consequences in creating a level of siege atmosphere at the NCFI that may result in a science that is less critical than it might be," wrote Adair. "I felt that very marginal positive results were taken far too seriously by a community - and a director - who want very much to prove their faith justified. None of the institute programs has succeeded in establishing the existence of cold fusion."
"Calorimetric measurements at the NCFI have not yet established definitively that excess heat is produced or is not produced," wrote Loren G. Hepler, professor of chemistry and chemical engineering at the University of Alberta.
Pons and co-researcher Martin Fleischmann shocked the scientific world with a March 1989 announcement that they had produced cold fusion in table-top experiments. The subsequent furor generated in the scientific world was sparked because of the promise of a cheap, clean source of energy.
But the fusion experiments seemed to have generated more controversy than energy, as other researchers had a difficult time reproducing Pons' and Fleischmann's results.
While scientists remained skeptical, Utah lawmakers' confidence was shown in the form of a $5 million appropriation in 1989. The state investment was used to fund research and establish the cold fusion institute. A team of state advisers, the State Fusion/Energy Advisory Council, oversees the state money.
An independent team of four scientists was allowed into controlled laboratories at the institute for a whirlwind tour Nov. 7, only after signing confidentiality agreements required by a U.'s attorney because of pending patents.
Will has claimed that a good review would help the institute receive outside funding. The state's $5 million investment will be spent by June. But Will said Tuesday the prospect for independent funding is slim.
Reviewers said their evaluation was marred by the confidentiality pact, which Hepler described as "very peculiar." Considerable time was wasted during the one-day review because of patent arguments, said reviewer Stanley Bruckenstein, chemistry professor at State University of New York at Buffalo.
And patent considerations also barred Pons from revealing a "special trick" which he had identified that would help other researchers reproduce excess heat, Bruckenstein said.
The independent scientific team appeared to give negative marks to the existence of cold fusion, but higher marks to the scientists conducting the work.
"The scientific competence and objectivity of NCFI personnel is impressive," wrote Bruckenstein. "The integrity of the NCFI scientists and the leadership involved in this program is exemplary."
Yet the institute's progress was hurt by lack of a clear sense of mission.
"Too often I felt that the scientists conducting a program had no clear concept of the goal of their search," Adair said. "Some of that diffuseness of goal appeared to stem from a lack of understanding of nuclear physics that in turn seemed to result in a too-casual disregard of very well-founded properties of the fusion reactions. Though the thrust of the program is fusion, a nuclear reaction, there seems to be no nuclear physicist connected with the NCFI."