B. Stanley Pons, the University of Utah's elusive chemistry professor, resigned from his tenured teaching post.
Then he was appointed by the U. as a research professor.University officials made the announcement late Tuesday, on the same day that Pons was pressured by state science advisers, the staff of the National Cold Fusion Institute and his own U. bosses.
The State Fusion/Energy Council wants to know what's going on by Jan. 22 or else it will tighten the purse strings. The council is a board set up by the Legislature to oversee the state's $5 million investment in fusion research, of which all but $922,000 has been spent.
"We've waltzed around too much on that issue," said Raymond Hixson, council chairman. "If that data do not come forth, we will suspend all funding for Dr. Pons. We cannot act responsibly if we do not have information."
"We're frustrated," said Randy Moon, state science adviser and a member of the energy council. "We continued to be delayed. We keep receiving promises that we'll be getting data from Pons, and we don't get it. There's got to be a point where we say it's too late. And I guess the committee decided that would be in two weeks."
In March 1989, Pons and co-researcher Martin Fleischmann announced they had discovered a clean, cheap way to generate energy through laboratory experiments. But their cold fusion research is consistently questioned as other researchers haven't been able to reproduce the same results.
Most of the state money has funded the National Cold Fusion Institute, where a group of scientists is working on cold fusion experiments. But the director of the institute, Fritz Will, is now estranged from Pons. Will announced a reorganization on Tuesday that allows Pons and other electrochemists to split from the institute and report to the U.'s Office of Research.
The new arrangement will allow Pons and Fleischmann to "continue work free of the constraints that they evidently hate," Will said. "Pons and Fleischmann are not team players. I do not know myself what the reasons for these attitudes are."
Despite being plagued by waves of disbelief throughout the scientific community, Pons has assured council members that he has reached a breakthrough. He told an independent team of reviewers that his work is now reproducible. But he hasn't yet released the data or, as one scientist called it, the "special trick."
Other research is being performed at the fusion institute, but without Pons' information, work toward verification is stalled. And without confirmation, cold fusion research, which now has a "black eye" in the scientific world, won't attract any funding, Will said.