To celebrate the second anniversary of the University of Utah's cold-fusion claims, which have generated plenty of heat in the scientific community, U. officials sent Martin Fleischmann a gift: a letter stating he may be out of a job at the U.
Fleischmann, a British scientist who announced the discovery of cold fusion two years ago with colleague B. Stanley Pons, has been asked if he wants to remain a research professor in the U. department of chemistry. Faculty members vote on auxiliary appointments."We anticipate that we will consider renewal of all auxiliary ranks this year in late March," wrote Peter J. Stang, chairman of the chemistry department, in the letter dated Feb. 4. "I need to know whether you would like to be reappointed for another term in this rank.
"It is only fair that I tell you that under the present circumstances and the prevailing atmosphere surrounding cold fusion at the university, it is rather uncertain that such an appointment would be favorably acted upon by our senior faculty."
And even if the reappointment is approved, funds will run out June 30, Stang said.
Fleischmann, one of the most published electrochemists in the scientific world, didn't take the letter well. His reply, dated March 6, is strongly stated.
Fleischmann said he doesn't believe senior members of the faculty aren't backing his appointment. He contends Stang has other motives. "I think you would like to close the file (on cold fusion) because you find it uncomfortable."
Fleischmann said he and Pons are committed to keeping experiments in Utah to protect local patent interests and wants his appointment put to a vote.
The cold-fusion experiments, when announced by U. officials at a press conference two years ago Saturday, were touted as the answer to generating a clean, cheap, endless supply of energy for the world. But controversy sparked when other laboratories were unable to replicate Pons and Fleischmann's experiments.
The Legislature voted to invest $5 million of taxpayer money to fund fusion research, but the money will run out in June. The U.'s move to pressure Fleischmann out comes as a surprise to state officials charged with overseeing the state's investment.
"That's interesting. No one has talked to me about review of adjunct appointments to do with Dr. Fleischmann," said Randy Moon, state science adviser. "With so little funds remaining, I would think there would be more open communication."
At last month's meeting of the state advisory board, U. officials appeared to be backing their cold-fusion program. "Yet it appears the university (officials) had already made up their mind that there was a bleak future for the research," Moon said.
As for Pons, he is adamant that Fleischmann stay at the U., as the collaboration has been important in areas of research beyond cold fusion. He labels Stang's treatment of the senior scientist "deplorable." "How can a scientist like Martin Fleischmann be treated in this way?"
Pons, on sabbatical from the U. and conducting research in France, is still maintaining experiments at both the National Cold Fusion Institute and his old lab in the U. chemistry building. "If no favorable response to this situation is received soon, I intend to have the appropriate university authority take action to have this matter resolved," he said.
Stang, when questioned Friday, said faculty members vote on all research appointments and Fleischmann's appointment is up in April.
Stang admitted he has had some communication with Fleischmann but "not very much."
U. administration officials weren't available for comment.
A stormy 2 years\ - March 23, 1989: Announcement of fusion discovery at the University of Utah, hailed by some as "century's greatest achievement."
- April 1989: Legislature approves $5 million for fusion research and development.
- April 1989: Pons and Fleischmann appear before U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee.
- August 1989: National Cold Fusion Institute opens in Research Park, against the wishes of Pons and Fleischmann.
- October 1989: U.S. Department of Energy gives U. fusion research a cold shoulder.
- March 1990: First foreign fusion patents filed by Utah.
- May 1990: "Anonymous" $500,000 donation to fusion institute - which was later revealed to have come from the University Foundation - angers campus physicists; review of experiments demanded.
- December 1990: Pons given sabbatical from U. to do research abroad.
- January 1991: State Fusion/Energy Advisory Council requests independent review of Pons and Fleischmann's experiments.
- March 1991: Fleischmann notified his U. position is in jeopardy.