In the wheel of fortune that is the scientific world, cold fusion's number is up again.
Lately it seems cold fusion researchers have shared the credibility of late-night television slice-o-matic commercials. But now co-founders B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann appear to be generating some scientific support as cold-fusion experiments around the world are getting a shot in the arm, thanks - in part - to a landmark conference held in the Soviet Union last month.After all the hoopla generated during the past two years, scientists are now hoping to settle into a serious experimental phase.
"The whole thing is blazing now, said John Bockris, a professor at Texas A&M University. "There's no doubt about the credibility now. It's a matter of how fast you can get in.
"It's just that Fleischmann and Pons were ahead of their time. If you've got any friends, I would tell them to invest as quickly as you can."
Bockris and others point to cold fusion experiments at two California laboratories, the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake and at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto.
In other supporting developments, the Soviet government has invested $50 million into cold-fusion experiments, while about 100 workers employed by the Japanese government are researching the phenomenon.
"I think it's reasonable to say 100 to 200 laboratories are getting results," Bockris said.
Eugene F. Mallove, a science journalism lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, admits the subject of cold fusion has caused polarization. But Mallove, who is the author of "Fire from Ice," a soon-to-be released book on cold fusion, thinks research is blossoming. "My feeling is this: the evidence is overwhelming for cold fusion. Whether it becomes a practical heat source, I don't know."
This renewed attention puts Utah in the spotlight again, but this time the attention is focused on Utah scientist Wilford Hansen. The state Energy/Fusion Advisory Council holds its quarterly meeting Tuesday, and Hansen, a Utah State University chemistry professor, is scheduled to report his evaluation of Pons' experiments.
Randy Moon, Utah science adviser, said the scientific community remains loudly skeptical. "To me, it's the problem of you just can't win," Moon said. "If you're a scientist, the general attitude across the country is you don't believe in cold fusion. And that's before you look at data."
Moon said he doesn't envy Hansen's position. If his report is positive, skeptics will question why he was duped. If his report is negative, others will question why Hansen's committee advised the Utah Legislature to invest $5 million in the cold fusion cause. "The state, we'll go ahead and take our lumps, but scientists live by their reputations."
The National Cold Fusion Institute is scheduled to close in June when the state funding runs out. But Ray Hixon, chairman of the state's advisory council, thinks the money bought enough patent protection for Utah to benefit if other scientists push cold fusion frontiers.
The state's investment pioneered a new, albeit, controversial science, Hixon said. "I think the signs are positive enough that the state doesn't have to be embarrassed."