Fusion or not, the experiments of B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann still appear to be putting out excess heat.
In a preliminary review, Wilford Hansen, a Utah State University chemist and physicist, confirmed that the Pons-Fleischmann experiments generate enough heat that it "seems to rule out ordinary chemistry as a source of excess energy."Supporters say heat or nuclear products, such as tritium or neutrons, are evidence of fusion. But many in the scientific world, including physicists, explain the phenomenon away as a chemical reaction, especially because results are not consistent.
Hansen's report Tuesday to his colleagues on the state Fusion/
Energy Advisory Council comes at a time when Utah's $5 million fusion budget is nearly depleted, and the National Cold Fusion Institute is scheduled to close in June. Meanwhile, two Southern California labs are reporting positive experiments, and Japanese and Soviet researchers are investing substantial sums into cold-fusion research.
Pons and Fleischmann weren't at the meeting, but their attorney, Gary Triggs, praised the pair's intestinal fortitude and honesty, comparing their efforts to that of marathon runners or presidential candidates.
"They were absolutely certain the day they made the announcement. They are absolutely certain today."
Pons traded his position as a tenured University of Utah chemistry professor for the freedom of a research-professor title. He supposedly is continuing research in Utah and abroad. Fleischmann also has been reappointed to a research position, Triggs said, although a U. department official had earlier warned that the appointment might not be approved.
"We're just marching along the road of objective science," said U. President Chase Peterson.
The atmosphere was so positive in the meeting that Rep. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, said the Legislature might make another investment into the controversial research.
However, Ray Hixon, chairman of the advisory council, said the state doesn't need to invest more money into experiments but should just continue securing patent protection.
Despite bursts of optimism generated at the meeting, one institute scientist cautioned that, at best, cold fusion experiments generate heat or nuclear products sporadically.
"We have seen events that are extremely difficult to explain in any standard explanation of things," said Haven Bergeson, a U. physics professor. Bergeson directs the physics group at the fusion institute. "No one has published a recipe to get repeatable results."
Bergeson said he wouldn't bet his life on cold fusion, but he's willing to gamble a chunk of his time and science career because the payoff could be so beneficial.
"I'm going to remain an agnostic on the subject," Bergeson said. "I would love it if someone would convert me with a flash of light to convince me it was right."