Telephone switchboards at the University of Utah have been deluged with calls - some from as far away as England, Italy and Brazil - since the announcement earlier this week that a scientist there had made a breakthrough in fusion energy.
U. public information spokeswoman Barbara Shelley said Friday there have been more than 400 calls to her office at the university and to the university's chemistry and other science departments."We told the media Wednesday that we would have a special announcement Thursday about fusion science. We started getting calls right after that on Wednesday, and not from just local media people, but from all over the country."
Then, when the announcement was made Thursday that B. Stanley Pons, chairman of the university's chemistry department, and Professor Martin Fleischmann of Southampton University in England, had carried out the fusion through an inexpensive and relatively simple electrochemical process, the phone calls really started to come in, Shelley said.
"Many people called and said they were rich millionaires and owned big companies and wanted to support the U.'s fusion research. Some callers were skeptical. Many people wanted more information. We have sent out 400 press releases to people, companies and institutions all over the world."
Shelly said many people have called, including more than two dozen scientists, to ask if they can come to the university and collaborate with Pons, try the experiment themselves or help the U. scientists in some way.
And four book publishers have called who want to publish any books Pons intends to write about his work, she said.
"Our staff of 14 in the public relations office has been working 10- and 12-hour days and eating lunch at our desks. This is the busiest we've ever been," Shelley said.
Norman Brown, director of technology transfer at the University of Utah, said he had been getting so many calls that he finally went home, exhausted, and took the phone off the hook. One was from Edward Teller's office (see related story), he said, and two were from "Fortune 500 companies" interested in the technology.
The U. campus was virtually abandoned Friday, with most of the students and faculty celebrating spring break, but secretaries in the chemistry department said they had been getting calls from all over the world. Many of the callers were scientists interested in more details on the experiment so they could try to duplicate it.
The skepticism that has swept the nation as fast as the news of the announcement has also surfaced on the Utah campus.
Graduate students took a story about the discovery and pasted it onto the front page of the National Enquirer, along with a story headlined "Baby Born With A Wooden Leg." Copies were pasted all over the chemistry building.