B. Stanley Pons isn't one who basks easily in the limelight.

On Friday he only wanted to hit the slopes for some spring skiing, which next to scientific research is one of his greatest loves.Instead, he and colleagues responded to more than 450 calls, many from foreign journalists, about an announcement by the University of Utah that within hours propelled the private man into international fame.

"That ended skiing this year," joked the unpresuming U. chemistry professor, whose name may someday rank alongside Einstein, Edison and Newton.

Thursday Pons and his British colleague, Martin Fleischmann, confirmed they have successfully created a sustained nuclear fusion reaction at room temperature in a basement laboratory in the Henry Eyring Chemistry Building on the U. campus.

The breakthrough, tagged by some scientists as the greatest scientific accomplishment of the 20th century, means the world may someday rely on fusion for a clean, virtually inexhaustible source of energy.

The discovery, easily one of the most extraordinary ever made in the 35-year-long effort to produce a controlled, sustained hydrogen fusion reaction, ultimately could affect the world.

It will undoubtedly change the life of the 46-year-old Utah father and grandfather, who expects to return to his classroom Monday.

International acclaim hasn't changed Pons, who openly praises his colleagues, expresses gratitude to the university for research opportunities, and apologizes for not getting a haircut before Thursday's news conference.

Pons was born in 1943 in Valdese, a small community in the North Carolina foothills. His ancestors are Waldensians, Italian Protestants, who fled religious persecution in Italy.

Family members say he was a typical teenager who played football, ran track (his fastest mile was 4:35), chased after the girls, played the saxophone and once shot out a window in his grandmother's home with a BB gun.

"Stan," as he prefers to be called, was always a scholar - evident, family members said, by the fact that when watching the television show "The $64,000 Question," he knew the answers before the contestants did.

Like other youngsters, Pons dabbled in chemistry. "I had the usual chemistry stuff in my room - a cheap microscope."

Unlike other youngsters, he avidly pursued his interest in chemistry at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., and then at the University of Michigan.

A short time before he would have obtained his doctoral degree, he quit school to work with his father in the textile business.

"It certainly wasn't a mistake. I learned a lot by being in the industry over the years," he told the Deseret News. "But I guess it got to the point that I missed science so bad that in 1975, I shook hands with my dad and returned to school."

At the recommendation of Fleischmann, he was admitted to the graduate program at the University of Southampton in England, where he received a doctorate in 1979.

The rest is history.

The 62-year-old Fleischmann, a native of Czechoslovakia and naturalized British subject, has kept in close contact with Pons, who had faculty assignments at universities in Michigan and Canada before being recruited to the U. in 1983.

It was in Utah - in Pons' family kitchen - that the two scientists concocted research that could thrust them into scientific history.

It has already flung them into the international limelight.

On Saturday, Pons was still overwhelmed with dozens of calls from around the world. In fact, early in the morning, university spokeswoman Barbara Shelly arranged a conference call involving five people in three countries.

Reporters from "Republica," Italy's largest newspaper, were on line in New York and Rome. In Geneva was Carlo Rubbia, the 1984 Nobel Prize physicist and Italian director of CERN, an organization that does high-energy physics experiments.

In the San Francisco Hilton was a stranded Fleischmann, en route to England.

And in Salt Lake City was Pons, who until Thursday kept his now-legendary experiments quiet "so as not to be run out of the scientific world."

"This is what scientists really want to do; they want to discover things," said Pons, who is in awe of the world's response to his historic breakthrough.

When asked to describe himself, Pons doesn't use such adjectives as brilliant, innovative or successful. "Scared" is how he sums himself up.