Last week's surprise announcement by University of Utah researchers that they may have discovered a workable cold nuclear fusion process didn't surprise several Brigham Young University researchers - who thought they had an agreement with the U.'s team on a joint release of their work.
A U. official confirmed there had been discussion of a joint publication, "but communications appeared to break down between the investigators here and there."James Brophy, U. vice president for research, said the only similiarities between the two experiments (at BYU and the U.) are "that they end up in fusion. Otherwise the experiments are totally different."
Brophy emphasized there has been no collaboration between the two groups.
Fusion research at BYU is headed by assistant chemistry professor Steven E. Jones.
At the U., B. Stanley Pons and his colleague, Martin Fleischmann, a research professor at the University of Southampton, England, announced their cold nuclear fusion "breakthrough" last Thursday. If their work is sound and can be applied economically to the energy business, it could mean an almost inexhaustible source of safe, cheap energy.
An increasing number of researchers is optimistic that the process could indeed work.
Pons said he heard Monday that researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory had repeated his experiments with success. "I'm very positive about that possibility," he said. Pons, however, is still encouraging other scientists to wait until his paper is published in May.
Charles Martin, an electrochemist at Texas A&M University, said that in theory, Pons' experiment should work. As soon as Pons' paper is published, Martin said he'll try to repeat the experiment.
Italian scientists say they will do the same. Antonio Ruberti, minister of scientific research, said "maximum priority" will be given to the experiment at the laboratories of the National Association of Alternative Energy in Frascati, southeast of Rome.
BYU spokesman Paul Richards said Jones met with Pons several times to discuss their independent research. The two agreed to submit separate scientific papers to Nature Magazine at the end of March, Richards said.
"They (Pons, Jones and others) met in February and again in early March to discuss what they were going to do. They decided, we're told, that the best way to release it would be to submit back-to-back scientific papers to Nature. Let the papers stand on their own - side-by-side - and be reviewed by the scientific world, if you will," he said.
"They were even going to meet at the (Salt Lake International) airport and mail their papers off to Nature at the same time. But in (the U.'s) press conference we heard that they had already mailed their paper. So they saved us a trip to the airport. Our people have mailed theirs off to the magazine as well."
Brophy said the U. had a good reason to go public with Pons' work before the papers were submitted.
"The reason we went public was our fear that inaccurate information would be released in small pieces without the total accurate story being told," Brophy said. "Unfortunately the importance of the event caused the story to leak out before we released it. It is true that the first BYU heard of it was from press calls, which was not our intent. We fully intended to inform them in advance."
Richards said Jones prefers the "scientific" approach - submittal to a noted journal and appropriate peer review.
Jones won't discuss his latest work before he announces his newest discoveries in a lecture set for May 4 before a meeting of the American Physical Society in Baltimore, Md., Richards said.
David Lindley, assistant physics editor for Nature Magazine, confirmed Monday he had received two papers on cold nuclear fusion from two Utah universities.
"When I picked up the Wall Street Journal (Thursday) and read the papers were being submitted to Nature, I was as surprised as anyone else," Lindley said. "But whether it turns out to be something tremendous or a novelty, I feel lucky they chose us. Nature is a commercial magazine. It is our bread and butter that exciting papers are sent to us."
Lindley's statement is no guarantee that the papers will be printed.
Nature, he said, is a peer review journal, and the papers are now being evaluated by a panel of experts, who with the editorial staff, will determine their merit for publication. Lindley said a decision likely won't be made for a month.
The magazine, which has 45,000 subscribers internationally, receives about 10,000 papers a year; less than a quarter of those are published.
One Jones collaborator, Johann Rafelski of the University of Arizona, did say that their results should prove highly interesting to other fusion researchers.
Richards said at first BYU was concerned that the U. going public with the media might jeopardize our research in some way. "But we're now thinking that it won't. We don't care about the economic ramifications. We're not interested in any patents - which only apply to any economic use of cold nuclear fusion. We care only about pure science and research," said Richards. He added BYU officials don't feel betrayed by Pons going public early. "It was just a gentleman's agreement, nothing more."