One week after two scientists working at the University of Utah announced they had achieved cold nuclear fusion, a Brigham Young University researcher has broken his silence on a second discovery of room-temperature hydrogen fusion.
BYU physicist Steven Earl Jones said Thursday he has been conducting research on cold nuclear fusion - he calls it piezonuclear - since 1986.As reported in the Deseret News Tuesday, BYU has been working on cold nuclear fusion for a number of years. But Jones and other BYU officials at that time declined then to detail their experiments, saying Jones would wait until a scientific conference to discuss his work.
But there are hard feelings between U. and BYU officials over the U.'s announcement of its experiment - BYU officials believing a joint-release promise was broken - and so Jones decided to go public with his work.
Jones said he has discovered that the nuclei of deuterium atoms, a heavy form of hydrogen, can fuse together inside metal unaided by the super hot temperatures previously believed necessary.
As early as 1986, Jones and a colleague, Clint van Sicien, published a paper on their theory, called "piezonuclear fusion."
Last Thursday, electrochemists B. Stanley Pons of the U. and Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton in England sent shock waves through the scientific community with the announcement that they has sustained a controlled nuclear fusion reaction for more than 100 hours in a small glass flask.
They said their process involved an electrical current used to drive nuclear particles through a lattice of palladium and platinum electrodes, forcing positively charged particles to fuse together and create a new atom.
Pons' experiment gives off a great deal of heat. If it is successful, the breakthrough could mean the world may one day rely on fusion for a clean, virtually inexhaustible source of energy.
Experiments conducted by Jones, while creating successful fusion, don't give off anywhere near the heat that Pons says his does. While Jones' work is scientifically significant, its commercial application is now limited.
The U.'s announcement ignited both skepticism and curiosity among the scientific community and widespread interest among corporations eager to cash in on the discovery.
It also prompted speculation that the U. researchers rushed to disclose their findings to claim the limelight before the work of both schools underwent close scrutiny in scientific publications.
However, U. president Chase N. Peterson has repeatedly said that last week's press conference was held "because the results were so exciting there were beginning to be rumors" and the U. wanted to set the record straight and also begin applying for patents that could ultimately bring the state millions of dollars.
Pons also sent his scientific paper to Nature Magazine Friday.
Jones said he went public for the same reason - to prove that he's been working, and publishing papers, on cold fusion for years. Jones further believes the race to be first in fusion energy development is unnecessary and he hopes the U. and BYU can work together - even though their projects are quite different.
Pons said his experiment creates four times more energy than it takes to start the process. Jones makes no such claim, saying his produces much less energy and that more work must be done.
Jones' work appears to have more scientific documentation, with years of research and a complex apparatus that measures neutron activity. Pons has no such measurement, U. officials said. Pons measures his experiment with heat detection.
While Jones said his work is related to that in Salt Lake City, his success depends on creating neutrons to create energy. So far, he said, he's been able to observe about a dozen neutrons per hour (and believes the detector sees only 1 in 100) - very far from the amount needed for a usable energy source.
The main difference between the BYU and Utah projects, Jones said, is in the results.
"They are, of course, claiming a very large energy output. We have seen neutrons, which is a clear signature for fusion. But we have seen very few neutrons relative to, as I understand, their claim."
The U.'s experiment, in one way, dumbfounds physics. With as much energy being produced as Pons reports, BYU scientists believe huge amounts of neutrons would be given off. Such radiation would kill any human close to the experiment. But, clearly, Pons, Fleischmann and other U. officials are alive. Jones said both universities are producing very interesting scientific discoveries "that will have an impact on our understanding of fusion and perhaps geophysics, the properties of the earth.
But Jones downplays any comparison to his work with such historical breakthroughs as the invention of the light bulb or the hydrogen bomb.
"We have a lot more work ahead of us," he said. "We need to have some patience and do the scientific groundwork before we jump to too many conclusions."
Gov. Norm Bangerter has called a special April 7 session of the Legislature to appropriate $5 million to develop and commercialize the U.'s energy breakthrough. But Jones said he currently doesn't need state funding.
"We've been funded on this particular type of research since May of 1986 by the Department of Energy. We are confident that our funding will continue."
Both Jones and Pons will be on the lecture circuit next week. Jones will discuss his experiments at a science colloquium at Columbia University in New York City on Friday. Pons will speak to chemists at the University of Indiana and Purdue University.