A breakthrough in cold nuclear fusion and the University of Utah's rush to announce it is being questioned by a faculty colleague of the inventor.
U. physics professor George L. Cassiday believes the work of chemistry professor B. Stanley Pons "simply can't be nuclear fusion."But a U. chemistry professor insists it can be nuclear fusion and the controvery is caused by the fact that chemists and physicists don't necessarily speak the same language.
Cassiday's criticism comes a week after Pons, chairman of the U. Chemistry Department, and his British colleague Martin Fleischmann stunned the scientific world with a report that they had used simple, low-cost experiment to achieve fusion that produced four times as much energy as it consumed.
Pons and Fleischmann say they have made a breakthrough in nuclear fusion.
"When you look at the result of their work, they claim they are getting out a certain amount of energy," Cassiday told the Deseret News Friday. "That amount of energy could not be due to nuclear fusion. The reason is (because) that kind of power output would also produce a large amount of neutrons and gamma rays and those haven't been seen.
"It's inconceivable to me that there could be fusion going on at an extremely low level, because at such a low level the energy generated would be almost inconsequential."
Dr. Cheves Walling, U. distinguished professor of chemistry and former editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, doesn't agree with that rationale.
"The fact that we (in Pons' experiment) get relatively small amounts of neutrons and tritium suggests that under our condition fusions takes a different path which physicists don't understand," he said.
Other physicists around the country also have questioned how such a large amount of energy could be produced without there also being more radiation than reported by the experimenters. One is Brigham Young University physicist Steven Earl Jones, who's been conducting research on cold nuclear fusion since 1986.
Jones, who also claims to have discovered room-temperature hydrogen fusion, went public with his concerns this week. Jones' experiments, much along the same lines as Pons', give off very few neutrons and almost no heat.
Pons' experiment gives off four times more energy than it took to start it, he says, enough heat to boil water.
Pons told the Deseret News he is as baffled by the high heat output and low neutrons as anyone. But he goes on to say this is an argument between physicists and chemists. Chemists measure heat and balance the heat on both sides of the equation. Physicists look at the atom, he said, and since they can't yet explain the experiment by looking at the atom, they think it's wrong.
"We're not claiming a traditional fusion reaction, not at all," Pons said. "We believe there is either a modification of a fusion reaction - as we've come to believe it occurs - or a whole other type of nuclear reaction altogether."
Pons says he's seeing about 40,000 neutrons produced per second in his experiment. That is little more than background radiation, he said. But so much heat is being given off that traditional physics on fusion says 10,000 billion neutrons should be produced.
That amount would radiate and kill anyone conducting the experiment if they weren't heavily protected from the experiment. Pons has used Geiger counters and other radiation devices in his experiments and has never measured high amounts of neutrons or other radiation.
In addition to talking with the press, Cassiday has expressed his doubts to U. President Chase N. Peterson, who is at the forefront of publicity about the "breakthrough" and already organizing a team to examine the commercial possibilities of the experiment.
Peterson had this response: "Our physicists are saying it's too much energy to be nuclear. Our chemists are saying it's too much energy to be chemical. All we can say is something hot is coming out of this - and it's boiling water. How it will come out we don't know."
Cassiday admits he does believe the experiment is "basically not possible." His prediction is that labs reproducing Pons' experiment will be unable to confirm it and the university - not to mention the state of Utah - will have egg on its face.
"It's a sad commentary on the sort of thing that can happen when people without the expertise jump the gun without consulting people who have the expertise," he said.
Cassiday said the university should have gone through appropriate channels of peer review and publication before announcing the discovery.
Fusion duo will speak in Dallas
B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann will speak before more than 8,000 scientists at the American Chemical Society meeting April 12 in Dallas, Texas.
Nancy Enright, public relations officer for the society, said three other scientists will present background on other research in the general field. They are Allen J. Bard, University of Texas, Austin; Ernest B. Yeager, Case Western Reserve, Cleveland, Ohio; and Harold P. Furth, Princeton University.
"We look at this as an opportunity for these scientists to talk directly with Pons and Fleischmann."