Nuclear fusion or chemical fusion? Some scientists say only time will tell.
But University of Utah chemists and physicists agreed Friday to work together to determine how P. Stanley Pons is able to achieve fusion that produces more than four times as much energy as it consumes."I would say we are now good friends and colleagues and we are going to be cooperating. I don't know if we will go to dinner at each other's houses, but we will be scientific professional colleagues and pool knowledge," said Haven Bergeson, former chairman of the U.'s physics department.
Bergeson's comments followed the first scientific colloquium conducted by Pons since he and his British colleague, Martin Fleischmann, shocked the world last week with the announcement that they had sustained nuclear fusion reaction at room temperature in a chemistry laboratory at the U.
More than 1,000 students, scientists and curious citizens jammed into two auditoriums in the U.'s Henry Eyring Chemistry Building to hear in scientific terms details of the researchers' scientific discovery. Many students, hungry for more information on the historical experiment, waited outside in line for two hours before police admitted them into the building.
Pons' address was met with loud cheers and clapping that left the humble researcher-turned-celebrity sheepishly smiling, shuffling his feet, shaking his head and covering his face with a notebook of priceless scientific formulas.
Although Pons has been the center of international press coverage for the past week, television cameras and audio equipment were prohibited from the auditorium so as not to jeopardize publication of the scientific article that describes the scientists' cold nuclear fusion research.
The paper has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry and is under consideration for publication by the British journal, Nature.
Friday's scientific meeting, tagged a "family gathering," cooled the heated controversy between chemists and physicists that's been brewing since the March 23rd news conference in the same building.
Physicists throughout the world, including some of Pons' colleagues at the U. and researchers at Brigham Young University, have questioned how such a large amount of energy could be produced without creating more radiation than has been reported by the experimenters.
A soft-spoken Pons told the gathering that after repeated experiments and investigation, "we concluded our process is indeed nuclear.
"It cannot be explained by any known chemical process," he said. "I can conceive of no other process other than a nuclear process" to explain the results.
But Pons added that independent confirmation by other scientific laboratories is at least two weeks away.
Following the meeting, James J. Brophy, U. vice president for research, admitted there is not yet a complete understanding of where the heat is coming from.
"Fusion occurs in the cells, but fusion reactions do not account for all the heat that is observed," he said. "As we stated at the press conference last week and on several occasions since then, the investigators believe that no chemical reaction can account for the heat output so they attribute it to other nuclear processes."
Simply put, Brophy said that Pons and Fleischmann have looked into all the possible sources of chemical energy and conclude there are none that can account for the amount of energy coming out.
"Therefore it must be nuclear," he said. "But physicists who know it can't be nuclear because there are some things missing conclude that it must be chemical. We will have to wait and see."
Brophy said the controversy should not take away from the importance of the experiment, which some claim is the greatest breakthrough of the 20th century. It may mean that the world someday could rely on fusion for a clean, virtually inexhaustible source of energy.
Brophy said the researchers wanted several more months to pursue their experiments, but leaks of misinformation prompted the university to call a news conference.
"If we had announced a breakthrough in energy-producing events, no one would have shown up (to the news conference)," Brophy said. "I don't mean to say we used fusion falsely. There is fusion going on in the platinum lattice."
Bergeson hopes so.
The physics professor said already some on campus are reminiscing about the X-ray laser "that didn't pan out" at the U. in the early 1970s.
But even if the newest breakthrough is a fluke, Bergeson said federal funding for future projects won't be affected.
"People at the federal agencies and people here know each other; they (federal officials) know the work we are doing. That (relationship) won't be affected," he said. "But there may be a taint that we can't quite wash off. A graduate student may decide he'd rather go somewhere else or something. But there's nothing we can't handle.
"As opposed to what we have seen earlier this week, I think we are going to see cooperation between specialists in different fields - and hopefully an approach to understanding this thing," he said.