Salt Lake City, once known as the "artificial heart of America," could one day be known as the "fusion capital of the world."
Scientifically speaking - that is.Two major scientific breakthroughs - the implantation of the world's first permanent artificial heart and the discovery of cold nuclear fusion - have occurred at the University of Utah within the past six years.
Officials say both historic events, while very different, have many similarities.
Both events - the implantation of the heart in 1982 and announcement of the fusion discovery March 23 - were heralded in news conferences that brought reporters from around the globe converging en mass on the university.
During the heart saga, for example, some reporters hired janitors, who hid in garbage cans awaiting a chance to get pictures of implant patient Dr. Barney Clark. Critics decried such "unethical" goings-on.
U. President Chase N. Peterson, who's been the target of much criticism this time around, said he has to weigh his options anytime "something this big happens."
The choices aren't simple. "You have to say: `We will try to do it in complete secrecy - which means we practically have to build a new building - or else we have to tolerate all the leaks and rumors. Or we should do it openly,' " Peterson said.
"We decided to do it openly in both cases - even though `openly' subjects you to a little criticism by people who say it's less than professional; that it should go in a scientific journal first and then come out."
When all was said and done, Peterson said he believes the U. "got 90 percent approval marks for Barney Clark." Some scientists even complemented him on doing a useful job in educating the public as to the nature of medical experimentation.
Others haven't been as generous in their comments - either in 1982 or two weeks ago when the U. held a press conference to announce the historic fusion work of B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann.
"When this thing came along the rumor mill repeated itself and foreign patent rights were at stake," Peterson said, noting the administration did everything it could to prevent history from repeating itself.
"There were only about six people who knew about it (the experiment) in addition to Pons and Fleischmann," Peterson said. "We referred to it as the `F-Project.'
"The funny thing was, two days before we announced, one of the secretaries came up and said, `I know what the F-Project is. (James) Fletcher is coming back to be the U.'s basketball coach.' "
Despite similarities, the two projects are different in major ways.
"The fusion project is enormously larger in terms of implications for the planet. After all, the planet doesn't care if people die at age 50 or at age 80," Peterson said. Financial implications for the nuclear fusion project are much greater than they ever were with the artificial heart.
"With Barney Clark, however, it was the human drama - day by day by day, this guy living with this funny thing in his chest," Peterson said. "There was something more human about Barney Clark, but there is something more earthshaking about this."
The danger with public announcements is that the researchers could be wrong.
"It takes either a certain amount of foolhardiness or courage to go ahead and do it this way," Peterson said. "I hope the world will see it as a sense of courage, but some will accuse us of being foolhardy if the thing doesn't pan out."
There's always that possibility.
The Jarvik-7 artificial heart has worked dozens of times as a bridge to human transplants. But it never really worked as it was intended - as a permanent device.
"Some people, therefore, would say it failed," Peterson said.