The spotlight on cold nuclear fusion research seems to be shining on several scientists at the helm of the studies, but at Brigham Young University, scientists behind the scenes have had an integral part in bringing fusion research to where it is today.
According to Daniel Decker, chairman of BYU's Astronomy and Physics Department, the theory of catalyzed nuclear fusion came together under a unique set of talents and backgrounds that clicked together.While Steven E. Jones has been the leader in BYU's research as the man who brought it all together and kept it going, five other scientists have played an important role in bringing room-temperature hydrogen fusion to where it is today, even though Jones says it will be "20 years to never" before they find out the significance of their findings.
Jones and his team have discovered that the nuclei of deuterium atoms - a heavy form of hydrogen - can fuse together inside metal without extremely hot temperatures.
Physics professor Paul Palmer, with his background in geophysics, suggested the idea of electrolysis and the potential for producing deuteriums into minerals.
If the Earth causes fusion within itself, then the same type of fusion with the same materials should be possible in a laboratory, he concluded, after hearing Jones speak on cold nuclear fusion at BYU in 1986.
"None of the geologists have ever made that connection," said BYU research physicist J. Bart Czirr. "That connection was a breakthrough in the experiment. Without that we would still be working separately."
It was Czirr who oversaw the development of BYU's neutron counter, the most accurate of its kind in the world, his colleagues say.
The counter, called a neutron spectrometer, measures the amount of energy and is more specific than a neutron detector that identifies only the presence of energy.
"It was designed in the failure to make a controlled thermal nuclear fusion detector," Czirr said. "It still needs to be developed, but it is a state-of-the-art neutron spectrometer."
In 1986 when Czirr joined research with Jones, the detector was in a crude state of development. In 1987, a concentrated effort was made to improve the device further.
The University of Utah was invited by BYU to measure its neutron activity with the spectrometer before any announcement was made on the findings, but the U. chose instead to measure neutron activity by the level of heat produced in the cold fusion process, Jones said.
BYU physics professors Gary Jensen and Larry Reese and Johann Raferski, a physics professor at the University of Arizona, have also been a part of the team. The group's research has been supported by the U.S. Department of Energy/Advanced Energy Proj-ects Division since 1986.
Jones has also submitted a paper at the same time as University of Utah chemist B. Stanley Pons and University of Southampton professor Martin Fleischmann in which he claims moderate success in cold fusion research - but far too little to be used in actual energy production.
BYU officials admit they were taken by surprise when the U. announced its findings of cold nuclear fusion, since both schools had been working on similar, yet separate, proj-ects and had discussed releasing their findings at the same time.
And school officials are also bristling over the U.'s claims that BYU's cold fusion research has served to confirm the more highly publicized Pons-Fleischmann discovery.
But despite misunderstandings between the two schools, Jones said he is still willing to cooperate with the U. on the research. But team members say trust will have to be rebuilt first.
"What comes out in the future is the important thing," Palmer said. "Labs all over will check it and it will all come out in the wash."