After receiving kudos in three dress rehearsals, B. Stanley Pons was back in Salt Lake City Wednesday, still awaiting confirmation of his cold nuclear fusion project at the University of Utah.
"If it comes, I believe it could be the most important discovery of the century," said Paul Grieco, chairman of the department of chemistry, Indiana University-Bloomington, where Pons presented one of two scientific seminars Tuesday. A second was held at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. Last week he presented his first scientific seminar at the U., where the historic breakthrough was announced March 23.Like a controversial Broadway hit, Pons' unprecedented scientific discovery received mixed reviews.
But the chemist garnered star-like applause by hundreds of scientists and students at two Indiana schools who clamored to hear details of the electrochemical process that Pons claims could one day provide the world with a clean, virtually inexhaustible source of energy.
"I went in confused, felt confused and remain confused," was Grieco's response to the standing-room only lecture. "I heard my physical chemistry colleagues say they believe his experiments, but that's not to say they fully understand what is going on.
"The chemistry going on needs to be sorted out. And that will take many more controlled experiments. But my personal opinion is that in time it will fall in place."
Grieco said Indiana physicists, like many others throughout the world, remain skeptical that the experiment can work because Pons and his British colleague Martin Fleischmann exceeded the goal of "break-even" energy output. Simply put: Their gizmo consistently produces more energy than it consumes - a crucial requirement for an energy-generating process to be practical for mass use.
"The question is, can one harness the power it (the fusion) produces to benefit mankind?" asked Grieco. "That's the follow-up to the follow-up to the follow-up."
No one yet knows what would happen if the table-top device were scaled up to the level necessary for commercial applications.
Pons and Fleischmann say they know for sure only that their simple apparatus, available in any college chemistry class, produces an extraordinary amount of heat.
"There is no conceivable chemical process that would give this much energy," said Pons, who has stepped down as chairman of the U. chemistry department to devote more time in the lab. "There is no way we could have gotten the results we did without a nuclear reaction of some kind. I can think of no other physical or chemical process. I'm open to suggestions, but nobody has said anything."
The announcement by Pons and Fleischmann has prompted a flurry of experiments by scientists around the world hoping to duplicate their findings.
Two U. researchers hope to verify the Pons experiment using neutron spectroscopy, which would basically measure the neutrons and their energy to see if fusion has occurred.
Gary M. Sanquist, director of the U. nuclear engineering program, and Michael Salamon, assistant professor of physics, said they have the U. administration's blessing to try and confirm the results, but they still must get Pons to agree.
Any data collected by the two would become Pons' property.
He believes it is important for the U. to attempt verification. "We want independent verification from the same institution. We want the U. to prove its own case."
Sandquist, who did postdoctoral work on fusion at MIT, said he was surprised by the discovery since probably hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on fusion research in the past 40 years.
"Now we have a couple of chemists who could revolutionize the field," he said. "If it's really true, it will change the world. If there is fusion in any abundance, the world will be different two decades from now."
And Stanley Pons will take a much-deserved bow.