The University of Utah's cold nuclear fusion breakthrough, which ultimately could revolutionize world power production, has been confirmed.
Researchers from Texas A&M University announced on Monday that they have successfully replicated the controversial research of a U. professor and his British colleague. But they stopped short of calling it fusion.Nineteen days ago, B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, an electrochemist from the University of Southampton in England, electrified the scientific world with the news they had produced nuclear fusion at room temperature in a jar of heavy water.
Fusion occurs when the nuclei of atoms are joined together, creating heat. It is the energy source that powers the sun and hydrogen bombs. The energy produced by nuclear power plants comes from fission, which splits atoms.
One of Pons' and Fleischmann's most significant assertions is that their fusion reaction produced more energy than it consumed from the battery that was used to start it.
Monday three Texas scientists said they had achieved the same results.
"We have confirmed the most important part of their observations, which is excess heat (energy) generation," said Michael Hall, head of the Texas A&M chemistry department. "But we're not sure what is going on yet. Our measurements do not prove it is fusion yet."
Monday's confirmation was welcome news to the 46-year-old Utah chemist, who was informed Sunday of the Texas team's findings.
"This means that there will be an increased effort to determine what the source or nature of this new reaction is, which is what we have indicated all along," Pons told the Deseret News. "The reaction is most likely nuclear. It can't be explained any other way. But the scientific community will have to now try to understand the process involved."
With no more equipment than might be used in a freshman chemistry class, Pons and Fleischmann claim to have success fully created a sustained nuclear reaction in a simple apparatus for 100 hours at room temperature in the basement of the Henry Eyring Chemistry Building on the U. campus.
The unprecedented announcement of their findings March 23 set the worldwide scientific community into a fusion frenzy and labs throughout the world scrambled to duplicate the experiment.
While there has been some confirmation of the Utah research in Europe, this is the first U.S. confirmation.
Announcing the Texas confirmation was a team led by professor Charles R. Martin and thermal dynamics researchers Bruce Gammon and Kenneth Marsh.
The scientists, who were sent reprints of the Pons' and Fleischmann's scientific paper following the March 23 news conference in Salt Lake City, have been working on the experiment since then - independently of the U. chemist.
Martin, an electrochemist, said his group first made its observation Friday night. The process had been sustained for more than 40 hours by Sunday night and was continuing as scientists conducted tests in an effort to confirm a fusion reaction.
"That is the only observation that we have made, excess heat is generated in this chemical cell," Martin said.
News of Monday's news conference leaked out Sunday night. However, university sources said the three researchers were secluded until Monday so they could complete work on a scientific paper that was mailed Sunday night to the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry.
Last week the journal printed the paper of Pons and Fleischmann, who've been under intense scrutiny for the past two weeks.
Hurling the heaviest criticism at Utah's test tube fusion have been physicists throughout the world. They've insisted that Pons' and Fleischmann's breakthrough can't be nuclear fusion because it doesn't follow the known laws of physics.
Leading the criticism has been Mark S. Wrighton of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Wrighton said he obtained technical details from U. officials and started a duplicate experiment. It has been going continuously since March 27 with no evidence of fusion, he said last week.
Wrighton said he was "very skeptical" of the Utah claim, as was John Deutch, MIT's provost. "It would be terrific if it's true, but I don't think it's true," Deutch said.
The Texas scientists - like Pons - disagree.
Pons responded that he and Fleischmann had been skeptical for 5 1/2 years, and were doubtful that their colleagues at MIT could have arrived at the same conclusion in only 10 days.
"It would have probably meant more to put one student on the project for 300 days, than to put 30 students on it for 10 days," Pons said. "His measurement should not have been so rushed."
Other scientists who have tried to duplicate Pons' work say they have been hampered by a lack of detail the Utah researchers were holding back for patent reasons.
Pons doesn't expect the confirmation to muzzle fusion experts highly critical of the Utah claims. For 35 years, government and private researchers have spent millions of dollars trying to achieve fusion, and Pons and Fleischmann claim to have done it with $100,000 of their own money in a college chemistry lab.
So Pons expects to be in the hot seat again Wednesday when he addresses thousands of fellow chemists at the 197th annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Dallas.
Results of 2nd team's research:
- Like the Utah team, they've seen more energy come out of the reaction than is put into it.
- They expect refined measurements will show a much larger release of excess energy, perhaps as high as 80 percent greater than input.
- There is excess energy that is unexplainable by any known chemical reaction- precisely what Pons and Fleischmann have said.
- While it has not been established to be fusion, it is certainly not fission.
- The latest results confirm predictions of Pons, who says extended times are necessary for charging the device, and that the methods of measurement must be used with care.