For four weeks television cameras throughout the world have focused on University of Utah professor B. Stanley Pons, who March 23 announced what some scientists are calling the "breakthrough of the 20th century."
But three miles from the now-acclaimed lab where chemists reported creating cold nuclear fusion in a test tube, the television is only rarely turned on.In the Sugar House home that Pons shares with his wife of 16 years and two of his six children, life remains unchanged.
Sheila Pons, for one, isn't complaining.
"Life is very normal. There isn't enough time to do everything, but there wasn't before," said the 36-year-old wife and mother, who doubles as university student and self-declared "supporting actress" to Utah's fusion wizard.
"The biggest difference is that there are more important calls, which disrupt dinner. Sometimes dinner (the family's `quality' time together) takes two hours," she said. "But overall, there are no big changes. Stan has always been on the phone a lot - always worked a lot."
For the most part, Pons' new-found fame hasn't affected Mrs. Pons. She, in fact, is a bit surprised by the continual hoopla and publicity.
"I know people may be interested in him, but basically we are normal people. My house needs vacuuming, no one has folded the towels yet," she said. "We have one cat, no dogs. We had two parakeets, but we managed to give them away. They are really cheerful little birds but made such a mess all over the place."
A typical nuisance in a typical suburban home, where little brother teases big sister and everyone each morning fights for time in the family's one upstairs bathroom.
Mrs. Pons, who epitomizes Southern hospitality, has stayed out of the spotlight, granting few interviews. Their children, John Albert, 6, and Joyce, 12 1/2, have been purposely shielded, so they, too, wonder what all the fuss is about.
"They saw Stan on television and thought that was really funny," Mrs. Pons said, ruffling the hair of her kindergartner, whose zest for stegosauruses exceeds his interest in neutrons. The kids' candid comments were: "Look at Dad. Why does he look so stiff. Why isn't he smiling?"
"It's just as well; I don't think they need to be exposed to a lot of it," the mom said.
In reality, the life of at least three of the four family members remains routine. For Mrs. Pons, that means getting up early to fix breakfast, lunches and get Joyce and John Albert off to school by 8 a.m. - before rushing to classes herself.
Mrs. Pons, a U. student, has a class at 8:50 a.m. "Parking at the university has not improved - even for the wife of a fusion chemist," she quipped. "I also have to get there in time." No one yet has asked for her autograph.
Her French and biology classes end at 2 p.m.; John Albert finishes at 3, and Joyce, a seventh-grader, is home at 4. Then there are soccer games, lessons, birthday and slumber parties - and mad dashes to the grocery store.
There's also homework. Like dad, all three spend many quiet hours in the evenings studying.
"I'm registered as a degree student, but it remains to be seen if I will actually be able to pass this quarter," Mrs. Pons said. "But if I am going to put my time into going to campus and fighting for a parking space, then I am going to learn something - even if I pronounce French words with an American accent."
The Pons family prefers evenings at home over parties, movies or athletic events. "We are quiet people; we don't have to leave home to have fun," said Mrs. Pons, adding that "the kids may disagree."
But their warm inviting home - alive with green foliage in one area, humming computers in another - has become a gathering place for international chemists, including Martin Fleischmann, co-discoverer of the breakthrough. The English gentleman is a regular house guest and guest chef.
"Stan and Martin are both good cooks and one of their big escapes is to have a cook-off," Mrs. Pons said. With the same feverishness exhibited in their laboratory, "they go into the kitchen and chop up things until it is so loud that I have to leave the room."
Again, she's not complaining. "I haven't cooked a meal since last Christmas."
As with most couples, the lives of Stan and Sheila Pons - while united - are very different. "Intense and hard-driving" are adjectives Mrs. Pons uses to describe the man she met 18 years ago when she and Pons were working in the Louisiana textile mill his father owned.
Mrs. Pons, a student at Northeast Louisiana University, worked in the accounting department. She didn't finish college nor has she since lived in the state her parents still call home.
Following a two-year courtship, she married the good-natured chemist, "who's fun even when he's being a scientist," and relocated with Pons in Michigan, England, Canada and finally Utah - their home since 1983.
Today they both socialize primarily with chemists. "In fact, almost everyone I know is a chemist and most are interesting people," said Mrs. Pons, who herself had two years of undergraduate chemistry.
"That qualifies me as an expert typist and editor for all Stan's papers," she said. "I have spent thousands of hours typing papers." (Pons has written more than 140 articles).
Both husband and wife love to ski and hike and "actually have a good time once we manage to get in the truck and leave the house without the phone ringing."
Both really only relax once they get away from home - at Disneyland or sometimes only as far as the nearest golf course.
"But that's six hours, the way I play golf," Mrs. Pons said. "I get my money's worth - I get to hit the ball a lot. I still shoot 148, but it's fun because there are no telephones. I think it would be disgusting if they put telephones in golf carts."
Sheila and Stan are both fun and funny, but they have their differences.
"He has too much energy. I can't keep up with him, nor do I want to keep up with him," said Mrs. Pons, who admits to nagging her husband only once or twice a week about the long hours he keeps.
Mrs. Pons said her husband's intensity for chemistry carries over into everything else he does.
"If we go skiing, we have to get up very early, be there first and tromp all the snow down before anyone else trounces it down," she said.
But chemistry is rarely far from his mind. "Even if you take him away from the lab, he is still thinking chemistry."
But she's the first to admit his dedication has paid off. Some say it could even net Stan Pons a Nobel prize.
What's his wife's reaction?
"I always say, `Be sure I have a reservation, too. I would miss my classes for a week for that,' " she said. "Wouldn't that be thrilling? Every scientist must dream of winning a Nobel prize. And I am sure he has his dreams too."
But would the honor change anything at home? "No," Mrs. Pons said. "We like our life the way it is."