Instead of a group of Washington's political elite traveling to Utah as planned next week to examine fusion experiments firsthand, Utah researchers will travel to Washington to face critics in a congressional hearing.

That hearing on Wednesday before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee will be a prelude to discussing formation of a National Research Center at the University of Utah - which Committee Chairman Robert A. Roe said Thursday will receive prompt consideration.University of Utah chemistry professor B. Stanley Pons, who reported achieving cold nuclear fusion in a test tube, will be first to testify, said committee staff member Robert A. Leimatainan.

Pons' British co-researcher, Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton in England, will join his colleague in Washington before returning to Salt Lake City to continue their research.

The two scientists will be joined by U. President Chase N. Peterson and Ian Cumming, a member of the state Board of Regents, said Art Kingdom, press secretary to Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah.

Plans for the hearing were completed Thursday after Owens met with Roe on behalf of the Utah delegation. Owens said Roe also promised an early hearing on proposals for a National Fusion Research Center at the U. and confirmed committee plans to visit the U. on May 13 - a visit originally planned for next week but postponed because of scheduling conflicts.

Leimatainan said several scientists who have been skeptical of the results of the U. experiment are also scheduled to testify Wednesday, including:

-George Miley, a University of Illinois fusion researcher and editor of the Journal of Fusion Technology.

-Mike Saltmarsh, a fusion researcher at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

-Ron Ballinger, head of a fusion-research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge.

-Howard P. Furth, director of the Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory.

In a recent meeting of the American Chemical Society in Dallas, Furth barely concealed contempt of Pons' experiment, saying world-class physicists will not take the Utah findings seriously until the precise process involved is explained and demonstrated with controlled experiments.

Because of the lineup of world-class scientists and the national excitement about fusion, Leimatainan said, "We are expecting a very heavy turnout."

Owens added, according to Kingdom, "There is immense interest on the committee and in Congress as a whole on this hearing and the trip to Utah."

The trip to Utah for leaders of Congress and the Bush administration originally scheduled for April 28-29 has been rescheduled for May 12-13 because the House Science Committee had scheduling conflicts with a scheduled space-shuttle launch, Kingdom said.

At Roe's request, the trip will also be expanded to include visits to aerospace facilities at Morton Thiokol in Brigham City and at Hercules in Magna _ to help in its oversight of the space program.

Kingdom said the only Washington officials who have so far confirmed that they will travel to Utah are members of Roe's committee. But many others have said they are interested, including Rep. Tom Bevill, D-Ala., the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that determines how much to spend on fusion research.

Pons said he is already receiving money from the Office of Naval Research and expects to expand that funding to include fusion research.

Up to $5 million in state money, approved by the Legislature for fusion research and development, could also be allocated to the U. by the Fusion/Energy Advisory Council once the Pons/Fleischmann experiment is confirmed.

Peterson, who's received dozens of calls from companies wanting to cash in on cold fusion research, said other sources of funding also are being developed.

The discovery of Pons and Fleischmann, announced March 26, has sent politicians, entrepreneurs and academicians scurrying to keep Utah in the forefront of fusion research.

It's also caused a fusion furry among scientists worldwide hoping to duplicate the experiment. Eight labs have announced confirmation, but Pons believes many more have received positive results.

The experiment isn't without skeptics, mainly physicists who have chased nuclear fusion for decades. They continue to say the experiment was actually an unknown chemical reaction rather than fusion.

Two Philadelphia engineers were the latest to reiterate that theory Thursday after performing room-temperature nuclear fusion experiments with both heavy water and tap water.

Researchers Michel Barsoum and Roger Doherty of Drexel University said they got the same results with both, indicating there was no nuclear fusion.

Pons, who is conducting tests with both kinds of water, sticks to his original claim.

"They don't have to believe me. I will just go back to the lab, do my experiments, and build my power plant," is Pons' response.

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(Chart)

Fusion Scorecard

Confirmed U. experiment

-Lajos Kossuth University, Debrecen, Hungary

-Texas A&M University

-Moscow University

-University of Washington

-Italian National Agency for Alternative Energy

-Stanford University

-Czechoslovakia team of physicists

-University of Florida, Gainesville

-India scientists

Collaboration:

Los Alamos National Lab

Criticism:

Xinhau News Agency in China

Drexel University engineers

Duke University physicists