While University of Utah officials are proceeding at breakneck speed to keep Utah's perceived lead in fusion research, a Brigham Young University physicist is calling for caution.
"I really do feel a moral responsibility to interject a cautionary note. I don't think that note is appreciated very much in Utah right now," BYU physicist Steven E. Jones told the Deseret News. "Based on my research that has been going on for three years in this particular area, this doesn't give much hope for fusion energy immediately. I'll stick to (predicting) 20 years or never."Jones, who says he's been doing work in cold nuclear fusion since 1986, was commenting Monday afternoon about the experiments of U. chemistry professor B. Stanley Pons and British colleague Martin Fleischmann, whose March 23 announcement that they had achieved cold nuclear fusion at room temperature shocked scientists and captured headlines around the world.
Jones says he's afraid Utahns, energized by the announced breakthrough, "are going to be disappointed."
"I feel a moral obligation to (interject a cautionary note) because I really feel that the little plant that has sprouted now is a long way from being a tree," Jones said. "Some people think it's a tree already, I guess, and that the wood will supply us energy. I don't see that yet - not by a long shot. So I feel an obligation to speak out."
Pons has also told Utahns it may be a long time before any commercial application of the experiment could be available.
Jones stopped short Monday of calling the Pons/Fleischmann research wrong.
"We have tried to replicate the experiment, but based on our three years of research, we feel the energy applications are still a long way off," he said. "We feel very cautionary about this."
Meanwhile Tuesday, the Indira Gandhi Center for Atomic Research on the Bay of Bengal in India joined a handful of other labs that have announced confirmation of the U. experiment. But Georgia Tech's second attempt at dulicating the experiment failed, fueling skeptics' concerns.
Colleagues of Jones said he will express those concerns Tuesday when he confers with scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He also is scheduled to testify Wednesday - along with Pons and Fleischmann - before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee in Washington, D.C.
BYU spokesman Paul Richards said the three scientists will also address the American Physical Society in Baltimore on May 1.
A dispute between the U. and BYU over cold nuclear fusion research has been going on for a month since Pons and Fleischmann made their announcement. BYU officials disapproved of the way it was announced - through a news conference, instead of in a scientific journal. They insist that an agreement had been reached to announced their projects simultaneously.
But according to Richards, stealing the limelight isn't the issue that most disturbs Jones. It's rumors that the physicist took ideas from Pons.
Last fall, Jones, the Department of Energy's chief investigator on cold nuclear fusion, was asked to review a grant proposal written by Pons. Typically, the identity of the reviewer is kept confidential. But Jones said he decided to talk about it because "it has become general public knowledge that I reviewed his work," and Richards said some people are now saying Jones stole from it.
"Our contention is that if he really pirated from them, why would he tell DOE to breach the confidence provision and let them have his name," Richards said. "He could have remained incognito and gone about his work. But he told them right off the bat. To say that he pirated from that project is ludicrous."
Jones, who has notarized his research notes to prove he experimented and theorized about the process, says he's unhappy that the press has not accurately reported the facts.
"The story hasn't been told. I have tried every time I have talked to reporters, `Please can't you tell people in Utah that we started this in May of 1986. Give us a chance to get the word out.' "
According to Richards, BYU is filing patents - four to six - on Jones experiments. "We were not intending on filing patents. The only reason we are filing is to protect his integrity because he didn't pirate anything. He has been working on this (cold nuclear fusion) for some time now."
Jones, said Richards, "wasn't into this science for patent applications."
"He sees this as a long-range, almost worldwide collaboration among scientists trying this and that and the other thing. And someday it may be viable."
In the meantime, Jones thinks Utahns need to be careful.
"Let's not look at the preliminary results and assume they are 100 percent verified. They are not," he said. "We need to slow down a bit and get the scientific community to filter out the wheat from the chaff because right now there is a lot of both out there and it's confusing the public."
HATCH HOPES U. AND Y. WILL FUSE
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, hopes that the University of Utah and Brigham Young University can work together to develop cold nuclear fusion technology.
Hatch, who visited the U. lab of B. Stanley Pons and the BYU lab of Steven E. Jones Monday, said he was impressed with both projects.
"Both have their pluses, and I suppose both have their minuses," he said. "But we have to be very excited for our home state of Utah. We have to be excited to have these quality scientists in our state working to develop what they have been developing."
Hatch said both Pons and Jones are world renowned and to some degree, both are supported by the federal government.
"I would like to make sure we get them working together," Hatch said.