In World Wars I and II the British heaved great sighs of relief when the Americans crossed the Atlantic to help fight the good fight. Utah fusion pioneer B. Stanley Pons knows how they felt - and is also breathing easier.
Now an Englishman is coming to Utah: scientist Martin Fleischmann is crossing the Atlantic to take some of the heat off - not out of - the test tube.The two scientists this week will be back together in the University of Utah lab where a month ago they reported creating cold nuclear fusion in a jar at room temperature.
The breakthrough, tagged by some as the greatest discovery since fire, sent the scientific world into a frenzy and thrust the two chemists out of their labs into the limelight.
Since then, neither Fleischmann nor Pons has enjoyed the luxury of anonymity. Neither have they had much time to conduct table-top chemistry.
"Martin is simply looking forward to getting back to Utah to do some essential experiments," said Robert Nesbitt, dean of the faculty of science at Southampton University in England, where Fleischmann has an honorary research appointment. "All the criticism about the actual process is making him more than ever determined get on with the experiments. He has a good idea of what those are. He believes they won't make any more progress until they're left alone."
Nesbitt said Fleischmann - like Pons - has been "pestered by everybody." Pons managed semi-seclusion at home by getting a new unlisted telephone number; Fleischmann finally took his phone off the hook.
He's granted very few interviews.
"But the (European) press coverage has been incredible," Nesbitt told the Deseret News. "Every other day there is still something about it. I think he is just fed up with it.
He would really like to have less publicity and get back to the science. He's essentially interested in the science - and not the politics. He's not at all interested in the fame and money."
A "brilliant, first-rate scientist" is how colleagues describe Fleischmann, a 62-year-old Czechoslovakian refugee, who's received Britain's highest scientific acclaim: Fellowship of the Royal Society. His vita carries a long list of noteworthy medals.
"He covers a wide breadth in science - a man spilling over with ideas," said Alan Bewick, a reader in Southampton's Chemistry Department and former graduate adviser to Pons. "Ninety percent of them (the ideas) are crazy; 10 percent are wonderful. He's a very interesting man - always."
Fleishmann, a member of the Southampton faculty since 1967, met student Pons in 1976 when the North Carolinian enrolled in the university's doctoral program under Bewick.
They became fast friends and collaborators. When Fleischmann retired early from administrative duties to do research full time, he frequently worked with Pons at the U.
"When asked why he chose Utah, Fleischmann answered, `The mountains, the snow, and the bird (Snowbird),' " said U. President Chase N. Peterson.
Pons, also an avid skier, and Fleischmann had collaborated on 32 articles and numerous "impossible" experiments before the "big" one.
"Martin has been coming here every year, once or twice a year for four months at a time," said Richard Steiner, associate chairman of the U. Department of Chemistry and Pons' friend and colleague. "All they do is work. That's one of the reasons why Martin stays at the Pons' house. He can work right up to bedtime; there's no down time for travel."
It was in the kitchen of Pons' Sugar House home that he and Fleischmann came up with the idea for the fusion experiment. The nature of the experiment was so simple that at first, Pons said, it was done for fun and to satisfy curiosity.
Stories like this hint that the hard-driving scientists (who are both married to women named Sheila) view their collaboration as much more than just a job. It's their life.
They eat and drink it.
Friends say that's apparent in Southampton where Fleischmann is often seen in the staff club having a beer. "He's either talking science - or wine or skiing," said Nesbitt. "He's a very well-known and well-liked person who enjoys life to the fullest."
Take for instance his annual ski trips.
When the extroverted scientist travels with colleagues to the Alps, they amble through France ensuring ample time for wine sampling in along the way. "Where they sleep is determined by where the good wine and good food is," Nesbitt said.
"It makes the journey to France a very pleasant one," Bewick added.
Fleischmann, father of three and grandfather of four, is a master scientist, a wine connoisseur, a gourmet.
"He's also one of the most cultured and charming individuals you'd want to meet," Nesbitt said.
But what people seem to like most about Fleischmann is his dry wit - a wit shared by the more reserved, mild-mannered Pons.
"They complement each other," Bewick said. "They're not stuffed shirts; don't stand on ceremony. They are very informal with great senses of humor. Both are always fond of a joke."
The new-found British celebrity, who will undoubtedly be hounded by American politicians, scientists, investors and the press, is expected to be in Utah a month - or longer. (He's been named a research professor at the U.)
But most of his time likely will be spent behind the closed doors of Pons' lab in the Henry Eyring Chemistry Building, where the fusion research has been fueled by international competition. And patent applications.
U. officials hope his presence will lessen the pressure on Pons, the 46-year-old academician who's been under constant international surveillance since the March announcement.
"At least there now will be two of them people can chase around the department," Steiner quipped.