University of Utah researchers told Congress Wednesday they "are as sure as can be" that cold fusion is real - and that commercial application of it could come in 10-20 years if enough money is spent on research.
And U. officials and Utah congressmen said the perfect place to spend $25 million or so in federal research money would be at a fusion research center in Utah - which could use combined efforts of the U., Brigham Young University and Utah State University and Utah's wide open spaces to assist projects.But skeptics told the House Science, Space and Technology Committee that they doubt cold fusion is real and say it is premature to dream of commercial applications. But they, too, called for more money for research.
U. President Chase Peterson told the Deseret News that the U. will ask the government for $25 million for seed money for the research institute. It hopes to add another $75 million from private individuals and corporations.
About that plan, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, prepared a statement for the committee saying the Utah delegation will within two weeks "present you with an innovative legislative plan. One which will precipitate a whole new concept for a national partnership for action.
"It will combine private and public investment and the opportunity for America to develop, engineer and champion the most far-reaching innovation of our time."
Ira Magaziner, a consultant to the U. and president of Telesis USA, said such investment is needed to ensure other countries reap the commercial benefit from American-discovered cold fusion - as the Japanese have with the microwave, color television and the VCR.
Peterson's statement also said, "Utah . . . is a good place to promote rapid and novel development. Our political and social system is remarkably flexible, a throw-back to frontier times when well-intentioned leaders could identify, surround and solve problems quickly.
"We have uninhabited areas where special experiments can be conducted 20 minutes from both the university and an international airport. The state has appropriated $5 million to assist; $1.1 million has already been raised privately with the promise of much more."
While dreams about federal investment in Utah may be the most exciting development from the hearing for Utahns, national politicians, scientists and journalists crowded every inch of the hearing room to hear U. researcher B. Stanley Pons and his British colleague Martin Fleischmann explain their experiment.
They used slides, a mock-up of their experiment and technical data to explain that their experiment produced more energy than was put into it - they believe because of a new form of fusion taking place at room temperature.
When asked by committee members if they are absolutely sure that fusion is taking place, Pons said, "We have been our own toughest critics for the past 5 1/2 years, and we're still as sure as we can be of the results."
Fleischmann said, "I'm still totally convinced about our work." He added that he believes commercial application of cold nuclear fusion could come within 10-20 years, "and maybe sooner." But he said increased funding would be needed for that.
When committee members suggested that Pons and Fleischmann invite outside researchers into their lab so they could verify results beyond doubt, Pons said that is already happening. He said researchers from Los Alamos National Laboratory are watching a repeat of an old experiment to verify it.
Fleishmann said he is not surprised so many other researchers have been unable to repeat the U. experiment "because although it appears simple, it is not easy" and they are using the wrong proportions of paladium metal and heavy water.
Others also testified that they feel cold nuclear fusion is real.
A team of Texas A&M researchers submitted a statement saying they have performed experiments achieving similar amounts of energy as Pons and Fleischmann, and have performed control experiments showing the reaction does not occur in ordinary water.
Robert A. Huggins, a Stanford researcher, also said, "We have observed this phenomenon a number of times in more than one sample. . . . The magnitudes of the observed effects are comparable to those reported earlier by Fleischmann and Pons and lend strong support to the validity of their results."
Skeptics also had their chance to voice concern at the hearings.
Daniel Decker, chairman of the BYU department of physics and astronomy, said, "There is no present evidence that this heat (in the U. experiment) is related to fusion; even by their estimates of fusion rates, the number of neutrons or the number of tritiums is deficient by many orders of magnitude."
He added, "Rather than consider the possibility of some heretofore unknown chemical reaction being responsible, they prefer to suggest that a violation of various laws of physics is necessary. . . The only similarity between this experiment and the (similar) one at BYU is the use of an electrolytic cell."
Ronald Ballinger, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, "We have found that the results reported in the few available published documents from the U. are inconclusive or unclear."
And George Miley, a University of Illinois researcher, said, "There is not yet sufficient data to evaluate the possibility of a high reaction-rate, heat-producing reaction such as reported by the U. workers."