While B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann press forward on a new round of cold nuclear fusion experiments, across campus University of Utah engineers are trying to both duplicate Pons' original work and scale it up for commercial use.
Coordinating the work between departments will be Hugo Rossi, dean of the U. College of Science and newly appointed director of the U.'s solid state fusion research effort.Rossi's assignment, announced at the second meeting of the Fusion/
Energy Advisory Council Thursday by James J. Brophy, U. vice president for research, will be to develop a coordinated science and engineering research program.
It's a program that likely will include scientists from other universities.
Brigham Young University engineers have also expressed interest in moving the U. experiment out of the lab into practical use.
"I am well-acquainted with both Dr. Fleischmann and Dr. Pons. I know them personally and have high regard for them," said Douglas N. Bennion, chairman, BYU department of chemical engineering. "I would be delighted to arrange for a collaboration at the appropriate time.'
Earlier this week, Fleischmann said he and Pons are "very keen to collaborate" and hope to visit with Bennion before they travel to Los Angeles May 8 to address the Electrochemical Society.
"We would like to tidy everything up and get the show rolling, as the saying is," Fleischmann said.
Also trying to replicate the Pons-Fleischmann experiment are scientists at Utah State University and at BYU, where physicist Steven E. Jones has researched cold nuclear fusion since 1986.
"Individual scientists have had experiments going to try to duplicate Pons' work but have no results to publish," said Wilford N. Hansen, USU professor of physics and chemistry and also a member of the state Fusion/Energy Advisory Council. "We are (now) going to do it more systematically with safety in mind."
One attempt at cold nuclear fusion by USU analytical chemist Stephen Bialkowski failed. He blames the failure on incomplete information about the experiment because he didn't use cast palladium.
He plans another attempt soon. But, so far, such work must be confined to his own time and paid for out of his own pocket.
USU does have an unofficial fusion committee that meets weekly. But Bialkowski said it's basically an informal discussion group where interested faculty from a cross-section of disciplines discuss theories and possible fusion projects.
However, Bialkowski and others caught in fusion fever around the world keep in touch by a computer network, called USERNET, an academic computer bulletin used by universities and other academic institutions.
Daily the network has been offering 66 fusion-related entries. Although a lot of it is electronic junk mail, or philosophical ramblings speculating about a world with unlimited energy, Bialkowski said he has received preprints of cold fusion articles being submitted to scientific journals before their publication and translations of foreign newspaper articles on fusion.
Ironically, there is no separate academic subject for fusion on the computer bulletin board, so it is listed in "alternate," along with drugs and rock music.
Thus far, U. engineers have also failed at their attempts to replicate the Pons-Fleischmann experiments but are setting up a new series "to more closely duplicate what they (the chemists) have."
They're also discussing how to scale up the table-top experiment - the first effort to capitalize on the research.
The U.'s nuclear engineers believe that with some remodeling, a low-power nuclear fission training reactor now being decommissioned is convertible to an experimental device for cold fusion research.
Kevan Crawford, TRIGA reactor supervisor, said the decommissioning effort began a year and a half ago and should be completed by the end of the summer.
"Assuming that everything is positive and that it really is true, I foresee starting it (the scale-up) next spring," Crawford said. "We are already pricing equipment."
The AGN-201 (the acronym AGN stands for Aerojet General Nucleonics, the company that manufactured the reactor) is a five-watt fission reactor whose fuel is uranium-235.
The reactor - obviously larger than a test-tube but smaller than a power plant - began operating at the university in 1959. It was used until 1985 to teach students the behavior of a fission reactor.
It was replaced by a 100,000-watt TRIGA reactor that the college still operates to train nuclear engineers.
Crawford said that once the reactor's interior is gutted as part of the government-ordered decommissioning, retrofitting the device for cold fusion experiments could begin.
One of the reactor's immediate advantages, he said, is that its lining with 2 to 3 feet of light water provides a shield for researchers against any radiation the cold fusion experiments might produce.
"The converted reactor would need a very clean interior, one lined with polyethylene glass or some other acceptable material to keep the heavy water clean," Crawford said. "The core would probably consist of a cylinder filled with heavy water.
"If the process can be scaled up, we'd have to devise a way to capture the deuterium gas the process emits and safely dispose of that gas in some way or recombine it with oxygen under controlled conditions to produce heavy water."
-Two national labs have confirmed the U. experiment but are withholding public announcement pending publication in a scientific journal.
-More than 100 scientists have been assigned by MITI, a Japanese scientific coordinating agency, to do cold fusion research.
-Researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland confirmed U. experiment.
-University of Utah researchers B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann will return to Washington, D.C., next week to meet with President Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu.
-The Houston law firm of Arnold, White and Durkee will assist the Salt Lake law firm of Giauque, Williams, Wilcox and Bendinger in overseeing the patent fight.
-Office of Naval Research has increased funding for cold nuclear fusion research at the U. at $300,000 level for three years. U. may submit a $2.5 million proposal to the federal Department of Energy.
-Pons has received a $100,000 anonymous private gift for research efforts.
-$5 million allocated by the Legislature for fusion development has not yet been requested by the U.