University of Utah fusion scientists B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann left Washington, D.C., Thursday without meeting with John Sununu, White House chief of staff, officials said. But the chemists may meet with him as early as next week.

Sununu's office said the meeting, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, was postponed because of a "scheduling conflict." His office declined to give any further details. However, it is not uncommon for Sununu to cancel because of last-minute business that arises, officials said.University spokesman Ray Haeckel said the meeting was postponed and couldn't be rescheduled Thursday or Friday, so Pons and Fleischmann came home. Another meeting is planned next week.

That meeting among the electrochemists and U. President Chase N. Peterson was scheduled last week after an earlier meeting between Pons and Fleischmann and White House staff including an aide to Sununu, Studdert and Roger Porter, a Utahn who is Bush's domestic affairs adviser.

Sununu has a doctorate in mechanical engineering and is "extremely interested in cold fusion," according to Utahn Steve Studdert, another aide to Bush.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has gone to bat for Utah's fusion scientists, was trying to schedule a meeting with Pons and Fleischmann when he was informed that the White House canceled the meeting.

"He's concerned over the fallout at the Baltimore meeting (American Physical Society), and while realizing there was friction between the chemists and physicists, he thought they at least ought to give the Utah fusion scientists their day in court," said Hatch's press secretary Paul Smith. "He thought the joking and gibes at Utah were inexcusable,"

Smith said Hatch was appalled at the way the scientists made fun of the projects underway in Utah.

Hatch, according to Smith, believes that "if nothing else comes out of all this,it does put the scientific world in a scientific mode-that fusion is the way of the future and that Utah and BYU ignited the fire that got the scientists off and running."

Meanwhile, rumors of the demise of a trip to Utah by congressmen to see solid-state fusion experiments was premature.

Art Kingdom, press secretary to Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said he was amazed by press inquiries Wednesday evening asking why a visit by congressmen to Utah to view the experiments firsthand on May 12 and 13 was canceled.

"The trip is still on," he said. "I don't know how these rumors got started. I wish I knew."

He said when the calls started coming, he checked with Owens and Jeff Bingham, the administrative assistant for Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah. "They both said it is still on as far as they know."

Kingdon said, "Frankly, there has been some discussion about whether it was still needed. But the House Science Committee was still interested. And Wayne and Jake said it was still needed. It's a matter of honor."

Kingdom added that despite increasing criticism of solid-state fusion experiments by physicists this week, Owens is continuing to express strong support for the work of Pons, a U. chemistry professor, and Fleischmann, an electrochemist from England's Southampton University.

Fusion continues to be a hot topic in Washington.