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A small group of NASA scientists working on a shoestring budget has joined the efforts of laboratories around the nation that have tried to duplicate the controversial cold fusion experiment at the University of Utah.

For the next month, physicists Gautam Badhwar and Andreri Konradi and nuclear chemist Jim Keith will measure any electrical energy, heat and radiation produced in jars containing deuterium (heavy water), palladium and platinum.The three scientists, working on a budget of about $7,000, will search for signs of fusion, the energy source that powers the sun and hydrogen bombs. The energy produced by nuclear power plants comes from fission, which splits atoms; during fusion, atoms are joined.

B. Stanley Pons of the U. and Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton in England prompted a flurry of scientific activity when they announced that they had achieved fusion. By immersing electrodes of palladium and platinum in a jar of deuterium, they said, they generated more energy in the form of heat than the electricity they were using.

Although scientists at Texas A&M University and elsewhere say they have confirmed parts of the experiment, the discovery remains highly controversial. Laboratories run by the Department of Energy and several major universities are trying to determine exactly what Pons and Fleischmann accomplished.