clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


After enduring several weeks of Utah fusion bashing, state officials believe momentum in the controversy over what really is happening in University of Utah test tubes is about to change.

The Electrochemical Society is about to meet in Los Angeles, and delegates are expected to be more optimistic about the U. solid-state fusion experiments than were scientists at the American Physical Society convention in Baltimore, who last week attributed the U.'s dramatic results to amateurish mistakes.Bud Scruggs, chief of staff to Gov. Norm Bangerter, has said all along the state's image will remain intact no matter what finally happens to solid-state fusion. He is among the most optimistic about next week's meetings.

"I believe momentum will shift on Monday when a batch of more objective scientists look at this," he said Friday. "These people will make their judgments based more on the experiments than on the fear of losing research grants."

Meanwhile Friday, two groups of scientists conducting independent experiments at the University of Michigan said they have found no evidence to confirm the U. experiment. Officials at Duke University, unable to duplicate the U.'s results, also announced they are abandoning attempts to achieve fusion in a flask.

And researchers at North Carolina State University said they've temporarily suspended their experiment following a small explosion they maintain was a chemical, not nuclear, reaction.

In Salt Lake City, the governor's office still was fuming Friday over a last-minute White House cancellation of a meeting with a university delegation. Bangerter said the move was shabby treatment unworthy of a president's office, and Scruggs said it was another example of Eastern rudeness.

But chilling criticisms by Eastern physicists, newspaper and magazine editors and some politicians haven't dampened local enthusiasm for fusion researchers B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann - and their revolutionary research.

A contingency of state officials will travel to Los Angeles Monday to support the electrochemists.

Representing the U. 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, who is overseeing the expansion and scaling up of the U. experiment, hopes confirmation on Monday will satisfy the state Fusion/Energy Advisory Council.

The council, charged with allocating $5 million in state money for fusion development, is also sending representatives to Los Angeles.

Council chairman Ray Hixon and state science adviser Randy Moon are also expected to attend the convention.

Hixon, like other officials, including Bangerter, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, believes the criticism is unjustified.

"Academics don't take this sort of thing very easily. They react by protecting their own turf and own research," Hixon said. "I believe MIT and some of the others in the East are reacting the way they are because they see Congress being pressured to set up a fusion research center at the University of Utah. I'm not dismayed. I expected it."

The council will meet May 19 to establish criteria for determining whether the experiment has been confirmed.

James Brophy, the university's vice president for research, said Pons and Fleischmann will present some new data and at least six labs are expected to at least partially confirmed the Utah results at the convention.