Texas A&M University experiments may have been intentionally contaminated to get results that proved cold fusion, a prominent science journal said in a report published Friday.
Despite widespread rumor that the A&M cold-fusion results were manipulated, university officials have yet to conduct a formal investigation, according to Science, a widely read journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science."The result is that after a year of experiments that most scientists view with a great deal of skepticism anyway, the A&M researchers are still haunted by this specter of possible fraud," the journal said.
John Fackler, dean of the College of Science at A&M, said he has no evidence of fraud and no plans to investigate the cold-fusion experiments.
"I have no concrete evidence of anything other than possibly fairly sloppy chemistry," he said in an interview.
Cold-fusion experiments in the A&M laboratory of John Bockris last year were among the first in the world to report finding tritium, a form of hydrogen that can be key evidence of a fusion reaction.
Bockris reported the tritium within weeks after Stanley Pons at the University of Utah, and his colleague Martin Fleischmann, announced to a stunned scientific community that they had achieved fusion in a laboratory jar.
The Utah announcement set off a worldwide scramble to confirm the possibility of cold fusion, but most experimenters could not duplicate the Pons-Fleischmann results and the concept now has few supporters among scientists.
Fusion is the merger of hydrogen atoms into helium with the release of substantial energy. It is the principal reaction of the sun and of thermonuclear weapons, and is believed by most scientists to require hydrogen atoms to be compressed and heated to millions of degrees.
"Cold" fusion, in which the reaction would take place and liberate energy as heat at ordinary temperatures, would be a stunning and unexplained scientific breakthrough.
The journal Science said A&M's quick findings of tritium gave early support of the Pons-Fleischmann findings, and were instrumental in a decision by the state of Utah to invest $5 million in cold-fusion research. A&M, the magazine said, received an additional $150,000 from the Electric Power Research Institute.
Yet, Science said, "suspicions were raised almost from the first that the tritium in the A&M cells (experiments) was put there by human hands."
Bockris declined to comment and other members of his staff referred questions to university officials. One member of his research group, doctoral candidate Nigel Packham, told Science he and Bockris were not ready to abandon their results.
The magazine said some scientists had suggested the tritium detected in the A&M experiments was a result of someone deliberately "spiking" the chemical analysis.
Science said Bockris and his team reported finding tritium on numerous occasions - including six different experiments in one week _ while scores of other laboratories around the country could find nothing, or reported tritium at levels of only a fraction of that reported by A&M.
The magazine said that although suspicions of fraud arose, Bockris did not act on suggestions by colleagues to secure the experimental apparatus and protect it from tampering.
"Although the origin of Bockris's tritium may not be resolved for years, the tritium episode has become a case study in the damage done when questions of fraud, legitimately raised, are not seriously addressed by either the lab chief or his institution," Science said.
The journal article also said the A&M case "raises crucial questions about how rumors and allegations of fraud should be investigated while ensuring academic freedom and protecting the reputations of scientists."