Scientist Says He Stands by Fusion Data
A nuclear scientist at Purdue said yesterday that he would cooperate with the university's review of his fusion research. "From a technical point, we stand by our data," said the scientist, Rusi P. Taleyarkhan, a professor of nuclear engineering.
In 2002, scientists led by Dr. Taleyarkhan, who was then at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, announced that they had achieved fusion, the melding of hydrogen atoms to produce light and energy, in a small tabletop device by blasting a jar of solvent with strong ultrasound vibrations.
Scientists who have tried to reproduce the experiment say they have not seen any signs of fusion. The journal Nature reported on its Web site yesterday that several faculty members at Purdue, including Lefteri H. Tsoukalas, the head of the School of Nuclear Engineering who hired Dr. Taleyarkhan in 2003, now doubt the finding.
According to the article, Dr. Taleyarkhan had not shared raw data from experimental runs that he said had successfully produced fusion, had argued against the publication of negative results by other professors who had conducted similar experiments and had removed equipment from a shared laboratory, impeding colleagues' work.
Dr. Taleyarkhan said that he saw the article for the first time yesterday and that his Purdue colleagues' complaints "came as a major surprise to me."
On Tuesday, in response to the impending article, Sally Mason, the Purdue provost, said in a statement that "extremely serious" concerns had been raised about Dr. Taleyarkhan's work and that the university decided last week to review it.
In a follow-up statement released yesterday, Dr. Mason said, "There is disagreement within the scientific community both here and elsewhere concerning this research."
Dr. Mason said she had requested "a thorough review of the work and any concerns expressed about it."
She added, "As in any scientific endeavor, Purdue's ultimate goals are truth and integrity."
The statement did not describe the concerns that had been raised with Dr. Mason. The review will be led by Peter E. Dunn, associate vice provost for research. University officials have not decided how the investigation will be conducted or how long it will take, said Jeanne Norberg, a spokeswoman.
"We're going to have a complete review of things and see where that takes us," Ms. Norberg said. "Dr. Taleyarkhan said he would cooperate with whatever we needed with this review."
The findings of the review will be made public, Ms. Norberg said.
Dr. Taleyarkhan dismissed an assertion made this month by a scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, that the pattern of particles emitted in by the experiment did not match what had been expected for fusion, but instead appeared to be californium, a radioactive element present in Dr. Taleyarkhan's laboratory.
"I believe that's off base," Dr. Taleyarkhan said.
The calculations, by Brian Naranjo, a graduate student, have been submitted to Physical Review Letters, which published Dr. Taleyarkhan's most recent paper in January.
Dr. Taleyarkhan declined to explain further, saying the journals were the proper venue to discuss scientific issues.
In their 2002 report, Dr. Taleyarkhan and his colleagues said fusion had been created when the ultrasonic vibrations caused small gas bubbles in the solvent to collapse quickly, generating superhot temperatures where fusion could occur.
Colin D. West, a retired Oak Ridge scientist who set up the part of the device that generates the ultrasonic vibrations, said yesterday that he was present as data was being taken for the experiments and that he remained confident that fusion had been observed.
"All I'm telling you," Dr. West said, "is that I am confident that results that were taken when I was there were real."
University to Investigate Fusion Study (March 8, 2006)
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