March 8, 2006

University checks “bubble fusion” fraud claim

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Purdue University is investigating
complaints about a scientist who claimed to have achieved "cold
fusion" using sound waves to make bubbles in a test tube, the
university said on Wednesday.

Nuclear engineer Rusi Taleyarkhan's work has been
controversial since he published a study in 2002 claiming to
have achieved the Holy Grail of energy production -- nuclear
fusion at room temperature.

Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the sun.

If scientists can duplicate the results and harness the
technology, tabletop fusion has the potential to provide an
almost limitless source of cheap energy.

Many labs are working frantically to try to do so, but
their efforts are difficult to substantiate and especially
susceptible to being labeled as fraud.

Taleyarkhan, whose study was published while he was at the
U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory in
Tennessee, now works at Purdue University in Indiana and has
also been trying to replicate his earlier findings.

He claimed to have done so in 2004.

Purdue Provost Sally Mason said her office was checking
complaints from some of Taleyarkhan's co-workers.

"Purdue last week initiated a review of this research and
these allegations," Mason said in a statement.

"The research claims involved are very significant and the
concerns expressed are extremely serious. Purdue will explore
all aspects of the situation thoroughly and announce the
results at the appropriate time," she added.

"To ensure objectivity, the review is being conducted by
Purdue's Office of the Vice President for Research, which is
separate from the College of Engineering."

The journal Nature reported on Wednesday that it had
interviewed several of Taleyarkhan's colleagues who suspect
something is amiss.

"Faculty members Lefteri Tsoukalas and Tatjana Jevremovic,
along with several others who do not wish to be named, say that
since Taleyarkhan began working at Purdue, he has removed the
equipment with which they were trying to replicate his work,
claimed as 'positive' experimental runs for which they never
saw the raw data, and opposed the publication of their own
negative results," Nature said in a statement.

"In addition, Brian Naranjo at the University of
California, Los Angeles, is submitting to Physical Review
Letters an analysis of Taleyarkhan's recently published data
that strongly suggests he has detected not fusion, but a
standard lab source of radioactivity."

Naranjo's lab reported in April 2005 that it had achieved
cold fusion by heating a lithium crystal soaked in deuterium

Engineers and physicists have been cautious about
Taleyarkhan's technique but say in theory it could work.

In his original report, published in the journal Science in
2002, Talayarkhan and colleagues said they created nuclear
fusion in a beaker of chemically altered acetone by bombarding
it with neutrons and then sound waves to make bubbles.

When the bubbles burst, the researchers said they detected
fusion energy.

The 2004 experiment used uranyl nitrate, a salt of natural

Experts have been especially skeptical about cold fusion
claims since Britons Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons of
Southampton University held a news conference in 1989 to claim
they had achieved it.

Announcing a major scientific advance in a news conference
rather than submitting experiments to expert peer review and
scrutiny is considered poor form by scientists -- and
Fleischmann and Pons were further ridiculed when no one could
duplicate their efforts.