Purdue Probes 'Tabletop Fusion' Again
Saturday, May 12, 2007
INDIANAPOLIS Faced with scathing criticism from a congressional panel, Purdue University has agreed to add at least one independent scientist to its latest inquiry of a nuclear scientist who claims he produced nuclear fusion in tabletop experiments.
The new probe announced Thursday night comes three months after an internal inquiry at Purdue found no evidence that Rusi Taleyarkhan, a professor of nuclear engineering, had engaged in research misconduct.
An earlier investigation had looked only at whether Taleyarkhan acted improperly by not listing himself as an author of two scientific papers he touts as independent confirmation of his fusion findings. The new inquiry will consider the possibility of fraud in that research.
Purdue spokesman Joseph L. Bennett said Friday the university would assess new allegations related to so-called sonofusion that surfaced after a February announcement clearing Taleyarkhan.
Taleyarkhan, who joined Purdue's faculty in late 2003, claimed in research published the previous year that he had used a simple tabletop experiment to unleash fusion _ the force that powers stars.
Since then, other scientists, including some at Purdue, have tried without success to reproduce his work.
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Several nuclear energy researchers suggest the work may have been fraudulent. Taleyarkhan has stood by his fusion claims.
A staff report sent Wednesday to Purdue President Martin Jischke by a subcommittee of the House Committee of Science and Technology chided Purdue for its investigations of Taleyarkhan.
It accused Purdue of "numerous failures" in its handling of questions first raised at Purdue in 2003 of Taleyarkhan's sonofusion research.
Citing concerns over federal money spent trying to reproduce his finding, the panel had requested copies of Purdue's findings into the allegations against Taleyarkhan. Purdue turned them over last month.
The subcommittee report quoted from the internal documents, including a finding that Taleyarkhan "abused his privilege as a senior scientist" in respect to his laboratory workers, and put junior scientists in "precarious positions."
The report also said Taleyarkhan's claims of independent confirmation of his research from the two scientific papers the Purdue inquiry looked at was "highly doubtful" and "representative of poor judgment" that would not be accepted by the scientific community.
In addition, it criticized Purdue for appointing three members to the new inquiry committee who had served on earlier ones and urged the school to add one or more independent scientist with no ties to the university.
Purdue has added one such member and is considering adding a second, Bennett said.
In research published in 2002 in the journal Science, Taleyarkhan and his former colleagues claimed they had achieved nuclear fusion in experiments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee by collapsing bubbles in a solvent with powerful ultrasound vibrations.
That simple tabletop experiment, which Taleyarkhan said produced the telltale nuclear signature of a fusion reaction from hydrogen atoms fusing, stood in contrast to experimental nuclear fusion reactors that have to date required large, multibillion-dollar machines.
Taleyarkhan contends other scientists have replicated his work.
Contacted by e-mail Friday, he called the report a "one-sided, grossly exaggerated write-up" but said he would cooperate fully with the inquiry.
"I don't believe this renewed review is warranted but rather than argue and complain, we'll just go through this one more time with whoever is on the new committee," he wrote.
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