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Scientist in Fusion Dispute May Lose His Job
The New York Times
March 24, 1991
SALT LAKE CITY, March 23 — One of the two scientists who claimed to have discovered a process in which atomic fusion could be induced at room temperature has been told by the University of Utah that his future there is in jeopardy.
The scientists, Dr. Martin Fleischmann and Dr. B. Stanley Pons, made their announcement two years ago today, causing first a sensation and then, when other researchers were unable to reproduce the fusion results, widespread criticism.
In a letter dated Feb. 4, the chairman of the university's chemistry department asked Dr. Fleischmann, who is living in Britain, whether he intended to reapply as an auxiliary professor in the department before his current appointment expires at the end of the academic year.
Alluding to the department faculty vote that must confirm the appointments of auxiliary professors, the letter from the chairman, Peter J. Stang, continued, "It is only fair that I tell you that under the present circumstances and the prevailing atmosphere surrounding cold fusion at the university, it is rather uncertain that such an appointment would be favorably acted upon by our senior faculty."
Dr. Fleischmann, a widely published electrochemist, replied March 6 that he wanted his appointment put to a vote and said he had no doubt that his colleagues would reaffirm his position.
He also accused Dr. Stang of trying to sabotage the university's cold-fusion research program, which resulted from the claim made by Dr. Fleischmann and Dr. Pons. "I think you would like to close the file" on cold fusion "because you find it uncomfortable," Dr. Fleischmann wrote.
Committed to Experiments
Dr. Fleischmann's letter said he and Dr. Pons, who has a tenured position in the chemistry department and is its former chairman, were committed to keeping cold-fusion experiments in Utah to protect patent interests for themselves and the state, which has contributed $5 million to promote the research.
The exchange of letters was first reported in The Deseret News here today. Dr. Pons, who is in France on sabbatical, responded to that exchange by calling Dr. Stang's treatment of Dr. Fleischmann "deplorable."
"How can a scientist like Martin Fleischmann be treated in this way?" Dr. Pons asked.
Criticism From Scientists
For much of the last two years, Dr. Pons and Dr. Fleischmann have come under fire from the scientific community, and as a result, the cold-fusion program being financed by the State of Utah has suffered setbacks.
A fusion reaction releases energy through the joining of atoms, as opposed to fission, in which heavy atoms, like uranium, are split. If fusion could be harnessed to produce electricity, it could use hydrogen, which is plentiful, instead of uranium. But most scientists believe that this can be achieved only at extremely high temperatures.
Fritz Will, director of the university's National Cold Fusion Institute, complained earlier this month that Dr. Pons and Dr. Fleischmann had not fully cooperated with an external review of their experiments. But the two scientists have disputed his contention.
Meanwhile, the $5 million appropriation by the Utah Legislature to finance cold-fusion research will run out June 30, and the institute has been unable to solicit enough private donations to continue operations after that date.
But the threat to Dr. Fleischmann's job surprised state science officials.
"No one has talked to me about review of adjunct appointments to do with Dr. Fleischmann," said Randy Moon, the state's chief science adviser. "With so little funds remaining, I would think there would be more open communication."
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