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Congress May Make Purdue Fusion Probe Documents Public
Associated Press
Fort Wayne News Sentinel

Friday, April 6, 2007

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A congressional panel investigating Purdue University's inquiry into research misconduct allegations against a professor who claims he produced nuclear fusion in a simple experiment may make the school's reports on the probe public.

Congress usually makes materials from such investigations public, said LuAnn Canipe, a spokeswoman for Rep Brad Miller, D-N.C., the chairman of a subcommittee of the House Committee of Science and Technology.

"That's the point. It's been kept secret," Canipe said. "The subcommittee wants to make sure the process is in place at Purdue to make sure there is no wrongdoing."

She said it will likely take a week or more for committee members to review the data. After that, witnesses could be called.

Purdue met Thursday's deadline for turning over copies of its reports on its inquiry into Rusi Taleyarkhan to Miller's Subcommittee of Investigations and Oversight, said university spokeswoman Jeanne Norberg.

In a March 21 letter to Purdue seeking the documents, Miller said, "many disturbing questions remain about the scope and adequacy of the investigation."

The school has said its inquiry found no evidence of misconduct by Taleyarkhan, a professor of nuclear engineering. But officials have refused to comment further on the findings, citing a university privacy policy intended to protect researchers' reputations.

Several scientists, including some at Purdue, have said the university's inquiry was not thorough and came to the wrong conclusion. Some accuse Taleyarkhan of scientific fraud.

Congress became involved because federal money, including $800,000 from the Department of Defense, has been spent trying to duplicate Taleyarkhan's fusion claims.

In a paper published in 2002 in the journal, Science, he and colleagues claimed they had achieved nuclear fusion in "bubble fusion" experiments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee by collapsing bubbles in a solvent with powerful ultrasound vibrations.

That simple tabletop experiment stood in contrast to multibillion-dollar experimental reactors and other devices used in the goal of releasing the same power source that fuels starts.

Since Taleyarkhan's initial research was published, other scientists, including some at Purdue's campus, have tried unsuccessfully to independently reproduce his fusion work.

In March 2006, two Purdue researchers claimed in an article in the British journal, Nature, that Taleyarkhan had attempted to thwart their efforts to test his "bubble fusion" claims.

Taleyarkhan, who's stood by his fusion claims, predicted in a statement this week that Miller's committee would conclude that his science is valid and that Purdue did nothing wrong.

"I feel positive that, when Chairman Brad Miller receives the relevant information, Purdue University's due process will be vindicated along with the underlying science and my group's resolve to play by the rules," Taleyarkhan's e-mail statement said.

Purdue nuclear engineering professor Lefteri Tsoukalas, who was one of the researchers quoted in the Nature article, said a finding that Purdue swept the issue under the rug could lead many funding groups to back away from the university.

"The U.S. government especially doesn't want to give funding, if the safeguards are not working properly," he said.

Information from: Journal and Courier,


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