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MIT Alleges Fraud Against Pons and Fleischmann

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Thanks to Nick Palmer for transcription

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Herald Exclusive
By NICK TATE
 

LEADING scientists at MIT derided a breakthrough cold fusion experiment as “scientific schlock,” and will release a report today charging two University of Utah chemists with misrepresentation and “maybe fraud.”

In the first interviews about their findings, scientists heading MIT’s fusion research center told the Herald that stunning claims about room-temperature fusion by Utah chemist B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann of England’s University of Southampton are “just not true.”

“Everything I’ve been able to track down has been bogus, and I think we owe it to the community of scientists to begin to smoke these guys out,” said Dr. Ronald R. Parker, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Plasma Fusion Center, who will present the explosive findings to the American Physical Society in Baltimore tonight.

Parker and other top nuclear experts at the prestigious Cambridge institute also criticised Pons and Fleischmann for making a push in congressional hearings last week to grab millions in grant money and accused the University of Utah of trying to “fleece” the government.


The MIT paper, a bombshell that is certain to rock the international scientific community, contains research debunking the Utah experiment and accusing the cold-fusion collaborators of “falsely interpreting” their results.

The MIT accusations throw cold water on the Utah boast to have found a cheap and environmentally benign energy source that could revolutionize power generation and laboratory research worldwide.

In an interview with the Herald, Parker said Pons and Fleischmann are guilty of “misrepresentation and maybe fraud” and called the report documenting the Utah research “a piece of scientific schlock.”

He said an examination of the Utah scientists’ raw data showed there was no fusion but in their final report Pons and Fleischmann “shifted” numbers measuring neutron energy to make it appear as though fusion had taken place.

Parker said nuclear engineers at MIT and at least 20 other leading U.S. universities have been unable to replicate the Utah findings despite around-the-clock attempts during the last five weeks.

Parker’s charges, which were echoed by other MIT scientists, mark an unprecedented indictment of the reports, methods and motives of Pons and Fleischmann whose previously unblemished reputation lent credence to their fantastic claims.

Dr. Ronald Ballinger, who heads MIT’s twin departments of Materials Science and Engineering and Nuclear Engineering called the Utah scientists’ efforts to seek funding in congressional hearings last week a “well orchestrated attempt to… short circuit well-established and organized peer review processes.”

Ballinger and Parker ripped University of Utah President Chase Peterson’s bold urgings that officials move swiftly to fund the creation of a fusion research center there.


RONALD R. PARKER
"Smoke these guys out"


RONALD BALLINGER
"Attempt to short-circuit process"

Noting Fleischmann and Pons spent about $100,000 to develop the cold fusion cell, Peterson asked the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology for $25 million “within a week” to help the researchers fund some 19 follow-up experiments at Utah.

But Ballinger and six other scientists who testified cautioned against federal support until the process is verified.

“Experiments conducted in haste and based on insufficient detail coupled with premature release of results have often resulted in retractions and embarrassment on the part of the scientific community” he said.

Commenting later, Ballinger said, “this hearing wasn’t about science, it was about money” and accused the University of Utah of trying to “fleece” the government.

The MIT charges were the harshest since Pons and Fleischmann stunned colleagues and provoked deep skepticism when on March 23 they announced the development of a “fusion jar” that produced four times the energy needed to power it.

Unlike fission – the process used to power nuclear reactors through the splitting of heavy atoms to release energy - fusion smashes lighter atoms together to produce heavier elements.

The process releases enormous amounts of energy and produces relatively benign wastes such as tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen with a half-life of about 12 years.

EXPERIMENTAL STAGES: Fusion experiment is conducted at MIT's Plasma Fusion Center
Photos courtesy of MIT

In technical terms, Pons and Fleischmann reported that an experiment involving palladium and platinum electrodes immersed in heavy water had yielded energy indicating nuclear fusion had taken place.

Further, the scientists claimed the so-called “cold fusion” experiment had yielded more than four times the energy needed to produce it.

Traditional research into fusion, the process that powers the sun and the hydrogen bomb, has focused on heating hydrogen to tens of millions of degrees.

If the claims of cold fusion were borne out, Pons and Fleischmann would have made the scientific discovery of the century, opening the door for scientists to transform seawater into energy that could power a global civilization for millions of years.

In the wake of the reports, most in the scientific community have remained skeptical about the Pons and Fleischmann research and have criticized what have been called the “unorthodox methods” they used.

Until late last week, nearly all scientists have refrained from directly criticizing the pair, but in its April 27 issue, the prestigious British Scientific journal, Nature, speculated that the Utah experiment is fatally flawed and will never be verified.

“The Utah phenomenon is literally unsupported by the evidence, could be an artifact and, given its improbability, is most likely to be one,” wrote John Maddox, editor of the 120-year-old magazine.

The attack came dozens of scientists attempted to verify the results, none of them successful.

In March, Stephen Jones of Brigham Young University conducted a parallel experiment, but found it generated far less energy than the earlier Utah model.

Other scientists in Stanford, the Soviet Union and Europe also reported partial duplication, but none could reproduce the huge amounts of energy Pons and Fleischmann reported.

The most recent experiments were done by a Yale University group Friday. They also were unsuccessful.

Ballinger explained that MIT researchers, who have more sophisticated calorimetry and radiation detection devices than those at Utah, were unable to find any proof that neutrons were being released to produce the energy.

“I think after five weeks we get to the point where we can no longer suspend disbelief, Parker said.

BY NICK TATE

IN SIMPLE terms, two leading scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said Utah researchers’ claims to have produced nuclear fusion in a jar are “bull.”

In scientific terms, the distinction is a bit more subtle.

In the wake of the experiments by the University of Utah chemists, theories about just what is – or is not – happening in their fusion jars have abounded.

In the Utah experiments, the scientists said platinum and palladium electrodes immersed in heavy water had yielded energy indicating nuclear fusion had taken place.

In challenging the Utah experiments, MIT scientists Drs. Ronald R. Parker and Ronald Ballinger point to several discrepancies and apparent “misrepresentations” of findings.

The MIT scientists said the raw data from the Utah research showed the chemists measured a peak generation of neutron energy of 2.5 million electron volts (MeV) – a number consistent with previously held scientific beliefs.

But when the Utah researchers translated the numbers into a report that appeared in the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry, the number was shifted to 2.2 MeV –a neutron measurement that would suggest fusion activity.

At the same time, the experiments produced a billionth the number of neutrons that theorists said would be produced by a normal fusion reaction.

Parker also said a bell curve measuring neutron activity in the Utah experiments had the wrong height and shape - reflecting the possibility that neutrons in fact were not being generated.

Ballinger also noted the “key points of verification” of the Utah experiment are the detection of neutron radiation and excess heat production – areas not clearly explained.

In addition, the Utah scientists were criticised for not including “standard experimental procedures.”

Among those breaks in tradition was their failure to conduct “control experiments” with ordinary water for comparison data.

SALT LAKE CITY – Two scientists under attack for their experimental claims of room-temperature nuclear fusion have lashed out at the source of the latest rebuff – the British Scientific journal Nature.

Fusion researchers B. Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann said the prestigious journal forced them to withdraw their paper and made inaccurate statements, and that one editor was “mumbling in the dark.”

On March 23, Pons, a professor at the University of Utah, and Fleischmann, of England’s University of Southampton (but currently doing research in Utah), announced they had achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature – potentially the scientific discovery of the century.

While laboratories around the world have duplicated the experiment and reported similar results, others have reported failures and critics have remained unconvinced.

Nature, in an April 27 edition that contained several articles on fusion, speculated that the Utah experiment is fatally flawed and will never be verified.

Pons said Nature had dipped to “sensationalism of the worst type. I have never in my life seen such a scandal by a scientific journal to discredit two people. They have a privileged position that they are using.”

David Lindley, Nature’s assistant physics editor, said there is frustration in the scientific world because the experiment hasn’t been confirmed, and Pons and Fleischmann are inaccessible to researchers.

-AP


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