Timeline of the Early Conflict Between Steven Earl Jones and Martin Fleischmann/Stanley Pons

By Steven B. Krivit / June 2015 / Copyright New Energy Times

For a comprehensive review of the conflict, please see the chapter "Unfriendly Competition or Scientific Piracy?" in my book Fusion Fiasco.


Muon-catalyzed fusion was conceived by Andrei Sakharov and Frederick Charles Frank.

Luis W. Alvarez et al. were the first to observe evidence of muon-catalyzed fusion.

Ya. B. Zel'dovich and S. S. Gerschstein, two Soviet theorists may have been the first to use the term "piezonuclear fusion" in their 1960 paper, for a different kind of fusion research. Soviet Physics Uspekhi 3, p. 593, (1961) (Taubes*, 433)

March 1982
Steven Earl Jones began working on muon-catalyzed fusion. Ryszard Gajewski, project director of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Energy Projects Division, began funding Jones for three years and a total of $1.3 million. (Taubes, 24)

November 1982
Jones observed his first encouraging results. (Taubes, 24) Sometime between November 1982 and the summer of 1983, Jones began working on muon-catalyzed fusion with Johann Rafelski, a theoretical physicist at the University of Arizona. (Taubes, 29, 30)

Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons began working at the University of Utah on an electrolytic approach to fusion that had nothing to do with muon-catalyzed fusion.

~February 1985
Jones' 1982 grant came to an end with little progress to show for it. (Taubes, 25)

June 12, 1985
C.D. Van Siclen, at the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, and Jones submitted their paper "Piezonuclear Fusion in Isotopic Hydrogen Molecules" to the Journal of Physics G: Nuclear Physics. They made a theoretical estimate of a fusion rate of a diamond-anvil high-pressure cell. According to an April 18, 1989, Brigham Young University statement, Van Siclen was the primary author.

Taubes: "Jones and Van Siclen had calculated the fusion rate of deuterium at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. They concluded, as had the others before them, that it would be, for all intents and purposes, zero. Jones and Van Siclen had also speculated briefly on fusion at high pressures and low temperature, and whether this might be the source of heat in Jupiter, where core pressures would reach 60 million atmospheres. Again, unfortunately, the fusion rate appeared to be 'many orders of magnitude too small to be a significant source of energy.'" (Taubes, 26)

September 1985
Gajewski provided another two years of funding for Jones, at $250,000 per year. (Taubes, 25)

Van Siclen and Jones' paper "Piezonuclear Fusion in Isotopic Hydrogen Molecules" published in Journal of Physics G: Nuclear Physics, 12, 213-221.

March 12, 1986
Jones gave a seminar at BYU on his muon-catalyzed fusion research. Paul Palmer, a physicist in his late 50s with the department of physics and astronomy at BYU was in the audience.

Palmer had an idea that fusion was taking place in the earth by pressure, and he discussed it with Jones. Jones saw the potential relationship between Palmer's ideas and Van Siclen's ideas. Jones later collaborated with Palmer and applied the term "piezonuclear fusion" to the work he and his group developed based on Palmer's idea. (Taubes, 25)

April 1, 1986
In a memo, Jones wrote, "Could it be that metal hydrides provide an environment conducive to confinement and fusion of hydrogen isotopes?" (Taubes, 27)

April 7, 1986
On April 7, Jones met with Palmer, Bart Czirr, who was the BYU radiation detection expert, and Rafelski at BYU.

Taubes: "The four scientists discussed various strategies for catalyzing fusion at room temperature. Later, Jones liked to call this meeting 'the brainstorming session.' The scientists discussed using diamond anvil presses to condense deuterium, or even electric charges or lasers to shock deuterium atoms into fusing." (Taubes, 27)

Taubes: "If Jones was then planning to use electrolysis to condense deuterium in a metal and induce fusion, as he would claim later, he never actually wrote down the word electrolysis. What is indisputable is that he scribbled a list of elements: "Al, Cu, Ni, Pt, Pd, Li ... . " (Taubes, 27)

The various elements were based on Palmer's idea of fusion taking place in the earth.

May 1986
Jones continued to work on muon-catalyzed fusion while Rafelski worked on related theory. Palmer began work on piezonuclear fusion. (Taubes, 27,29)

May 13, 1986
Taubes: "Jones submitted his annual progress report on muon-catalyzed fusion to Gajewski and included notes on Palmer's piezonuclear fusion idea. Gajewski, in return, gave Jones the go-ahead to spend a share of his muon-catalyzed fusion money on piezonuclear fusion experiments." (Taubes, 27)

May 22, 1986
Palmer and Rod Price, a BYU graduate student, began electrolysis experiments to electrolytically load hydrogen into metals, pursuing Palmer's piezonuclear fusion idea.

Taubes: "Palmer and Price, without any training in electrochemistry, began electrolysis experiments."

Palmer's logbook entry: "We constructed an electrolytic cell in a test tube to try to get hydrogen into metals ... . After 8-10 hours, a heavy green coating built up on [the] cathode (-). This flaked off when dry. The cathode was nickel-plated underneath in a spotty grey-black silver coating. There was green gelatinous stuff in [the] liquid." (Taubes, 28)

September 1986
Palmer and Price had run several experiments by this time. They thought they had seen a valid gamma ray signal: evidence of neutrons. Czirr, the BYU radiation expert, disagreed and did not think they had seen clear evidence. (Taubes, 28, 29)

July 1987
Jones' second round of Department of Energy funding, which started in September 1985, came to an end. (Taubes, 25)

July 1987
Jones and Rafelski wrote an article on muon-catalyzed fusion for Scientific American, which established them widely as experts in the field. The title of the article was "Cold Nuclear Fusion."

September 1987
Gajewski funded Jones for two more years at $208,000 per year. (Taubes, p.33)

March 1988
Gajewski funded Rafelski for three years at a total of $975,000 for "energy-related applications of particle theory." Taubes: "It was an extraordinarily large grant for a theorist." (Taubes, 33)

April 1988
Jones and Rafelski had made little progress with muon-catalyzed fusion. Gajewski had reached the limit of funds he was allowed to give them on the project. (Taubes, 31,33)

Per Gajewski's request, the JASON group, a secretive group of physicists that advises the federal government, reviewed muon-catalyzed fusion and advised on the question of continuing funding for muon-catalyzed fusion research. (Taubes, 33)

May 1988
Fleischmann and Pons sent a funding proposal, "The Behavior of Electrochemically Compressed Hydrogen and Deuterium," to Bob Nowak, Pons' program manager at the Office of Naval Research. (Taubes, 18)

July 6, 1988
Palmer attempted a variety of methods at piezonuclear fusion. One method was using exploding wires in the presence of deuterium gas. Another was passing high currents across deuterated wires. (Taubes, 34)

Summer 1988
Either Pons or Nowak decided that the Office of Naval Research was not the right place for the proposal. Pons sent the proposal to Jerry Smith, a program manager in the Department of Energy's physical chemistry program. Smith, too, thought his department was not the right place for the proposal. (Taubes, 19)

July 1988
Excerpt of interview with Steven Koonin, interviewed by Tom Gieryn on November 16, 1989

I ran a review for the Department of Energy. In some sense, I take credit for this whole fiasco, in the following sense: I ran a review for the DOE in the summer of 1988. It was a review of their muon-catalyzed fusion program. The charge was: "Are we ever going to get energy out of this phenomenon?" They were putting in a couple million a year.

We looked at it, we had Steve [Jones] in, we had Johann Rafelski in, and we said, "Gee, this is really interesting science, but we see several fundamental limitations to making energy out of it. You're not going to make energy, so don't fund it for that reason," although the science in it was very good.

Steve knew about this already in August 1988. He told me later, "My gosh, we better start doing something else because we are going to lose our funding for muon catalysis." And, I guess, this cold fusion was sitting on the back burner, and so they picked that up and started to really push that.

August 1, 1988
The JASON group advised terminating funding for muon-catalyzed fusion research.

Taubes: "Gajewski called Jones and said that he had heard from one of the [JASON] panel members, Doug Eardley, a theoretical astrophysicist from UC Santa Barbara. Eardley told Gajewski that muon-catalyzed fusion provided 'no viable path to energy.' Over the next few weeks, Jones took to reconsidering his future. He considered submitting a research proposal on piezonuclear fusion to Gajewski, and he mentioned it to Rafelski. [Jones'] group had done virtually nothing on [muon-catalyzed or piezonuclear] fusion in the intervening two years." (Taubes, 34)

August 1988
Taubes: "Gajewski recalled that he first heard of Pons' research when Smith introduced them in person, and this introduction constituted, more or less, a pre-proposal. Gajewski then encouraged a full proposal. Smith said Pons originally sent [Smith] an informal statement of the project, known as a white paper, which was routed to Gajewski." (Taubes, 432)

August 1988
Pons, on the advice of Smith, sent an official proposal to Gajewski. (Taubes, 20, 38)

August 1988
Taubes: "Palmer occasionally told his students that the piezonuclear fusion program had been suspended, while Bart Czirr was developing a neutron detector that might be sensitive enough to observe the infinitesimal neutron radiation that a cold fusion cell might emit. Jones then used the [still-incomplete] detector to explain why his cold fusion research had effectively shut down after September 1986. 'Things really slowed down here dramatically,' Jones told reporters. 'At that time, we had decided there was something interesting, but we had to develop the neutron spectrometer before we [could] make progress scientifically.'" (Taubes, 35)

Aug. 23, 1988
Gajewski, according to author Frank Close, received Pons' proposal.

Close: "While I was at a dinner party at Rafelski's house in 1991 or 1992, Rafelski produced the document, which contained a DOE cover page, with receipt date. The cover sheet contained a date stamp which immediately astonished me. It was dated August 23, 1988." (Close e-mail to Krivit, April 30, 2009)

Gajewski later told Krivit that his normal protocol would have been to telephone a potential reviewer before sending a proposal to review. (Krivit-Gajewski's phone call, April 29, 2009)

Aug. 24, 1988
Jones decided to resume fusion research. In a meeting at BYU, he and his colleagues discussed their piezonuclear fusion work. According to Jones' version of this history, from Aug. 24 onward, the BYU fusion group "vigorously" pursued piezonuclear fusion research. (Taubes, 36)

Taubes: "Jones told reporters, 'From that day [Aug, 24], we were essentially 100 percent working on this other piezonuclear fusion.'

"However, when [Jones was] presented with the facts that nothing was done on the subject for 29 days after the meeting and that he had reviewed the Pons-Fleischmann proposal by then, Jones insisted that this level of activity still legitimately met the definition of 'vigorous pursuit.' He did not deny that he may have had 'impetus' from the Pons-Fleischmann proposal but argued that Pons and Fleischmann had not accused him of 'impetus' — they had accused him of stealing ideas wholesale." (Taubes, 37)

Taubes did not explain what motivated Jones to convene this meeting. It is possible that Gajewski called Rafelski on August 23 and told him about the Pons-Fleischman proposal, Rafelski called Jones, and Jones called his team together. Jones waited until he had a copy of the Pons-Fleischman proposal before his group began the new experiments. It is possible that Gajewski contacted Rafelski earlier than August 23, based on Taubes' information about Gajewski receiving an informal statement of the project.

Krivit Review Comment
On Dec. 16, 2013, I asked Jones why he called a meeting on Aug. 24, 1988, after a nearly two-year break, to discuss fusion work.

He offered three explanations, the first of which was reported in Taubes' book.

"First of all," Jones wrote, "'a nearly two-year break' is not an accurate description because the sensitive neutron spectrometer which we deemed essential was being developed and built during this two-year period.

"The BYU neutron spectrometer was ready or nearing readiness by the end of August 1988, and one of its main applications was to be for these 'cold fusion' experiments.

"Second, it was the time when students were returning for Fall semester, and I wanted to get them organized, and after much thought and discussion, our team had decided to focus on this metal-catalyzed fusion study.

"Third, this research had a hope of generating a new proposal for funding from DOE/Dr. Gajewski [because] the muon-catalyzed fusion study was winding down."

Aug. 24, 1988
Taubes: "In one of the many coincidences in this affair, [Stan] Pons sent his proposal to the University of Utah's Office of Technology Transfer on the same day that Jones held his fusion group meeting. With the proposal, Pons was following a standard procedure and informing the university patent lawyers." (Taubes, 38)

Aug. 26, 1988
Pons sends proposal to Gajewski/DOE.

Aug. 29, 1988
Gajewski/DOE officially received Pons' formal proposal.

Sept. 20, 1988
Between Aug. 24 and Sept. 20, Jones mentioned nothing in his logbook about piezonuclear fusion or electron-catalyzed fusion. There is no evidence that anyone in Jones' group resumed work on fusion until after Jones received a copy of the Fleischmann-Pons proposal. (Taubes, 38)

Sept. 20, 1988
Jones wrote in his logbook, "R. Gaj - U of U proposal," which meant that that he had received the Fleischmann-Pons proposal from Gajewski. (Taubes, 38)

Sept. 20, 1988
The Jones group began vigorously pursuing electrolytic fusion research. In his logbook, Jones called it "mineral-catalyzed fusion."

Taubes: "Jones certainly had doubts about following up on the [Fleischmann-Pons proposal]. 'Possible conflict of interest,' he had told Palmer. He also was immediately aware, or Gajewski made him aware, of Pons and Fleischmann as competitors, or potential collaborators - hence the note in his logbook 'suggest joint effort.' [Jones] received the [Fleischmann-Pons] proposal and then remarked [in his logbook] about the history of his own work." (Taubes, 39)

Sept. 20, 1988
Jones wrote about his critique of the Pons proposal in his logbook. (Taubes, 40)

Sept. 22, 1988
A muon-catalyzed fusion meeting began in Tucson, Ariz. Jones, Rafelski and Gajewski were present.

Taubes: "Gajewski, more than anyone, knew that Jones was in the market for a new line of research. ... Gajewski publicly revealed JASON's pessimistic critique of muon-catalyzed fusion research." (Taubes, 40)

Sept. 27, 1988
Taubes: "Jones once again began to work on cold nuclear fusion, although still by proxy through his students. The assignment went to an undergraduate chemistry major, Eugene Sheely.

"Sheely had worked for Jones since 1986, mostly on muon-catalyzed fusion, and he'd had his name on a few published journal articles. During the first half of September, Sheely had done related work at Los Alamos. On the 17th, he got married and took off to Las Vegas for a honeymoon.

"When he returned to BYU on the 27th, one week, at least, after Jones had read and noted his criticisms of the Pons-Fleischmann proposal, Sheely received a note from Jones requesting that he start doing electrolysis and looking for signs of fusion." (Taubes, 41)

Sept. 30, 1988
Jones recommended against funding the Fleischmann-Pons proposal. Among other critiques, he wrote that Fleischmann and Pons failed to cite an earlier reference: Jones' 1986 paper with C. Van Siclen.

This tipped off Fleischmann and Pons as to the identity of the reviewer. Jones also asked for more details about the experiment and Fleischmann and Pons realized that they could be handing over key information to a competitor and became suspicious. (Taubes, 42, 43)

October 1988
Sheely was doing the electrolysis experiments for Jones, with Czirr and Gary Jensen helping with the detectors. Sheely had a lot of trouble with the electrodes. Jones eventually suggested that he use palladium for the electrodes, and then things worked much better. (Taubes, 45,46) [As Jones learned from their proposal, Fleischmann-Pons used palladium cathodes.]

~Nov. 16, 1988
Jones recommended approval of the revised Fleischmann-Pons proposal. (Taubes, 47)

~Nov. 28, 1988
Rafelski rejected the revised Fleischmann-Pons proposal. (Taubes, 47)

Dec. 9, 1988
Jones and Rafelski met with Gajewski in Washington, D.C., and discussed possible sources of money for muon-catalyzed fusion. (Taubes, 47)

Taubes: "Gajewski then told Jones that he could also submit a proposal on cold nuclear fusion, independent of the Pons-Fleischmann proposal." (Taubes, 48)

Dec. 9, 1988
Jones began writing his proposal, "First Demonstration of Cold Piezonuclear Fusion." (Taubes, 48)

Krivit Review Comment
Note on provenance: The origin of the specific composition for the electrolyte came from the geologic-piezonuclear fusion idea of Palmer. The impetus to use electrolysis came from the Fleischmann-Pons proposal. The idea to use palladium cathodes came from the Fleischmann-Pons proposal. None of these ideas came from Jones.

Dec. 9, 1988
Jones and Rafelski discussed filing a patent with Palmer, but independent of Fleischmann and Pons, for "stimulating nuclear fusion by means of flow of hydrogen isotopes in metal lattice." (Taubes, 48) [On the first page of their proposal, FP explained their idea of using a "metallic host lattice" to induce fusion.]

Dec. 10, 1988
Jones wrote a draft proposal and sent it to the Department of Energy, suggesting that he had found a shortcut to nuclear fusion.

Jones: "In conclusion, we have demonstrated for the first time that nuclear fusion occurs when hydrogen and deuterium are electrolytically loaded into a metallic foil. This remarkable process obviates the need for elaborate machinery to generate and contain either plasmas or muons to induce fusion. We are now exploring means to enhance the fusion yield of this new process." (Taubes, 48, 49)

Dec. 16, 1988
Gajewski called Pons, told him about Jones' work, and suggested that Pons work together with Jones.

"Up until Gajewski['s phone call], Pons had been reluctant to tell [even] his friends about cold fusion. Even when [Pons] told Richard Bernstein of UCLA about fusion in September 1987, he swore Bernstein to secrecy. Now Gajewski called him and suggested that [Pons] collaborate with one of his reviewers." (Taubes, 50)

Dec. 16, 1988
Jones called Pons. They apparently had an amicable conversation. Jones offered Pons help with neutron detection. Pons offered Jones the information that it took several weeks to load deuterium into bulk Pd. (Taubes, 50)

Dec. 1988
Jones was invited to speak at the American Physical Society about muon-catalyzed fusion. He was not invited to speak about any discovery; he had not performed his new experiments. (Close, 68, 358) (Krivit-Redish, 2014)

Jan. 10, 1989
Jones wrote in his logbook that he spoke with Rafelski about urgently submitting a proposal based on the BYU group's own findings. However, Taubes noted that they didn't have any spectacular findings. (Taubes, 55)

Mid-Jan. 1989
Jones performed run #6 and detected significant burst of neutrons. (Close, 68)

Jan. 30, 1989
By now, Jones had drafted a proposal and sent it to Rafelski. They spoke, and Rafelski gave Jones his comments. (Taubes, 57)

~Feb. 1989
Jones sent his proposal to Gajewski. Gajewski returned it to Jones and directed him to, among other things, get help from an electrochemist. Jones did not seek the help of Fleischmann or Pons as Gajewski had hoped; instead, Jones sought out Douglas Bennion at BYU.

Jones, according to Taubes, also said that Gajewski urged Jones to go public with his group's data and that, if Jones and his group published a paper, Gajewski could fund him without external review. Gajewski later contradicted Jones on this point. (Taubes, 58)

Feb. 2, 1989
Jones submitted his abstract for his fusion claim to the spring meeting of the American Physical Society. He submitted his abstract without listing any co-authors despite all of the ideas he had used from his co-authors.

Jones wrote that he found a shortcut to nuclear fusion without the need for high-temperature plasmas.

"We have shown that nuclear fusion between hydrogen isotopes can be induced by binding the nuclei closely together for a sufficiently long time, without the need for high-temperature plasmas ... . We have also accumulated considerable evidence for a new form of cold nuclear fusion, which occurs when hydrogen isotopes are loaded into materials, notably crystalline solids (without muons). Implications of these findings on geophysics and fusion research will be considered." (APS Abstracts)

Feb. 3, 1989
Norm Brown, head of Technology Transfer at the University of Utah, called Lee Phillips, the technology transfer official at BYU. Phillips told Taubes that Brown said he needed to talk to Phillips "about the possibility of one of [BYU's] professors' pirating one of [the University of Utah's] professors' stuff." (Taubes, 59)

Brown then called Gajewski about the concern about provenance. (Taubes, 60)

Feb. 8, 1989
Taubes: "Jones met with a BYU patent review committee headed by Lee Phillips, regarding a 'Device to Produce Controlled Nuclear Fusion.' Jones and Palmer presented this reactor-to-be, according to the minutes of the meeting, as though there was no prior work in the field, other than that by a 'Russian author.'"

As expected, the patent committee encouraged Jones to file before anyone else did. (Taubes, 60)

~Feb. 10, 1989
Gajewski placed a hold on the forthcoming funding for Pons because of his concern about the brewing conflict. (Taubes, 60)

Feb. 23, 1989
Fleischmann and Pons finally accepted Jones' December 16, 1988, invitation to meet and discuss the research. They met with Jones, Decker, Czirr and Palmer in their lab at BYU. During lunch, Jones told Fleischmann and Pons that he was ready to publish his data. Fleischmann argued against Jones going public because the field would become flooded with too many scientists.

Notes from Palmer's logbook: "23rd of February 1989 - Visit by Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann. U of U. This was a fun day. Pons very quiet. Fleischmann an old-time con-artist - maybe. At least he is so good that neither Bart, Steve nor I could tell whether or not we were conned. But we knew we'd been conned, but we didn't know how." (Taubes, 65)

Krivit Review Comment
I sent an inquiry to Jones on Dec. 16, 2013. I asked him whether the APS had invited him to give his March 1989 talk about his progress with electrolytic fusion or about his muon-catalyzed fusion research. Jones responded on Dec. 20, 2013, and deflected my question. Instead, he told me about a paper in which he discussed the possibility of hydrogen fusion in the hydrogen-metallic core of Jupiter.]

March 2, 1989
Jones and Pons had been in periodic discussions for a few days. Jones wrote in his logbook a note about "jointly publishing data acquired at BYU." (Taubes, 67)

March 2, 1989
The Department of Energy approved Pons' proposal for $322,000. (Taubes, 90, 149)

March 3, 1989 (Friday)
Chase Peterson, president of the University of Utah, attempted to arrange a summit conference with Jeffrey Holland, the president of BYU, to see whether the two universities could work things out collaboratively. Peterson did not immediately reach Holland and instead spoke with Jae Ballif, the BYU provost. (Taubes, 74)

March 6, 1989
Parties from both universities meet at BYU in an attempt to collaborate. This is an excerpt from Taubes' book, pages 78 and 79:

Then Jones began patiently to document his personal history with cold fusion. This was the same account that the scientific community would hear frequently in the next few months. ... Finally Jones came to the end of his history lesson, and Peterson got to his real agenda. He asked that Steve Jones refrain from publishing his research. He said Pons and Fleischmann needed another eighteen months to do their seminal experiment, and at that point they could all publish simultaneously. ... Jones explained that he had been invited to give a talk on cold fusion at the American Physical Society's spring meeting on May 3. Peterson asked him to cancel the talk.

If Jones spoke before Pons and Fleischmann were ready, and before all the possible patent issues were finalized, his talk would constitute what patent attorneys call a public disclosure. The last thing Peterson wanted to see was a premature public disclosure of cold fusion from BYU. Such an act would assure that anyone in the world could steal the Utah discovery and profit from it. Utah could end up without a dime. But Jones refused to yield on this point. He said that he was clearly ready to publish, and that the Department of Energy, which had paid for the work, was virtually forcing him to talk about it. ...

Now Peterson seemed truly worried, which even Jones noticed. "Are you serious that you really need to report this right now?" Peterson asked. "What if more time would allow this thing to mature
more importantly, for the universities, for the state?" Jones said he had no choice in the matter. ...

Peterson finally suggested that they publish back-to-back articles in a journal, but Fleischmann said they were not sure that they could produce a definitive paper in time. Pons said nothing. He barely uttered a dozen words through the entire meeting.

This account by Taubes should lay to rest the myth, started by Jones, of who was and who was not willing to work collaboratively.

At the conclusion of the meeting, both parties agreed to simultaneously submit papers to Nature magazine on March 24. But any semblance of trust had dissolved. The University of Utah contingent had to choose between breaking their agreement with BYU about a joint submission and possibly losing all patent rights as well as discovery credit. The University of Utah began secretly planning a press conference for March 23.

* Taubes, Gary, Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion, Random House, New York, N.Y., ISBN 0-394-58456-2, (June 1993)