Purdue Investigates Professor Who Published ‘Tabletop Fusion’ Study
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.
Purdue University is investigating whether a scientist removed equipment from a shared lab and took other steps to hinder his colleagues’ efforts to test his claims of producing nuclear fusion in tabletop experiments.
Several Purdue researchers says Dr. Rusi Taleyarkhan, a professor of nuclear engineering, has stymied their attempts to verify — or refute — aspects of his controversial 2002 “bubble fusion” experiments at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.
Since late 2003, when Taleyarkhan joined Purdue’s faculty, other scientists at the university have tried unsuccessfully to reproduce his work. In a recently published online article in the journal Nature, they say their confidence in his work has been seriously shaken.
“I am very concerned,” Dr. Tatjana Jevremovic, an assistant professor of nuclear engineering, says in the Nature article.
A statement issued by the university says Taleyarkhan “and his co-authors stand by their findings as reported” in the 2002 work and subsequent research.
In March 2002, a team at Oak Ridge led by Taleyarkhan published findings in the journal Science that excited researchers who dream of harnessing controllable nuclear fusion — the process that lights the stars — as an unlimited energy source.
But the findings were controversial from the beginning. Two Oak Ridge researchers took the unusual step of publishing dissenting research saying that Taleyarkhan’s work was inaccurate.
In his paper, Taleyarkhan reported producing what he says appeared to be nuclear fusion by bombarding tiny dissolved bubbles in an acetone-based solution with high-intensity sound waves.
He claimed the bubbles rapidly expanded and then collapsed, producing a brief flash of light and superhigh temperatures — a phenomenon called sonoluminescence. He also made the controversial claim that his team detected atomic particles and isotopes, suggesting that nuclear fusion may have occurred.
In the Nature article, Jevremovic and Dr. Lefteri Tsoukalas, who heads Purdue’s School of Nuclear Engineering, say Taleyarkhan has refused to provide raw data he claims to have obtained in repeated experiments confirming signs of fusion. They say Taleyarkhan, amid growing questions about his research, moved equipment used in his experiments from the campus’ communal nuclear engineering lab to his own off-campus lab in May 2004.
In addition, they say he “vehemently” opposed their plans in January 2005 to publish a paper demonstrating that they could not reproduce his research.
Purdue Provost Sally Mason says the university has begun a review of Taleyarkhan’s research and the allegations related to it.
“The research claims involved are very significant and the concerns expressed are extremely serious,” she says.
— Associated Press
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