Purdue professor makes dubious fusion claim

By Kristen Sackley

Producing fusion has been something that has perplexed scientists for years, and up until a few years ago no one came close to creating fusion, and some argue that this is still the case. However Rusi Taleyarkhan, professor of nuclear engineering at Purdue University, claims that he has done it.

But this is not what Ken Suslick and most others of the scientific community believe. In fact, many think that Taleyarkhan is a complete fraud, Suslick said. Suslick is a professor of chemistry at the University and one of the world’s leading experts in sonoluminescence and has been one of Taleyarkhan’s biggest critics.

Sonoluminescense refers to the imploding of bubbles that release light when they are exposed to ultrasonic waves. This is similar to the process of how the Earth’s sun creates energy to expel.

On Feb. 7 Purdue released a statement about the internal investigation that had been occurring for about a year on their campus regarding Taleyarkhan’s research. The committee that was investigating Taleyarkhan’s research only was looking at a count of academic misconduct that he was accused of, not the issue that his research may be completely false, Suslick said.

“The committee determined that the evidence does not support the allegations of research misconduct and that no further investigation of the allegations is warranted,” according to the press release from Purdue.

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    Joe Bennett, vice president of Purdue University Relations, declined to comment.

    In addition to the skepticism of the research, scientists like Suslick were concerned about a paper written supposedly as an independent confirmation, which is what the Purdue committee investigated.

    “(The committee) narrowly investigated academic misconduct, based on an article. It appears to be written by Taleyarkhan, but he left his name off the article, so he could claim it was an independent confirmation,” Suslick said.

    A source told the Daily Illini that when Taleyarkhan first published his research in March 2002, Science magazine published his research, although many respected peers did not agree with all the claims made in the article.

    Over a year later in 2003, Purdue University hired Taleyarkhan, who was employed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a senior scientist, as a tenured professor.

    In 2006 a complaint was filed to Purdue administration by the head of the nuclear engineering school at Purdue, Professor Lefteri H. Tsoukalas.

    Tsoukalas and a few of his colleagues investigated the independent report that had been released saying that Taleyarkhan’s work could be confirmed.

    According to the New York Times, in Tsoukalas’ investigation they found that one of the authors, Adam Butt, a graduate student of Taleyarkhan’s, did not even enter the laboratory that the work was confirmed in. They did find that Yiban Xu, a postdoctoral research assistant of Taleyarkhan’s did enter the lab.

    In Feb. 2006 when Xu was questioned about this work, he said that he only wrote a draft of the paper and would not say who actually wrote the paper.

    Shortly after this is when Purdue began an investigation, which has also received negative attention from the scientific community.

    Suslick said that, “(the investigation) was kept entirely secret and entirely non-transparent,” and that “nothing in fact happened for essentially a full year,” even though the rules at Purdue call for a very promopt investigation.

    “Basically they have been stalling and covering up for a long time on this,” Suslick said.

    Suslick and his colleague, Seth Putterman, researcher and professor atUCLA, both were very strong critics of Taleyarkhan’s claims, especially after they conducted the experiment he claimed to have performed and received very different results.

    Originally, Suslick, Putterman and Taleyarkhan all had funding to work on creating fusion from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which funds longshots for scientists, Suslick said. After Taleyarkhan’s claims were published, Suslick and Putterman decided to use the rest of the funding to recreate the experiment.

    “DARPA agreed to continue funding short term, so that Putterman and I could reproduce Taleyarkhan’s experiments concisely to confirm or deny that his results were what he believed them to be,” Suslick said.

    Suslick said the he and Putterman found no evidence of fusion.

    “Our results were absolutely conclusive. We were able to demonstrate less than 0.01 percent as many excess neutrons as Taleyarkhan claimed,” he said. “We simply don’t believe his original research publication.”

    Suslick and Putterman’s results were published in Physics Review Letters 10 days later.

    Despite the results that Suslick and Putterman found, Purdue exonerated Taleyarkhan claiming that they found no evidence of misconduct.

    This may not be the end though. The Daily Illini has learned that a letter from six senior faculty members of the nuclear engineering department at Purdue was sent on Feb. 12 to the Purdue provost, president, board of trustees and the university senate requesting details about the highly confidential investigation.

    These details include questions about how the investigative committee was selected, their qualifications, who they interviewed and what allegations they considered.

    Suslick, along with others in the scientific community, are still very upset with the decision Purdue has reached, Suslick said.

    “I have never seen a more botched investigation of scientific misconduct,” Suslick said.

    Taleyarkhan and Putterman could not be reached for comment.