Miffed at the disappearance of a top cold fusion scientist, the state of Utah formulated a plan on Thursday to track down the enigmatic researcher and hold him accountable for his work. The state's nine-member Fusion Energy Advisory Council said the scientist, Dr. B.
Stanley Pons, a University of Utah chemist, and his British colleague, Dr. Martin Fleischmann, would be asked to go to Salt Lake City early next month to defend their research before a four-member panel of independent scientists.
The advisory council put off a decision on whether to recommend that the state legislature renew financing of the National Cold Fusion Institute, a nonprofit corporation in Salt Lake City where Pons and Fleischmann are top employees.
To date the state has devoted $5-million to the cold fusion effort, which is viewed with extreme skepticism by many if not most scientists.
The institute, which now has about 40 scientists, was founded by the University of Utah after Pons and Fleischmann announced in March 1989 that they had achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature in a simple table-top experiment. The announcement held out the hope of a cheap, safe and virtually inexhaustible source of energy.
But this week university officials said Pons had vanished from the Salt Lake City area on the eve of a scheduled meeting Thursday to review whether the state should continue to finance the disputed work.
"We feel strongly that a scientific review must be conducted," Dr. Randy Moon, the state's science adviser and a member of the advisory council, said.
"The institute and the university wanted the review to go ahead with or without Pons and Fleischmann. And we said no. We want them to account for their work. That's the whole point."
"We're miffed that they're not here," Moon added. "But I'm trying to be open minded." He said a decision on whether to continue financing the research would probably be reached by the end of November.
The plan for tracking down Pons and Fleischmann developed amid a mystery over their relationship with the institute.
Dr. Fritz G. Will, director of the National Cold Fusion Institute, said in an interview that there had been "a breakdown in communications" between the institute and its two top employees.