[ RadSafe ] News: Concerns grow over secrecy of bubble-fusion inquiry

John Jacobus crispy_bird at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 26 14:34:09 CDT 2006

News article at
Nature 442, 230-231(20 July 2006) 
Published online 19 July 2006

Concerns grow over secrecy of bubble-fusion inquiry
Eugenie Samuel Reich

Abstract:  University investigation criticized for
lack of transparency.

As a way to resolve a scientific dispute, it was
always likely to be fraught. In March 2005, nuclear
engineer Rusi Taleyarkhan of Purdue University in West
Lafayette, Indiana — known for his controversial
claims to have achieved 'bubble fusion' — formally
joined forces with one of his most prominent critics,
physicist Seth Putterman of the University of
California, Los Angeles.

But few could have predicted that this collaboration
would end in such disarray. After concerns about
Taleyarkhan's work were reported in Nature earlier
this year1, Purdue carried out an inquiry, but has
shrouded the results in confidentiality, a decision
that has frustrated other researchers in the field.
The findings could resolve the long-standing
controversy surrounding bubble fusion, but whether
they will ever be made public now seems to rest on a
technicality: did $250,000 of US taxpayers' money help
fund the disputed work?

The story began in 2002, when Taleyarkhan reported
fusion in collapsing bubbles within a liquid, an
effect also called sonofusion2. His work made
headlines worldwide: if the effect could be harnessed,
it would promise almost unlimited energy. But others
in the field were not convinced.

In the hope of settling the resulting argument, in
March 2005 DARPA, the Pentagon's research agency, paid
Taleyarkhan and his critics to work together to
replicate the bubble-fusion experiment. Putterman was
principal investigator on the $812,000 grant and so
has to account for all the expenditure. Taleyarkhan
was allocated $318,000 of the grant, and Ken Suslick
of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was
given $145,000.

It was clear things weren't going well when concerns
about the validity of Taleyarkhan's bubble-fusion work
were reported on 8 March1. These included an analysis
by Putterman's postdoc, Brian Naranjo3, showing that
the neutrons described in Taleyarkhan's latest paper,
published in Physical Review Letters (PRL) in
January4, came not from fusion as claimed but from the
radioactive decay of standard lab material.

Purdue's provost Sally Mason called the reports "very
serious" and announced a three-month review, the
outcome of which she promised to publish. But once the
review was complete, Purdue said the results and any
future steps would be kept internal and confidential.
On completion of a review, Purdue's stated policy is
either to close the matter or to proceed to a fully
fledged misconduct investigation. The university won't
say which has occurred.

Many in the field are disappointed by the lack of
information, including Putterman. He is sure that
money from the shared DARPA grant was used for the
work Purdue reviewed, so he is particularly keen to
know whether an investigation is under way. "As a
principal investigator, do I have any right to know
what's happening on my project?"

In cases where federal money is involved, there is a
responsibility to tell the government and the taxpayer
how it was spent — and any misuse of federal dollars
can have serious consequences for the researchers
involved. If DARPA money was used for any of the
disputed work, Purdue would be required to notify the
agency of any investigation, and share information
relating to it. Such communications could eventually
be made public under the US Freedom of Information

Taleyarkhan did not acknowledge the DARPA grant in the
January PRL paper. But when Nature asked Putterman to
confirm no DARPA money was used, he requested the
relevant accounts from Purdue. Putterman now says:
"I've reviewed the books, and I am confident that the
paper relied on federal money that was not
acknowledged." For example, Taleyarkhan and his
colleagues claimed DARPA salaries in the run up to
submission of the PRL paper (see 'Where did the money

Taleyarkhan has declined to communicate with Nature
directly. But he said through a third party — Brian
Josephson at the University of Cambridge, UK — that
Putterman's interpretation of how the work was funded
is "off-base and wrong". Josephson also provided part
of an e-mail in which Taleyarkhan strongly denies
using the DARPA grant on the disputed work.
Taleyarkhan says the experiments were completed by May
2005, several months before the paper was submitted,
and that start-up funding from Purdue paid for them.
(The university told Nature that this funding totalled
$58,607.) He adds that he and the others involved
worked on the project outside the normal eight-hour

In the e-mail, Taleyarkhan also says that the bubble
fusion described in the PRL paper is different from
that reported in his previous papers, on which he has
warmly acknowledged DARPA funding. He does not give
details of what the $251,044 of DARPA money he spent
was used for, if not the disputed work.

Taleyarkhan's explanation may make little difference
if the case is investigated. "If any part of salary is
allocated to a grant awarded by a federal agency, then
federal funding is involved," says Mark Frankel,
director of the Scientific Freedom, Responsibility and
Law programme at the American Association for the
Advancement of Science in Washington DC. Nature has
confirmed this general interpretation with an
investigator at a federal funding agency.

Purdue says it has not queried Taleyarkhan's assertion
that no federal money was used. "The authors of the
paper are the best source of information on the source
of support for research," says a spokesman. "We have
no reason to question the source of support stated."

Reich, E. S. Nature 6–1 (2006).
Taleyarkhan, R. P. et al. Science 295, 1868–1873
Naranjo, B. preprint at
www.arxiv.org/abs/physics/0603060 (2006).
Taleyarkhan, R. P. et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 96, 034301 (2006).

>From the Slate:

Cheez Whiz In His Veins: Harry Olivieri, credited with co-inventing the 
Philly cheesesteak, died at 90. "My father is just as famous as the man 
who created the wheel," his daughter said, "except the wheel is a 
little less fattening and it won't end up on your hips."

-- John
John Jacobus, MS
Certified Health Physicist
e-mail:  crispy_bird at yahoo.com

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