Nuclear Fusion Researcher Found Guilty of Scientific Misconduct

By Eliza Strickland | July 21, 2008 9:00 am

sun fusionA researcher who stirred up controversy when he claimed to have carried out nuclear fusion in a table-top experiment has been found guilty of scientific misconduct by a panel at Purdue University.  Many scientists have been eager to develop nuclear fusion — the process that powers the sun — as an unlimited source of clean energy and an alternative to fossil fuels. But scientists have struggled to unlock the secrets of fusion energy [Reuters].

In 2002, the researcher, Rusi P. Taleyarkhan, announced that he had carried out fusion at room temperature and using relatively cheap materials, and his results were trumpeted on the cover of the prestigious journal Science. The article was published over the vehement objections of several reviewers and was heavily criticized by other physicists [Los Angeles Times]. Now, the Purdue panel’s findings of scientific misconduct cast further doubts on the validity of Taleyarkhan’s experiments.  

In his original journal article, Taleyarkhan claimed that sound waves can collapse bubbles in a liquid with enough force to generate fusion and liberate excess energy. The result raised the promise of limitless energy and spurred numerous early attempts to replicate the work, all of which failed [ScienceNOW Daily News]. 

The misconduct relates to Taleyarkhan’s assertion that his findings had been duplicated and thus verified by an independent team. The panel found that although the follow-up experiment was attributed to a post-doctorate fellow in Taleyarkhan’s lab, the professor was heavily involved in the work. The panel also found that Taleyarkhan added the name of another researcher to the paper that was published as a result of the follow-up experiment, although that scientist had not been directly involved in the research.

The panel did not investigate the validity of Taleyarkhan’s original work, but its findings are a blow to the professor’s credibility. “From small beginnings there developed a tangled web of wishful thinking, scientific misjudgment, institutional lapses and human failings,” the committee wrote [AP].

Image: SOHO/Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope (EIT) consortium

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math
  • Marshall Charmichale

    Hmmm…there’s something fishy going on here. I can’t help but feel that the wrong party is being accused of misconduct.

    I recall the “panel” from Purdue finding Dr. Taleyarkhan NOT GUILTY of research misconduct a while back. But then Congress came in and demanded the “case be reopened,” which given the results of this recent ‘investigation,’ was in effect a demand from Congress to find him guilty. And there’s reason to believe that this demand was the brainchild of none other than the detractors, led by the nuclear engineering (NE) faculty from Purdue.

    Also, in light of the juvenile (MIS-?)conduct of the whistle blower NE faculty members, I am surprised that THEY are allowed to go scot-free. They had gone out of their way to first take to the PRESS, of all places, the accusations of misconduct, rather than following the rules/regulations of research (and university policy) to express their concerns.

    Apparently, Purdue found out about these accusations at the same time the public did.

    Why do you suppose they took that route?…i.e., screaming out to the press that there was research misconduct afoot?

    Quite likely because the whistle blowers know, like many others, of Purdue’s obsession with preeminence, and bad publicity against their own administration would prove to burst bubbles of those dreams of being #1? So they’ve got the unwritten satisfaction of knowing that, no matter what their crime, Purdue will protect them.

    Coincidentally, the former HEAD (ah, an administrator) of nuclear engineering (NE) WAS the primary instigator of these accusations against Taleyarkhan. I recall reading of his having to “resign” his position as head of Purdue NE not long after Purdue was shaking with the aftershock of these stories he and his cohorts personally saw to it that all the primary news stations carried.

    I must say, those guys at Purdue really do know how to put on a good show. Do they think they’re fooling everyone?!

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