A Congressional subcommittee has stoked the flames under the cauldron of controversy that is bubble fusion. Those flames all but died out last month after an internal investigation at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, absolved nuclear engineer Rusi Taleyarkhan of any scientific misconduct surrounding his research on producing nuclear fusion in collapsing bubbles (ScienceNOW, 7 February). But yesterday, Representative Brad Miller (D-NC), who heads the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Technology sent a letter to Purdue's President Martin Jischke requesting a copy of the university's internal reports on their inquiry.
Miller says he'd like to know whether or not to believe Taleyarkhan's controversial claims that he's seen evidence for fusion in collapsing bubbles. But he's more interested in Purdue's investigation. "I think it's more of a concern about the procedures at Purdue to make sure they are assuring ethical conduct in research," Miller says. He adds that because the federal government spends billions of dollars on research at universities each year, it's essential that Congress ensure that misconduct investigations operate as intended.
Miller says it's not clear that happened in this case. "Despite the University's statement that no misconduct had occurred, many disturbing questions remain about the scope and adequacy of the investigation," says Miller's letter to Jischke. Among those questions: Why Purdue officials seem to have stopped one investigation in September only to launch another, and whether they looked into the full array of complaints against Taleyarkhan, including an alleged manipulation of scientific data.
In the past, Purdue officials have declined to make reports of their investigation public in order to comply with university rules on confidentiality. But in a statement issued late today, Purdue officials said they plan to comply with the committee’s request. Just what will happen after that depends on what the reports show, says Miller. But chances are the bubble fusion controversy will keep boiling for months to come.