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Purdue Completes Review of Bubble Fusion Researcher

20 June 2006 (All day)
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Lynn Freeny/U.S. Department of Energy

Burst bubble?
Purdue University has completed a review of nuclear engineer Rusi Taleyarkhan, but no details have been released.

Purdue University officials today announced that they have completed a review on controversy swirling around Purdue nuclear engineer Rusi Taleyarkhan, the chief proponent of the contentious notion that sound waves can cause bubbles to collapse in a way that yields energy. Contrary to earlier statements by the university, officials now say they have no plans to make the review public or to reveal any potentially forthcoming disciplinary actions. "Specific recommendations of the examination committee and any subsequent steps by the university will be treated as confidential internal matters," said Purdue University Vice President for Research Charles Rutledge in a statement.

Rutledge appointed the review committee in March after an article in Nature described several Purdue colleagues as upset with Taleyarkhan because he had allegedly obstructed their work by removing shared equipment. They also said he tried to stop them from publishing results that contradicted his own. Other articles at the time also raised new questions about Taleyarkhan's scientific results (Science, 17 March, p. 1532). Calling the concerns "very serious," Purdue officials said they would launch a review and make the results public. Asked why Purdue reversed the decision to publicize the results, Purdue spokesperson Joseph Bennett would say only that "there was some confusion about that."

One possibility, outsiders suggest, is that Purdue limited the scope of its inquiry to Taleyarkhan's alleged inappropriate research behavior and did not extend it to the scientific controversy surrounding bubble fusion. University officials have declined to release either the committee's precise charge or the names of the committee members. But several sonofusion experts, who are both critics and coauthors of Taleyarkhan, say they were never contacted by the Purdue committee. "I don't think they contacted anyone [outside Purdue] and are looking at it as a personnel matter," says Ken Suslick, a sonofusion expert at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. "God forbid they talk to anyone who knows anything," adds Richard Lahey, Jr., a longtime collaborator of Taleyarkhan's at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. Taleyarkhan and other Purdue University colleagues did not reply to phone or e-mail queries from ScienceNOW.

Taleyarkhan first reported that bubbles could collapse with enough force to fuse atomic nuclei four years ago in Science (Science, 8 March 2002, pp. 1808 and 1868). The work held out the prospect that the effect might be harnessed and scaled up to produce an inexhaustible supply of energy. But the findings have remained controversial ever since. Now, with Purdue's decision to seal their report, the controversy swirling around bubble fusion shows no signs of quieting down anytime soon.