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Nuclear Engineer Punished for Research Misconduct

27 August 2008 (All day)
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U.S. Department of Energy file photo/Lynn Freeny

Penalized. Purdue researcher Rusi Taleyarkhan has lost his professorship.

Purdue University today reprimanded and sanctioned one of its nuclear engineers for research misconduct. Rusi Taleyarkhan was stripped of his named professorship, which includes $25,000 annually in discretionary resources from the West Lafayette, Indiana-based university, $14,000 of which went into his salary. He will also not be allowed to serve as the primary adviser or co-adviser for students for at least 3 years, at which time he can apply for reinstatement to full faculty status.

In 2002, Taleyarkhan reported evidence of fusion in a simple tabletop apparatus. The report proved highly controversial, and Taleyarkhan quickly set out to replicate the work. In 2005 and 2006, he published two papers that purported to uphold and extend the original claims. But last month, a Purdue investigative committee found that Taleyarkhan had committed acts of research misconduct on the papers (ScienceNOW, 18 July). Regarding the 2005 paper, which appeared in Nuclear Engineering and Design, the panel concluded that the name of one of Taleyarkhan's students was added as a co-author to create the appearance that the student had witnessed the experiment reported in the paper, when in fact he had only proofread the paper and checked the numbers. The 2006 paper, which appeared in Physical Review Letters, then cited the previous work as proof of independent confirmation of tabletop fusion.

Taleyarkhan appealed the committee's conclusion last month. In response, a separate three-member panel of Purdue faculty members was set up to review whether the original panel's investigation was conducted fairly. Physics professor Nicholas Giordano and computer and electrical engineering professors Mark Lundstrom and Andrew Weiner concluded that the committee did follow due process and thus denied the appeal.

In a letter issued today, Purdue Provost William Woodson says that he was particularly troubled that the misconduct involved students. "I concur in the assessment of the Investigative Committee that 'the effects of this matter on the students and postdoctoral fellows are especially deplorable. Mentors of young scientists need to exhibit the highest standard of ethical behavior and collegiality.' "

As ScienceNOW went to press, Taleyarkhan had not responded to phone messages and e-mails requesting an interview. But his lawyer, John Lewis of Lewis and Wilkins LLP in Indianapolis, says that the case isn't over yet, as Taleyarkhan will likely file a grievance procedure to the university asking them to reconsider the sanctions. As well, Lewis says, Taleyarkhan remains committed to continuing his research on tabletop fusion. A Purdue spokesperson says that Taleyarkhan can still apply for research grants.

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