On This Day in IUPUI History: April 4, 1989

April 4, 1989. 

On this day, Professor Stanley Pons of the University of Utah gave a lecture on campus in which he outlined his recent startling discovery, announced only days before, of a process to initiate nuclear fusion at room temperature. 

Pons and another researcher, Martin Fleischmann of the University of Southampton in England, had for several years worked together on methods to achieve nuclear fusion at low temperatures. Only days before, in late March, they issued a press release in which they announced that they had succeeded. The world, thirsting for an abundant, cheap, and safe source of energy, was astonished by the announcement and wanted more information. It came during Pons's talk at IUPUI.

Pons, invited to speak at IUPUI months before, found Lecture Hall filled with reporters from all over the United States eager to hear him talk about the discovery. Among the throng of journalists was a reporter from the Sagamore, the IUPUI student newspaper, Rick Callahan. Callahan ably outlined the potential significance of Pons and Fleischmann's claim and reported Pons's account. He noted that since the two researchers had announced their discovery in a press release and not a scientific paper, "many scientists initially expressed disbelief that the physicists had produced a 'cold' nuclear reaction."

Indeed, physicists and chemists around the world immediately worked to replicate the experiment. However, none was able to recreate what Pons and Fleischmann announced they had done. Soon scientists reported that their claim could not be corroborated. The hope of an inexpensive source of energy fizzled.

While IUPUI's laboratories and work rooms have been sites of many substantiated scientific discoveries, in this case IUPUI was the location where scientists had the opportunity to learn details of an astonishing claim that, if true, would have solved many of the world's ills. But, sadly for the world, Pons and Fleischmann's claim came to naught.

Walcher germ-free laboratory, ca 1960 UA24-000348

Many scientific advances have originated in IUPUI labs. To learn more about IUPUI's history, please consult records in IUPUI Special Collections and Archives. Contact staff at speccoll@iupui.edu

Updated Apr 04, 2019 by Editor Name Missing