Dr. B. Stanley Pons, the University of Utah chemist who startled the science world with claims of achieving cold fusion, has vanished on the eve of a critical review by the state of Utah on whether to continue financing the disputed work, university officials said yesterday.
Dr. Pons and his British colleague, Dr. Martin Fleischmann, announced in March 1989 that they had achieved nuclear fusion at room temperature in a simple tabletop experiment. The announcement held out the hope of a cheap, safe and virtually inexhaustible source of energy.
Despite much skepticism in scientific circles, state officials in Utah directed that $5 million be spent on the work. The money was used to create the National Cold Fusion Institute, a non-profit corporation in Salt Lake City founded by the University of Utah.
Today, the state's nine-member Fusion Energy Advisory Council is to discuss whether to renew or end the financing, a decision that officials said would be influenced by whether Dr. Pons appears. Dr. Fleischmann was not expected to make a presentation.
University officials say they are worried. "We don't know where Stan Pons is," said Dr. Hugo Rossi, dean of the university's College of Science. "Nobody here at the university knows how to get in touch with him."
Dr. Randy Moon, the state's science adviser and a member of the advisory council, said Dr. Pons' absence from the review could endanger any hope of continued financing. In the worst case, Dr. Moon said, the advisory council would have "no choice" but to curtail funds.
Salt Lake City newspapers have reported that Dr. Pons' home is up for sale and that his phone has been disconnected. Neither university nor state officials could confirm these reports.