(2008) – Bubblegate: How Purdue Fabricated the Allegations Against Taleyarkhan
Jan. 23, 2014 – By Steven B. Krivit –
New Energy Times will make available some of the source documents used in our Jan. 20, 2014, report "Federal Investigations Reveal Academic Backstabbing at Purdue University."
Today, we release pages from three documents obtained from the federal government in response to multiple Freedom of Information Act requests by New Energy Times.
The first page is a letter written by Lefteri Tsoukalas, the former head of the School of Nuclear Engineering at Purdue. The second page comes from the Department of Defense investigation of Holly Adams, at the time the inspector general for the Office of Naval Research and helps fill in some of the areas blacked out in the first document. The third page comes from another set of documents and helps identify some of the areas blacked out in the second document.
Jan. 21, 2014 – By Steven B. Krivit –
New Energy Times will make available some of the source documents used in our Jan. 20, 2014, “Federal Investigations Reveal Academic Backstabbing at Purdue University” report.
Today, we release the police report of the Aug. 28, 2008, incident in the Nuclear Engineering building. Darla Mize, the administrative assistant to head of the school, was threatened by Mamoru Iishi, a senior professor there.
Jan. 20, 2014 – By Steven B. Krivit –
Physics is a contact sport, as the saying goes, and Rusi Taleyarkhan, a professor in the Purdue University School of Nuclear Engineering, learned that the hard way.
His scientific research, if it is ever independently replicated, may lead to a clean-energy technology. But his nascent research efforts have been scuttled.
Despite several years of peer-reviewed, published research which was funded by the departments of Energy and Defense, despite two onsite inspections by independent scientists of his and his team’s work that verified the data, his research has been stopped, he has been accused of fraud, and his reputation has been seriously harmed.
Taleyarkhan contributed to the conflict in three ways. First, although he responded to his critics convincingly in scientific journals, he failed to proactively respond to his critics and their often-incorrect and damaging statements in the popular media. He waited until the last possible day to file a defamation lawsuit. He also claimed that two students at Purdue had independently replicated his experiment, an opinion that only he and his co-authors share.
Through multiple Freedom of Information Act requests, New Energy Times has obtained inter-university correspondence and documents from federal investigations revealing that academic peers and competitors of Taleyarkhan’s conspired with a journalist to attack his reputation and shut down his federally funded research. Eugenie Reich, a freelance journalist writing for the news service of the journal Nature, was eager to expose Taleyarkhan as a fraud.
Original online content only at New Energy Times
Despite several years of investigations, no evidence of fraud was found. Meanwhile, some of his accusers — his fellow scientists — in their own federally funded research, manipulated and withheld their own positive confirmatory data, misled the media, and misled federal investigators to advance their own agendas. For his competitors, federal research money, prestige and reputations were at stake. For the head of the Purdue School of Nuclear Engineering, political control of the school was at stake.
In 2001, Taleyarkhan and his group in the Engineering Technology Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee tried to experimentally demonstrate and confirm the long-predicted phenomenon of nuclear reactions in cavitating liquids. They succeeded, and Taleyarkhan has said that their research may lead to a new source of clean, carbon-free energy. The research has been called sonofusion or bubble fusion.
Within a decade, Taleyarkhan and his colleagues faced three major battles in the process of performing and communicating their research. The first took place at the Oak Ridge between 2001 and 2002. The second was a series of incidents that took place at Purdue between 2003 and 2006. The third involved conflicts from 2004 to 2006 between the Taleyarkhan group and a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who teamed with another professor, from the University of Illinois.
Taleyarkhan was born in 1953 near Mumbai, India. Based on his academic excellence, he was awarded a scholarship from the prestigious Tata organization in India and earned his first degree, in mechanical engineering, at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, India. At 24, he moved to the United States and earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering and science, a master’s degree in business, and a doctorate in nuclear engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
He worked at several commercial laboratories, and as soon as he was eligible, in 1988, Taleyarkhan became a U.S. citizen and went to work at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In 2003, he was recruited to become a nuclear engineering professor at Purdue University.
While at Oak Ridge, Taleyarkhan was given a high-level security clearance from the Department of Energy and worked with technologies for national security and defense, nuclear reactor thermal-hydraulics, and safety technology.
He has held several positions of leadership in the American Nuclear Society, has been a consultant to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, is a founding director and member of the national Acoustic Fusion Technology Consortium, and is a founding member and faculty advisor at Purdue University’s Energy Center.
The science of nuclear cavitation is based on several related concepts. The first is a phenomenon known as cavitation. It was first observed in 1917 by the British navy, and it is generally, but not completely, understood. The navy observed damage to a ship’s propellers coincident with the occurrence of tiny bubbles in the water. Physicist Lord Raleigh was the first to begin investigations.
Encyclopedia Britannica defines cavitation as “the formation of vapor bubbles within a liquid at low-pressure regions that occur in places where the liquid has been accelerated to high velocities.”
Original online content only at New Energy Times
The second concept is sonoluminescence, which derives its name from the effect of transforming sound waves into light. Sonoluminescence is not fully understood, either. In the 1930s, two German physicists, H. Frenzel and H. Schultes, made the connection between cavitation and sonoluminescence, using acoustic waves to trigger the cavitation.
First Purdue Replication
In April 2002, a month after the Taleyarkhan group published its claim in Science, Tsoukalas put together a group to independently replicate the Oak Ridge nuclear cavitation experiments. The group had a few meetings, and then two graduate students, Anton Bougaev and Joshua Walter, began working on experiments, primarily supervised by Martin Bertodano, a professor in the school. From July 2002 to January 2003, Bougaev and Walter’s experiments were unsuccessful. Either no sustained cavitation was observed, or the chambers broke.
In mid-June 2003, Taleyarkhan agreed to let Tsoukalas send Bougaev and Walter down to Oak Ridge to learn what they could directly from Taleyarkhan and his team. When Bougaev and Walter returned, they brought back with them the required skills as well as chambers made by the glassblowers at Oak Ridge.
During the summer of 2003, Tsoukalas convinced Taleyarkhan to leave his government job in Tennessee and accept a professorship at Purdue. At the same time, Tony Tether, the head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, invited Taleyarkhan to work in Washington, D.C., as a program manager for two-to-four years.
Purdue administrators, as well as Tsoukalas, agreed to defer the start of Taleyarkhan’s duties at Purdue while he worked at DARPA for two years, until the fall of 2005. The plan was that Tsoukalas, along with Bertadano and Tatjana Jevremovic, another professor in the school, would take charge and ownership of the nuclear cavitation research while Taleyarkhan was gone. He moved from Tennessee, but as things happened, family health issues precluded Taleyarkhan from leaving Indiana, and he had to decline the DARPA invitation.
Taleyarkhan’s employment at Purdue began in September 2003. He was given an office in the Nuclear Engineering building but was not given a lab. Not until May 2004 did a new off-campus lab space open up for him, and he resumed his own experimental research. In the interim, Taleyarkhan gave advice to Tsoukalas’ group, wrote proposals, and worked on committees. He began teaching assignments in the spring of 2004.
On Sept. 18, 2003, Bougaev and Walter performed an experiment using the Oak Ridge chambers but using normal acetone, one of the scientific controls. JaeSeon Cho, one of the Taleyarkhan group’s members was there on loan from Oak Ridge to help them out. They observed successful cavitation, and it was stable. The next step, now that they had a chamber that would properly support the cavitation, was to replace the normal acetone with deuterated acetone and see whether they could induce nuclear reactions.
Original online content only at New Energy Times
On Sept. 19, 2003, they did just that. According to raw data, draft reports, and internal correspondence from Purdue obtained by New Energy Times, Tsoukalas’ group measured confirmatory evidence of nuclear cavitation. This replication, along with the data measured by the Taleyarkhan group, was confirmation of a new class of room-temperature nuclear reactions. The experiment on Sept. 19 was a major achievement. Tsoukalas saw it, and Tsoukalas knew it.