The e-mails obtained by New Energy Times through FOI requests also reveal, for the first time, the true purpose and nature of the DARPA technical review that took place on March 1, 2006, at Purdue.
The precipitating event took place on Jan. 10, 2006. That’s when Physical Review Letters accepted the new paper by the Taleyarkhan group for publication.
Original online content only at New Energy Times
In 2002, the group’s most vocal critics had complained and asserted that the Taleyarkhan group was unable to distinguish between the 14.1 MeV neutrons from the pulsed-neutron generator used to seed the experiment and the 2.45 MeV neutrons that were emitted from the experiment.
Taleyarkhan told New Energy Times that his group had no difficulty in making the distinction.
“It was a simple matter to separate the seed neutrons from the emitted neutrons,” Taleyarkhan wrote. “The neutron generator shot out the seed neutrons for periods of only 10 microseconds. After the detector measured neutrons from this initial phase, it picked up a second phase of detected neutrons immediately following, which lasted for 5,000 microseconds.”
To eliminate confusion, nucleation in the new method is caused by an alpha-recoil from a uranium nucleus from a dissolved uranyl nitrate source rather than by a neutron source. The Taleyarkhan group eliminated the neutron-seeding.
“This completely obviates the need to use an external neutron source and resolves any lingering confusion associated with the possible influence of the previously used external source neutrons (14.1 MeV) on the emitted neutrons (2.45 MeV),” the authors wrote.
Within hours, Mark Peplow, writing for Nature news, quoted Suslick and Putterman, who introduced new confusion.
Peplow quoted Taleyarkhan, Putterman and Suslick in his story. The latter two complained that they were not invited by the journal to be reviewers on the January Physical Review Letters paper.
The uncertainty about the Taleyarkhan group’s ability to distinguish between 14.1 MeV and 2.45 MeV neutrons was gone. Now, the “big problem,” according to Peplow’s article, was that the experiment was not easily repeatable. After that, the next “big problem,” according to Putterman, was that the Taleyarkhan group did not monitor for “neutrons produced in random showers of cosmic rays.”
His complaint doesn’t work for two reasons. First, cosmic ray neutrons would have to preferentially land only on the active detectors. Second, the alpha-recoil-seeded nucleation produced about 20 tracks per detector. Cosmic-ray neutrons during a two-hour run, on a 1 sq. cm. detector, accounting for detector efficiency, according to Taleyarkhan, would produce about 0.05 to 0.5 extra tracks on a detector — virtually nothing.
Peplow finished the article with an invitation from Taleyarkhan.
“Taleyarkhan says that Suslick and Putterman are welcome to visit his lab to see the results for themselves,” Peplow wrote. “Both are eager to go as soon as possible. ‘We look forward to seeing the experiment run,’ says Putterman.”
And they did.
The next day, Jan. 11, Bill Coblenz, the DARPA program manager, wrote to Taleyarkhan and copied the e-mail to Putterman. Coblenz was annoyed. Taleyarkhan had kept quiet about this new method. Taleyarkhan and his colleagues had learned from their Oak Ridge experience.
“I wish you had given me some advance warning of the new publication,” Coblenz wrote. “This leaves me looking clueless and makes it harder for me to sell programs, particularly in respect to fusion research. ‘Desktop Fusion is Back on the Table’ – http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060109/full/060109-5.html
“I would like you and Seth to set up a time for a meeting at Purdue where I can see the reactor in operation. I then want to discuss the quickest way to duplicate these results in Seth’s lab.”
Coblenz was talking about the new alpha-recoil-seeded experiments. Without offering the opportunity to other researchers in the field, he unilaterally decided that Putterman should do the replication.
For the past few years, Putterman had publicly disparaged Taleyarkhan’s claim, and Putterman was not likely to be motivated to confirm it. Coblenz, however, seemed insensitive to that detail.
Two days after Coblenz sent this e-mail, on Jan. 13, Purdue professor Bertodano had written to another professor at Purdue about Taleyarkhan’s actions and motives. Bertodano insinuated that the Xu-Butt-Revankar replication involved research misconduct. He also wrote about Putterman and Suslick’s in-progress DARPA-sponsored neutron-seeded experiment. He seemed to know that it was “likely … that Drs. Putterman and Suslick [were going to] publish a negative result of their confirmatory experiment.”
About a month later, Reich had begun her investigation. She had contacted Tsoukalas on Feb. 3, 2006, and Putterman on Feb. 9.
Sometime before Feb. 20, Taleyarkhan and Putterman agreed on a March 1 date to meet at Purdue. Taleyarkhan sent an e-mail to Coblenz, Suslick, Putterman, Peter Schmidt, a program manager at the Office of Naval Research, and Graham Hubler, head of the Sensor Materials Branch at the Naval Research Laboratory, with meeting details. A few days later, Putterman heard secondhand that Taleyarkhan had invited another competitor — commercial, rather than academic — to the meeting. Putterman sent an e-mail to Taleyarkhan on Feb. 25.
“Rusi! Sorry for terse tone of letter – time be short for all of us,” Putterman wrote.
“1-In the past day I have heard that IDI is planning to attend.
Is this true– I thought that you and I were organizing this thing together.
2- any fusion for wed?
3- Do you want or not want Lefteri or other Purdue neutron experts/competitors at mtg?”
Taleyarkhan had invited three people from Impulse Devices Inc, in Grass Valley, Calif., a company working to commercialize nuclear cavitation, to the meeting: Ross Tessien, the president, Wylene Dunbar, the chief executive officer, and Felipe Gaitan, the chief scientist. Gaitan is a pioneer in the field of acoustic cavitation and sonoluminescence.
Also around this time, Putterman had directed his post-doctoral researcher Brian Naranjo to go to work on another attempt to discredit Taleyarkhan’s work. Putterman and Naranjo began preparing a paper that speculated, using only a computer simulation, that the measured neutrons emitted from the Taleyarkhan group’s experiments were coming from a hidden radioactive source: californium. Sometime before March 1, Naranjo uploaded the paper to arXiv, the publicly accessible physics preprint server.
At 10 a.m. on March 1, 2006, as planned, guests from DARPA, the Office of Naval Research, Impulse Devices, UCLA, and the University of Illinois arrived at Taleyarkhan’s lab for a demonstration and a discussion of the work.
Taleyarkhan and his associates had two experiment stations set up to run simultaneously. One was the old method, using neutrons from a plutonium-beryllium (Pu-Be) source to seed the experiment; the other was the new method, using alpha-recoil-seeded nucleation from uranyl nitrate.
The Pu-Be station was set up, according to Taleyarkhan, not to show proof of nuclear reactions but to show the general setup and nuances of the operation, such as the visible signs of working versus non-working cavitation. The pulsed-neutron generator was malfunctioning at the time, and that option was not available.
But the new method, for which Coblenz requested the meeting, was working and did produce excess neutrons. That experiment took several hours to complete, and the data was not available until the end of the day.
In the meantime, the group members discussed the progress of the DARPA-sponsored pulsed-neutron generator experiment at UCLA. They also talked about the details of alpha-recoil-seeded experiments, including additional data that had been obtained after the Taleyarkhan group’s January paper in Physical Review Letters.
At 2 p.m., Putterman insinuated that Taleyarkhan’s data were the result of fraud.
“Seth Putterman,” Taleyarkhan said, “all of a sudden made his allegation, saying in front of the whole group that our data that we published in Physical Review Letters in January 2006 seemed to be coming out of a californium source.”
Taleyarkhan was too experienced a researcher to have carelessly allowed a laboratory source to have inadvertently contaminated his experiment.
Naranjo’s paper had not come online. Taleyarkhan had no idea it was coming or that the UCLA had submitted the paper. At 4 p.m. that day, Reich left a voicemail for Taleyarkhan asking him why his data looked more like data from californium.
Reporter Erik Vance, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education on April 2, 2007, noticed the practical difficulty with Putterman and Naranjo’s insinuation.
“In order for this new claim to be true,” Vance wrote, “Taleyarkhan would have to be going to considerable effort to hide a piece of the metal near or in his experiment, along with some kind of device that shielded it and unshielded it as adjustments were made with equipment. Without such a shielding mechanism, any californium-252 in the laboratory would have registered even when the experiment wasn’t running.”
None of the guests at Purdue that day saw anything that could have spiked the active detectors and concurrently shielded the control detector.
Vance’s analysis applies further. If californium spiking was the explanation for the Taleyarkhan group’s work, then his five co-authors also had to be in on the plot. Not only that, but they would have had to be running this ruse for every single experiment they had done since 2001, including the ones that were independently measured by Shapira and Saltmarsh.
Naranjo’s paper came online at arXiv on March 7; Reich published her set of four short articles the next day. Putterman and Naranjo acknowledged that they used DARPA funds for their californium spiking theory work.
Many months later, through careful experiments and a peer-reviewed paper, Taleyarkhan and his colleagues showed that Putterman and Naranjo’s insinuation was groundless from a scientific perspective. Rather than argue about the UCLA team’s computer simulation, the Taleyarkhan group performed new experiments to directly test the UCLA idea.
The Taleyarkhan group submitted its reply for peer review, and it was published back-to-back with Naranjo’s paper in Physical Review Letters. Naranjo tried to introduce more arguments in a follow-up comment, but the editor turned him down.
Putterman and Suslick, who had told Peplow in Nature in January that they were “looking forward to seeing the experiment run,” did, in fact, get to see the results for themselves.
As requested by Coblenz, Taleyarkhan and his associates set up a complete start-to-finish demonstration of the alpha-recoil-seeded nucleation experiments and reproduced the experiment in front of Putterman and Suslick.
The etching of the detectors completed sometime around 4 p.m., and the results were ready for viewing. As Taleyarkhan recalls, the Washington, D.C., contingent — Coblenz, Schmidt and Hubler — had to leave then to catch a flight back.
The detectors were inspected by the remaining visitors, including Suslick, Putterman, Tessien, Gaitan and possibly students from the University of Illinois.
The experimental configuration used two foreground detectors mounted onto opposite faces of the test cell and a third detector 1.5 meters away to monitor tracks from room background. Based on a consensus of the visitors, the foreground detectors showed about 20 excess neutron counts over pre-existing counts, a clear confirmation. The third detector did not show any noticeable change from pre-existing tracks.
Summary of data from March 1, 2006:
Background Detector #8324126 (pre-existing counts) = 16
Variation from detector to detector from the same batch (of pre-existing tracks) ~ +/-2
Detector 1 on Test Cell #8324144 (2h cavitation) ~ 30 tracks
Detector 2 on Test Cell #8324150 (2h cavitation) ~ 40 tracks — Mean ~ 35 tracks
Increase in tracks = 19 (35-16)
Taleyarkhan has not published the data shown above; nor has he released it publicly until now. Hubler wrote a report of the March 1 DARPA-sponsored meeting and sent it to Coblenz. Hubler told Taleyarkhan that he included the data in the report. An e-mail from Coblenz to Peter Dunn confirms the existence of the report. However, in that e-mail, Coblenz told Dunn on June 6, 2007, that the report is “For Official Use Only.”
New Energy Times asked Taleyarkhan for a copy of Hubler’s report two weeks ago, but he declined because of Coblenz’s restriction. New Energy Times asked Hubler for a copy of the report, but he too declined. New Energy Times has made a FOIA request for the Hubler document.
Before all the visitors left, Tessien asked Taleyarkhan whether he would run the experiment again the following day. He did, and it worked again. Based on Tessien’s more conservative count of pre-existing tracks, the foreground detectors showed about 14 excess neutron counts over pre-existing counts, another confirmation.
Summary of data from March 2, 2006:
Background Detector #8324130 (Pre-existing counts) = 20
Detector 1 on Test Cell #8324128 (2h cavitation) ~ 33-34 tracks
Detector 2 on Test Cell #8324135 (2h cavitation) ~ 35 tracks — Mean ~ 34 tracks.
Increase in tracks = 14 (34-20)
The data shown above were taken from a document that Tessien wrote on March 2. A copy of that document, which also confirms the data from March 1, is available here.
Two days later, on March 4, Suslick e-mailed his comments about the DARPA visit to Putterman, Coblenz at DARPA, and Schmidt at the Office of Naval Research.
“Rusi’s performance at Purdue was a farce on par with a Uri Geller spoon-bending act,” Suslick wrote. “I’m not quite decided whether Rusi is also just fooling himself or has actually crossed the line into fraud. I strongly suspect the latter, but only because I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he’s not a complete moron.”
Suslick continued with a laundry list of complaints, and insinuations of fraud, and data mishandling, concluding with his recommendation for DARPA.
“We are way past the point of diplomacy, gentlemen, especially given the inclinations of Nature’s freelance reporter Eugenie Reich,” Suslick wrote. “I think the memo from DARPA needs to at least outline the consequences of fraud in a federal contract, so that Rusi is fully informed of the consequences of non-cooperation. … his dept. head, Lefteri Tsoukalas, and Purdue’s Dean of engineering, Linda Katehi, must also be informed NOW of at least a possibility of an investigation.”
Yet none of the investigations ever substantiated Suslick’s accusations of fraud or data mishandling.
In a March 6, 2006, e-mail to Putterman, Taleyarkhan, Suslick, Schmidt and Hubler, Coblenz gave his feedback on the meeting. He discussed only the challenges and the failure of Putterman’s 2005 DARPA-sponsored attempt to replicate the Taleyarkhan group’s experiment. Considering the difficulties, Coblenz wrote, there would be no Phase 2 funding on this research from DARPA.
When Coblenz was asked a year later by Purdue’s research integrity officer whether he had seen any evidence of fraud during the meeting, he replied on June 5, 2007, that he did not.
A year later, Erik Vance quoted Putterman in the Chronicle of Higher Education on April 2, 2007, and Brian Wallheimer quoted Suslick in the Lafayette, Indiana, Journal and Courier on May 11, 2007.
“‘If a scientist feels they’ve made a great discovery, it’s their obligation and joy to convene other scientists from other schools to come to their lab to observe it,’ Mr. Putterman says. ‘As soon as that doesn’t happen, that scientist has to be prepared for the backlash of the scientific community.’”
“’It’s a very sad and regrettable time when a scientist has to stand up against another scientist,’ Suslick said. ‘If Taleyarkhan wants to dispel all of this, he can do so very quickly. He can bring a bunch of people into his laboratory and reproduce his experiment right in front of their eyes.’”