Purdue Panel Finds Misconduct
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., July 18, 2008 -- A Purdue University panel has found that two allegations against a scientist who claims to have achieved "tabletop" fusion in collapsing bubbles constitute research misconduct.
Purdue has been investigating the research and conduct of nuclear engineering professor Rusi Taleyarkhan on and off since March 2006 (See Purdue Investigates 'Bubble Fusion' Claims). Dr. Taleyarkhan first reported his research, which began when he worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), in March 2002 in the journal Science.
Taleyarkhan said he had demonstrated that using sound waves to compress bubbles in deuterated liquids until they collapsed produced fusion under lab conditions, so-called "sonofusion." Generating that kind of fusion now requires huge multibillion-dollar machines, and implementing such an inexpensive unlimited energy source would be a great scientific achievement.
From 2002 to 2004, teams at ORNL and Purdue attempted to replicate his results, without success. Then, in the summer of 2005, two students working in Taleyarkhan's lab, Yiban Xu and Adam Butt, published an "independent" vertification of his findings.
Scientists then began publicly questioning Taleyarkhan's initial research in an article Nature published on its Web site. Other allegations against Taleyarkhan included falsification of the scientific record and plagiarism. Purdue began a review of the concerns in March 2006, then announced in June it had completed its internal inquiry but wouldn't make public its recommendations, including any possible disciplinary action (See Purdue Bubble Wraps Sonofusion Inquiry Results).
The chairman of a congressional subcommittee then took Purdue to task for conducting an incomplete investigation and for failing to follow its own rules regarding the investigation of research misconduct allegations.
Purdue failed to review the validity of the research in question, said Rep. Brad Miller, chairman of the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight for the US House Committee on Science and Technology, and instead chose to focus only on whether Taleyarkhan had improperly omitted his name as an author of two papers published by researchers working under him that claimed to independently confirm his results (See Congress Faults Purdue Probe).
In November 2007, Purdue formed an investigation committee that included university representatives and others from the University of California, San Diego, Ohio State University, Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Notre Dame. The committee finished its investigation in April 2008 and sent its report to the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the funding agency that had referred several misconduct allegations to the university. ONR's Science and Technology Inquiry Board met to review the report July 16.
The Purdue panel found that Taleyarkhan committed research misconduct by adding Adam Butt to two published papers on the sonofusion experiments, even though the master's student was only asked to check some numbers and proofread the manuscript. Taleyarkhan's motive appeared to be to overcome the criticism of a reviewer for Physical Review Letters (PRL), who noted that the experiments seemed to have been done by only one person, resulting in a lack of cross checks and witnessing of results. PRL later rejected the paper. Butt's name was added to the paper nearly a year after the experiments were conducted, the panel said.
The panel concluded that Taleyarkhan committed research misconduct by stating in a PRL paper in 2006 that his results published in Science in 2002 "have now been independently confirmed" through Xu's work, promoting it has independent to obscure his own direct involvement with the research. Xu had actually been under Taleyarkhan's direct supervision for years and Taleyarkhan was closely involved with Xu's experiments, providing equipment, training and advice. Purdue nuclear engineering professor Dr. Shripad Revankar told investigators positive results were obtained only when Taleyarkhan was at Purdue and advising the researchers on the experiments.
"From October 2004 through to the present, Dr. Taleyarkhan has repeatedly mischaracterized the facts regarding his own involvement in Dr. Xu's manuscript," the investigation committee wrote in its final report. "He has at times affirmatively misled Purdue University on this subject and appears to have influenced Dr. Xu's interactions with university inquiries."
The committee found the evidence did not support other charges against Taleyarkhan of falsification or plagiarism.
Joseph L. Bennett, Purdue vice president for university relations, said in a statement that university policies provide a 30-day appeal process for Taleyarkhan.
"Any decision on sanctions by the university based on the committee's conclusions will come after the appeal process," Bennett said. "The university will make no comment on the content of the report during the appeal period."
"Issues of research integrity are of the utmost importance to the university," said David J. Williams, chairman of the Purdue University Senate's Faculty Affairs Committee, in the same statement. "The report sent to ONR was thorough and unflinching in its examination of these difficult matters."
In its acceptance of the report, ONR said it will need a summary of resulting corrective actions and that the case will remain open until such action is taken.
The complete report is available at: http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2008b/080718PurdueReport.pdf
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