Bockris was a professor of Chemistry at Texas A&M who became an often-cited example of why tenure should be abolished. At one time, he was a respected electrochemist, authoring or editing 15 books and more than 600 papers in the field. In the 1980s, he became distracted with sillier topics, including cold fusion. And in his most embarassing move, he claimed to have burned a mixture of potassium nitrate and carbon and salts and come up with gold.

Bockris has also been dabbling in cold fusion since the time of the 1988 Pons and Fleischmann hubbub. Dr. Bockris' research group was one of the few to claim results that matched those of Pons of Fleischmann, and their claims of having found tritium in the cells kept the cold fusion balloon. There is some evidence of fraudulent 'spiking' of the research cells and a subsequent cover-up.

Whatever the explanation for the results, it became hard to get funding for cold fusion after Pons and Fleischmann were discredited, and reputable journals wouldn't take articles on the subject. So Bockris moved on to alchemy. He funded this new stage in his research with $200,000 from a convicted felon named William Telander. He then brought a "self-described researcher and inventor from Tennessee" named Joe Champion into his lab. Champion instructed Bockris and his assistants in the proper procedures to turn garbage into gold. In four separate experiments, they ignited a mixture of potassium nitrate, carbon, and various salts to produce small amounts of gold. Not surprisingly, once Champion left Bockris' group, they could not get the technique to work.

Bockris got a lot of press for this nonsense, and other chemists at Texas A&M felt that their reputations were being sullied by the connection. When the alchemy started in 1993, their patience ran out. Mike Epstein's editorial in the Journal of Scientific Exploration describes what happened next:

A petition signed by 23 of the 28 distinguished professors at Texas A&M called on the university provost to strip Dr. Bockris of his title as distinguished professor. The petition follows a letter written by 11 full professors in the chemistry department (out of the department's 38 full professors) calling on Dr. Bockris to resign and remove the "shadow" he has cast over the department. The petition from the distinguished professors said "For a trained scientist to claim, or support anyone else's claim to have transmuted elements is difficult for us to believe and is no more acceptable than to claim to have invented a gravity shield, revived the dead or to be mining green cheese on the moon. We believe that Bockris' recent activities have made the terms 'Texas A&M' and 'Aggie' objects of derisive laughter throughout the world..."

No dice. Bockris kept his job. He also won the 1997 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics for his efforts.

Bockris tried to organize a conference on Cold Fusion at Texas A&M as recently as 1997 but the university put its foot down and refused to allow the use of its conference halls. In the words of Frank Cotton, another professor of chemistry at the school, the seminar was cancelled after the speakers list was published because "they're all kooks and charlatans."

As Newsweek put it, "In the revered name of academic freedom, universities tolerate faculty members who are avowed communists and lifelong fascists, outspoken racists and anti-Semites, radical lesbians and rabid homophobes. But alchemists?"

Sources:
LingaFranca.com, November 9, 2000
Bryan-College Station Eagle, 15 April 1997
Bad Science: The Short Life and Weird Times of Cold Fusion, 1993
Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol 8/1, 1994

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