HIS scientific discovery was hailed as one of the most significant in history, but the full potential of his groundbreaking work was not to be realised in his lifetime.

Professor Martin Fleischmann, the former Southampton University electro-scientist, who claimed to have achieved nuclear fusion in a test tube, has died at the age of 85.

At the time of the groundbreaking discovery Professor Fleischmann was a professor of electrochemistry at the University of Southampton.

The process he discovered essentially uses water to create heat and thus had the potential to produce a clean and cheap energy source. He and scientific partner Stanley Ponn unveiled “cold fusion” to the world in the late 1980s, making them famous overnight.

The theory was likened to the great scientific discoveries of Newton and Einstein. Millions of pounds was ploughed into research centres in Utah, USA, where the pair carried out their research.

However, in the following months, his research was questioned as other scientists struggled to replicate the results, leading to criticism that the research was flawed.

Despite that he continued with the research well into his 60s and eventually other scientists went on to achieve the same results.

Born in Czechoslovakia, the young Martin Fleischmann was the son of an anti-Nazi lawyer and as a result was arrested by the Gestapo at the age of 11 before escaping to the UK with his family.

He studied at Imperial College, London where he gained a doctorate in chemistry. He went on to lecture at Southampton University and was widely regarded as one of Britain’s most original electrochemists.

He was also elected a fellow of the Royal Society and president of the International Society of Electrochemists.

Tributes to the scientist, who later moved to Tisbury in Wiltshire, where he died on Friday after a long illness, were led by former colleagues at the University of Southampton.

Dr Guy Denault said: “We are saddened to hear about the death of Professor Fleischmann. He inspired students and colleagues alike; his prolific mind invariably generated a wealth of ideas to any given problem.”