9/11 Scholars Forum

Exposing Falsehoods and Revealing Truths

Nanothermite: If It Doesn’t Fit, You Must Acquit!

Those who remember the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial will recall the gloves that turned out to be too small for O.J.’s hands when the long-awaited day of trying them on in the courtroom finally arrived. The blood-soaked gloves (one found at the crime scene and the other outside O.J.’s house in Brentwood the morning after his wife was murdered) were gloated over as “hard evidence” by the prosecution and the media, much like the discovery of unignited nanothermite in the WTC dust is considered to be hard evidence of explosive demolition of the Twin Towers on September 11th, 2001.


Although some have expressed skepticism about what is called the “smoking gun” theory of 9/11, the great majority of 9/11 Truthers have accepted – even celebrated – this discovery, confident that it will lead to “a new, independent investigation” of the event and bring the perpetrators to justice. How did the nanothermite theory of WTC destruction come about, and does it stand up to critical scrutiny?


Observations by first responders of apparent molten metal (thought to be molten iron) could be explained by thermite reactions which in turn could possibly explain the severing of steel columns through a melting process. However, the explosive effects observed in the destruction call for a further explanation. Nanothermite has been identified as a candidate, being faster reacting and alleged to be an explosive form of thermite.


In a paper titled “Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings Completely Collapse?” (2006), physicist Dr. Steven E. Jones cited thermite to explain the molten metal and first started raising the possibility that nanothermite could explain the additional explosive effects observed. Then four dust samples collected in the aftermath of the towers’ collapse by different individuals were sent to Dr. Jones, and upon testing, they were found to contain unreacted red chips of a nanothermitic material. Those results were reported in a later paper titled “Active Thermitic Material Discovered in the Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe” by Harrit, et al. (April, 2009), and by this many felt that nanothermite was definitively identified as the prime candidate destructive agent. The paper, said to have been peer-reviewed, came out in the Open Chemical Physics Journal (Bentham Science Publishers), causing 9/11 Truthers to run with the news that explosive nanothermite blew up the Twin Towers, proclaiming what soon became a form of gospel in the 9/11 community. The Gospel of Nanothermite has given the incendiary properties of thermite a set of new miraculous powers: in its nano-state it becomes “Super Thermite” – a high-explosive that pulverized hundreds of thousands of tons of building materials in no more than 10 seconds.


A scientific person, or one who prefers to use logic, might wonder about such claims and proceed by examining the scientific literature on nanothermite as well as the principle of how explosives achieve destruction through generating shock waves that produce fragmentation. This might be a good time to note that the Rock Creek Free Press made a very important point in its May 2009 article on nanothermite: “To be a high explosive, the reaction speed must exceed the speed of sound in the material, which is unlikely in the case of thermitic materials, but nano-thermitic material may act as a low explosive in a manner similar to gunpowder.”


Few who have carefully watched video footage of the Twin Towers coming down would fail to notice what can be called “explosive effects” in the nature of the destruction. The question then would be: Were conventional explosives or some other kind of explosives used? If nanothermite is indeed a high explosive, was it also necessary to use conventional explosives to achieve the demolition of the towers? The more sophisticated believer might agree that conventional explosives also could have been employed, but for the less sophisticated truther the Thermite/Nanothermite Gospel says it all – and has been conclusively proven by the nine authors of the 2009 published and peer-reviewed paper.


What does other peer-reviewed scientific literature have to say about nanothermite? Nanoscale Aluminum-Metal Oxide (Thermite) Reactions for Application in Energetic Materials,” Central European Journal of Energetic Materials (2010), authored by Davin G. Piercey and Thomas M. Klapötke, identifies the fastest known combustion velocity for a mixture of metal oxide and aluminum: 2400 meters per second (m/s), in a type of nanothermite made of copper oxide and aluminum. Remember that what Steven Jones found in the WTC dust was iron-oxide/aluminum nanothermite. The authors of this paper make it clear that copper-oxide/aluminum nanothermite is significantly more reactive than the iron-oxide version, and cite a combustion velocity of 895 m/s for an iron-oxide/aluminum nanothermite aerogel. So 895 m/s is the highest velocity yet to be found for an iron-oxide/aluminum nanothermite in the scientific literature, and this velocity is much too low to have played a significant role in the destruction of the Twin Towers.


Let’s examine the reason for that last statement. The “destructive fragmentation effect” of an explosive is its detonation velocity, or the speed of the shock wave through the substance it is traveling in. To significantly fragment a substance, the detonation velocity of the explosive must equal or exceed the sonic velocity (the speed of sound) in the material. For example, the speed of sound in concrete is 3200 m/s. In steel, the speed of sound is 6100 m/s. Conventional high explosives such as TNT and RDX have detonation velocities of 6900 and 8750 m/s respectively, and are therefore capable of fragmenting concrete and steel, because both 6900 and 8750 exceed the sonic velocities of 3200 m/s required to shatter concrete and 6100 m/s required to shatter steel. At only 895 m/s, iron-oxide/aluminum nanothermite does not even come close to TNT and RDX.


However, prominent 9/11 researchers have nonetheless termed nanothermite to be a powerful explosive. The very highly respected David Ray Griffin, Ph.D. calls nanothermite a high explosive in his July 6, 2010 article entitled “Left-Leaning Despisers of the 9/11 Truth Movement: Do You Really Believe in Miracles?”, which was published in the online journal Global Research. “High explosives, such as RDX or nanothermite,” wrote Griffin, “could explain these horizontal ejections.” Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, the most revered of 9/11 research groups, published a piece called “Exotic High Tech Explosives Positively Identified in World Trade Center Dust” on April 5, 2009. In this they stated, “Ordinary thermite burns quickly and can melt through steel, but it is not explosive. Nanothermite, however, can be formulated as a high explosive.”


While searching the open scientific literature on nanothermite and establishing the low detonation velocity of its iron-oxide/aluminum variety, chemical engineer T. Mark Hightower has been in contact and shared his findings with Dr. Steven Jones and the authors of the highly regarded April 2009 nanothermite paper, as well as with several other well-known 9/11 Truth leaders. The most recent responses to his challenges fell into two general categories. One response was that a combustion velocity of 895 m/s is enough to explain the WTC destruction. The other was the insistent claim that nanothermite can indeed be a high explosive, but this formulation is a military secret and is not discussed in the open literature.


Okay – it is true that military explosives research employs nanotechnology, and applications involving nanothermite are a subset of this research. (The military even connects nanotechnology with mini-nukes, stating that a mini-nuke device the size of a suitcase can destroy an entire building.) But to suggest that the military has a secret recipe that makes iron-oxide/aluminum nanothermite a high explosive when this is contradicted by the open literature doesn’t make any sense. Easily found in the open literature is that copper-oxide/aluminum nanothermite can have a combustion velocity of 2400 m/s, compared to 895 m/s for an iron-oxide/aluminum nanothermite. If the 2400 m/s number is not a military secret, why would a velocity greater than 895 m/s (for the iron-oxide variety of nanothermite) need to be kept secret? It is much more likely that the highest reported value of 895 m/s is due to physical property limitations of iron-oxide/aluminum nanothermite rather than a need to keep higher values a secret.


Additionally – just to be safe, perhaps – 9/11 nanothermite advocates also maintain the illogical position that even if nanothermite by itself is not a high explosive, when combined with an organic substance (also asserted to not be itself a high explosive), a high-explosive is created. To that T. Mark Hightower responds: “There is only one sure way to make nanothermite a high explosive. If you combine enough high explosives with nanothermite, you can get a mixture that is a high explosive. But the same can be said for my breakfast cereal.”


Hightower has further calculated that if conventional explosives (such as TNT or RDX) acting alone were used to bring down the Twin Towers, the quantity necessary would have been hundreds of tons of explosives per tower. On July 27, 2011, Niels Harrit (chief author of the 2009 nanothermite paper) presented a calculation for how much thermitic material would have been necessary to explain the presence of the many tiny iron-rich spheres in the dust (assuming that a thermite reaction was the source of the spheres). He gave a range of numbers, based on lower and higher concentrations of the thermite formulation. His lowest figure amounted to 29,000 metric tons of thermitic explosive per tower – a value hundreds of times greater than the calculation for conventional explosives. His “conservative” estimate (based on 10% iron-oxide in the thermitic material) was 143,000 metric tons of thermitic material that would have been placed in each tower. Let’s be realistic: How could the perpetrators drag in and plant over 100,000 tons of explosive without being seen? Even 29,000 tons is hard to imagine and would have been rather difficult to do unnoticed.


A side note from the many technical papers on nanothermite studied by Hightower: Nanothermite produces a blinding flash of light when it goes off. If such huge quantities of nanothermite were used to blow up the Twin Towers, why didn’t we see tremendous bursts of blinding light as they came down?


Architects & Engineers for 9/11 Truth has been ceaselessly promoting the nanothermite discovery as the “smoking gun” of 9/11, and calling the substance a high explosive. If there is ever a proper investigation and a lawsuit is filed in a court of law on the “strength” of nanothermite as “hard evidence” of controlled demolition by explosives at the World Trade Center, and it is revealed to the court by the opposing side that nanothermite is at best a very low explosive and could not have destroyed the Twin Towers in a matter of seconds, the entire case may be dismissed and a legal precedent set for future efforts made by others.


The danger of promoting a false theory or of overselling a weak hypothesis to millions of people is that it may someday be a convenient way to close the book on the entire issue. That 9/11 nanothermite advocates insist on their position in the face of significant refutations is disturbing. They are clearly unwilling to change their minds or even to discuss facts that expose weaknesses in their statements. What do these refusals really mean? Are some leaders deliberately pushing a flimsy theory with the intent that it will ultimately be shot down? Or is nanothermite a red herring or limited hangout to keep us from looking into what was really used?


Let the 9/11 Truth community be confident in refuting the official story without having to present a bullet-proof alternate theory, especially when an honest assessment of the data of that alternate theory does not support its applicability.



About the author:

T. Mark Hightower has worked as an engineer for nearly 30 years, initially in the chemical industry, then in the space program for NASA, and currently in the environmental field, also with NASA. He is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). His research on 9/11 is an exercise of his Constitutional rights as a private citizen, and in no way represents his employer or any of the professional societies of which he is a member.


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