Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Peer review of Harrit et al. on 911 - Can't see any nanothermite?

[See follow up articles about Harrit's response HERE.]

Climate Guy has peer reviewed the paper by Harrit et al. (Open Chemical Physics Journal, 2, 2009, 7-31) and finds no conclusive evidence for nanothermite.

Here is the peer review report.

There is much wrong with this article. It would not have passed my expert peer review in its published state.

Particles were separated from untreated dust using magnetic separation (a simple bar magnet). The separate contained small bi-layer (grey-layer + red-layer) flakes.

The red layers were concluded to be synthetic nanothermite.

Separated particles were examined by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray analysis (EDXA). Samples were mounted for the SEM/EDXA measurements using carbon tape adhesive on bulk aluminum plugs, the standard simplest mounting for SEM/EDXA work.

The authors argued that since the red layers were seen by SEM (back scattered electron images) to be aggregates of dense nanoparticles and less dense nanoflake-like particles and since the EDXA spectra showed the presence of both Fe (iron) and Al (aluminum) that the flake-like particles must be elemental aluminum, whereas the smaller nanoparticles were presumed to be iron oxide.

They further argued that a nano-scale mixture of Fe-oxide and Al-metal is by definition a nanothermitic material.

The authors also provided differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) measurements of bi-layer grey-red flakes and observed exothermic peaks at approximately 420 C (degrees Celsius) for all four WTC dust samples.

There are more problems with all of this than I have the patience to outline but here are some main points.
  • The Al slugs would give inhomogeneous background Al signals in the EDXA spectra. This was not considered or discussed in the paper. There could be no or little Al in the red-layer.
  • The carbon adhesive tape will give inhomogeneous background C signals in the EDXA spectra. This was not considered or discussed in the paper. There could be no or little C in the red-layer.
  • There is as much or more Si (silicon) in the EDXA results than Al in all the red-layer results and Si and Al are closely correlated in their spatial distributions (e.g., their Figure 10). No probable explanation is given for this. This is not consistent with the presence of metallic Al.
  • Oxygen (O) is more closely spatially correlated with Al and Si than with Fe (e.g., their Figure 10). No probable explanation is given for this. This contradicts the conclusion of the presence of metallic Al.
  • No effort was made to estimate the Fe:Al elemental ratio in the red-layer. Synthetic thermite or nanothermite would have a ratio of 1:1. The point is never discussed.
  • The exothermic peak in the DSC traces occurs at a temperature (420 C) approximately 90 C below the temperature for the thermite reaction. No explanation is proposed for this. Chemical activation energies of known reactions cannot be so sample dependent, whether nano-sized or not. This is not the thermite reaction.
  • In the reacted product (after heating in DSC), no Al-oxide is observed as a residue, as required by the thermite reaction. No explanation is given for this.
  • The obvious needed measurement of X-ray diffraction was not used to confirm the solid mineral species (oxides or metals). This is unacceptable in a materials chemistry paper. This is not considered by the authors.
  • Much is made of the fact that Fe-rich spheroids are present after reaction but there is no discussion of the grey-layer or of the origin of the Si-rich spheroids. Heating causes many things and there is an exothermic reaction so the conclusions about the presence of Fe-rich spheroids (which are reported to contain oxygen) as evidence for the thermite reaction is tenuous.
Here is an alternative explanation for the observations reported by Harrit et al.

Steel rusts. Rust crusts crack and blow off the steel when physically disrupted.

Rusting steel is one of the most studied materials science problems in engineering.

When steel rusts in a humid building environment it grows a crust composed of layers of different Fe-oxides and Fe-oxyhydroxides. These are stratified micro-layers with successive layers of different Fe-oxides species (wustite, maghemite, hematite, etc.). In a humid atmosphere the outer layers will be Fe-oxyhydroxides such as goethite, lepidocrocite and akaganeite. The latter three Fe-oxyhydroxides have the same chemical formula: FeOOH, and differ only in their crystal structures.

These Fe-oxyhydroxides typically form as nanoparticles and have the same needle and nanoflake-like morphologies as observed here.

When these Fe-oxyhydroxides are heated in a DSC they undergo a solid to solid exothermic reaction of dehydroxilation (loss of OH) and transform from FeOOH to Fe2O3 (hematite) at a temperature of approximately 400 C. The temperature of the transformation can vary depending on exact chemical composition, and on the crystal structure, but it is always at approximately 400 C.

Looks like our boys may have been discovering the properties of rusted steel. Steel contains C and Si which would end up in its oxidation products, especially in the oxyhydroxides.

I may be wrong but if I had been a reviewer I would have required that the authors prove the presence of metallic Al nano-flakes by X-ray diffraction (or electron diffraction) and that they be much more careful in their EDXA work. I think they would have seen FeOOH not metallic Al.

I would have also required that they make nanothermite by known recipes and measure its DSC trace and look for the Al-oxide residue after reaction.

In my opinion the Open Chemical Physics Journal did a very sloppy job on this paper, especially given the importance of 911 as a historic event and societal phenomenon.


Anonymous said...

"Here is an alternative explanation for the observations reported by Harrit et al.

Steel rusts."


Bill said...


Got to love the intellectual fortitude of twoofdom.

Dave Kyte said...

You should also note this steel was coated with rust proofing paints, before shipment to the building site. Any guess as to the chemical makeup of this paint?

Denis Rancourt said...

@Dave Kyte,


Here is a thorough earlier expert critique of the Harrit et al. paper (in French) by professor Jérôme Quirant:


In addition a by-design rust layer is used in some steels as an anti-rust coating. But Quirant argues for paint to explain the DSC traces.

John Philip Anderson said...

Rusted steel? Are you kidding me? You call this an "expert review"?

Umm... gee... Professor... is there some reason you failed to cite a signal paper and why absolutely no one has found that rusted steel exhibits an explosive reaction in fires?

If you are too stupid or deluded to figure out that "global warming" is a fraud and the 9/11 was staged by the US government, perhaps you should do us all favor stick to something you actually seem capable of doing half-decently, like exposing misconduct at the University of Ottawa.

~ John Philip Anderson
The University of Michigan, College of Engineering
B.S.E in Materials Science & Engineering
- Andrew A. Kucher Award for Outstanding Engineering Research
M.S. in Macromolecular Science & Engineering
Ph.D Candidate in Macromolecular Science & Engineering

b. j. edwards said...

I see the blinkered John Philip Anderson, AKA bofors, has once again taken the opportunity to embarrass himself and the University of Michigan with utter nonsense.

Despite the fact that the overwhelming peer-reviewed science demonstrates anthropogenic global warming is real, and that the 9/11 Truth Movement has never been able to support any of its claims nor ever present a coherent conspiracy theory, Andersen is happy to inform us that we, not himself, are the deluded ones.

I am quite happy to live in the rational world, thank you very much, and not fall victim to such blatant denialism that surrounds Anderson.

Peter said...

@b.j. edwards

Agreed. The Truther's projections never stop to amaze me.

Interviewer from gulli.com said...

mr. harrits answer to the "rust" idea


he has sent it to dr. rancourt, but dr. rancourt did not publish it for some reason it seems.

Denis Rancourt said...

@Interviewer from gulli.com

Just to clarify.

The document you posted was produced during an ongoing email discussion about my critical review of the Harrit paper.

The discussion is presently centered only on the first point regarding conclusive evidence that Al was present in the red layer.

For example, Dr. Harrit has agreed to provide key SEM-EDX spectral data that did not accompany the original published article.

After the first point, I hope that each following point can also be discussed to completion.

After these discussions are over (for example if one side abandons and refuses to continue clarifications) I intend to make the entire and very lively exchange public.

This will give a much more thorough picture of the exchange and one that is true and unedited.

Anonymous said...

These are some general comments/questions after reading your material on the 9/11 issue through several posts, Dr. Rancourt.

First, allow me to congratulate you for your courage and independence of thought. All too rare these days.

I have not noticed any reference to Dr. Steve Jones' work on the controlled demolition issue but would like to hear any thoughts you may have on his works.

Elsewhere, I noticed that you were impressed by the notion that there's pods attached to the planes. This, along with the no plane in the pentagon stuff, I have always regarded as the most specious of purported 9/11 truthes' claims - likely disinformation. Have you seen the site 911research? I encourage you to see this page if you haven't already: http://911review.com/disinfo/index.html ... this is an excellent site to explore if you have not already.

Also, you seem to discount the controlled demolition evidence based on this apparently sloppy article, but note elsewhere that WTC7 leaves little other plausible explanation.

Finally, I would say the importance of establishing physical proof of controlled demolition is of the utmost importance, if it's the truth, because it provides a smoking gun that has obvious and incontrovertible implications of a high level conspiracy.

Francisco said...

The details of such an analysis are beyond my competence. However, to me, the visual evidence of the collapse of those buildings, especially WTC 7, which falls exactly like a demolition, leaves no other explanation than controlled demolition. It seem miraculous to me that some random force like fire and structurla damage could by themselve choreograph this effect spontaneously--something never seen before or after. For all practical purposes I consider it impossible. These things have been explained very convincingly by the many engineers and scientists researching this topic for the last few years, in sites like Architects and Engineers for 911 Truth (http://www.ae911truth.org/) Scholars for 911 Truth (http://stj911.org/), Jim Hoffman's site http://911research.wtc7.net/ and many others.

Francisco said...


A TV documentary which purported to explain the collapses of the Twin Towers featured a demonstration in which a house-of-cards like structure representing one of the towers was supposed to collapse from the top down. The documentary showed only the beginning of this simulated building collapse, since the producers were apparently unable to achieve progressive total collapse. This raises the question: If this newly discovered mode of structural failure is so likely to happen, why is it so difficult to reproduce?


The challenge is in 5 parts, from the easiest to the most difficult.

All five require building a structure that will undergo top-down progressive total collapse -- i.e.: when disturbed near the top, it will collapse from the top down to the bottom, leaving no part standing. The disturbance can include mechanical force, such as projectile impacts, and fires, augmented with hydrocarbon fuels. Explosives and electromagnetic energy beams are not permitted.

Your structure can be made out of anything: straws, toothpicks, cards, dominoes, mud, vegetables, pancakes, etc.

The designers of the Twin Towers were able to meet all 5 challenges using steel and concrete.


Build a structure with a vertical aspect ratio of at least 2 (twice as tall as it is wide) and induce it to undergo top-down total progressive collapse.


Build a structure with a square footprint and a vertical aspect ratio of at least 6.5 (6.5 times as high as it is wide), and induce it to undergo top-down total progressive collapse.


Build a structure as required by CHALLENGE #2 which, in the process of collapsing, will throw pieces outward in all directions such that at least 80% of the mass of the materials ends up lying outside of the footprint, but their center of mass lies inside the footprint.


Build a structure as required by CHALLENGE #2 which is capable of remaining intact in 100 MPH cross wind.


Build a structure that meets the requirements of both CHALLENGES #3 and #4.


Anonymous said...



Did you notice that the two main authors are specialists in nano-materials?

Did you notice that they were comparing their samples to known nanothermite explosives, and that they match?-It doesn´t matter that the Harrit material exploded at 430 but the other at 530 or so....different varieties will ignite at diff temps, but the common factor for nanothermite is that it ignites at temps way below normal thermite at 900 plus.

The wtc beams were made out of steel - did the Harrit research show the presence of steel?

Does rust normally occur on the nanoscale?

Does rust normally ignite and explode at 430 degrees?

Does rust normally produce layers of iron/al and a silicon- matrix,nanoscale?

Does rust normally outperform conventional explosives in explosive power?

Does rust normally ignite at 400 and produce nanoironspheres just like nanothermite?

What other known materials are based on iron/al, that also ignite, explode, and produce ironspheres?

Are you aware of the fact that an independent researcher Mark Basile has confirmed the presence of nanot in wtcdust samples from a museum?

Are you aware of the study that shows nanothermie-specific materials in the airpollution after the attack?

Anonymous said...

The sheer strength and wide array of evidence marshalled in this recent presentation by architect Richard Gage eliminates any doubt as to what was done to these buildings. The dust analysis is only a small part of it. It blows my mind to see the mental contortions people go through to resist grasping the obvious. Watch it:

Anonymous said...

I think nano-thermite issue requires more research to acheive consensus but what about the iron-rich spheres ?

Where did they come from ?

They must have been molten at some time in their life and office fires / kerosene as far as I am aware cannot liquefy steel.

Any Offers ?

NonnyMus2 said...

The most obvious test they failed to perform was burning the sample under water and under argon. Since thermite produces its own oxygen, that test would have been definitive.

Failing to perform that test is also not explained by the authors.

In addition, I'd like to see better compositional analysis. Mass spec at least. But that might just be me.

At any rate, their conclusions are completely unsupported by their data.

I guess we should look on the bright side: by getting that crap published in a Bentham journal, they proved those journals are NOT peer reviewed!

NonnyMus2 said...

I agree with you that the paper wouldn't have passed peer review, yet the troofers still cite it as 'scientific proof'! Sad.

In addition to the flaws you mention, the authors failed to perform the definitive test for thermite: they failed to try and burn it under argon or under water to see if it combusted. Since thermite produces its own oxygen, that would have been a test I would have required.

I'd also have liked to see better compositional analysis - mass spec at least. But that might just be me. At any rate, the authors' conclusion is completely unsupported by their data and that paper should never have been published.

I guess we could look on the bright side: with the publishing of this paper, we have good evidence that Bentham Journals are NOT peer reviewed.

And Anonymous? Iron spheres come from a lot of sources: pozzolanic materials in concrete, toner cartridges in printers, welding spatter from construction and repair and combustion of rust flakes. All of these sources are far more likely than thermite!

Anonymous said...

I read this attempting to convince myself that harrit was wrong and I should abandon the truth movement, but this article is nonsense. I and quite a few others in my field have discussed the nanothermite issue (behind closed doors since we value our jobs)and have concluded the lab results are completely valid.

Anonymous said...

There is now another study done on the dust, soon to be published in a peer reviewed journal. I would be interested in your thoughts on this Denis.


larry said...

You are a joke, your ass was handed to you on a plate. Your responses have zero scientific/forensic/physics support as they come from your imagination.

marley engvall said...

building 7 must have been very rusty to have fallen as quickly as it did.

your intellectual dishonesty is astounding.

does the cia pay better than the u of ottowa?

--marley engvall

politicalfilm said...

This piece neither confirms nor refutes nanothermite. It offers some criticism of the methods of the paper, but in no way is definitive (as the hyperbole in the comments claims).

It should be relatively easy to dig up more dust in the storage site and test it. If that is not happening, then is that because we are not allowed to access the evidence? It's only been 12 years and counting after all.

A lot of debris is stored from the site, and this is of vital public interest, as already stated. We should be able to get the evidence and test it more thoroughly. No?

Some idiot in this comment thread claims that the 9/11 truth movement never proved anything at all? That's criminal ignorance. The cover up is proven (a thousand times, and a thousand different ways), and this cover-up, which clearly protects the regime in Saudi Arabia is arguably high treason. Treason is "aid and comfort" to an enemy that attacks the nation. Covering up the role of the Saudi regime in 9/11 is aid and comfort.

While the focus is on the minutia of chemical reactions, the big picture is far more clear: cover-up of the truth by the US government. That is undeniable.

Senator Bob Graham: Re-Open the 9/11 Investigation Now

2001-10-03: FBI Communication, PENTBOMB, Omar Al Bayoumi

Unlike these self-styled idiot "debunkers," who don't actually give a damn about what is true or not, I back up what I say with facts.