Thermite

07Oct07

Before I was a Historian, I was a Chemist. The two doctrines are severely different, as I learned moving from one to the other. In Chemistry, things move in a step-by-step, empirical fashion; History is much more malleable because experiences vary with observers. Evidence is interpreted in very different fashions. For example, if chemists were to analyze the events prior to the Holocaust, as they would a chemical reaction, they might identify notable preceding events as reactants, a catalyst and a reaction medium, and conclude that the products were the causative results. In other words, any known chain of events, given the starting materials, could not have created any other situation and if these materials were to be mixed again, the reaction would repeat itself. Historians, contrary to the popular phrase “those that do not learn from history are destined to repeat it,” do not interpret evidence in this way. Matters involving people, communities and culture – things human, to put a general term to it – behave much differently than chemicals in a beaker and are more subjectively rationalized. Chemistry, and other empirical scientific fields such as physics, biology, and engineering are based in a world much less subject to individual interpretation. While these two, seemingly opposed approaches to inquiry can at times conflict, they can also supplement each other by forming a more cohesive and balanced argument.

Theories involving thermite and the destruction of WTC 1, 2 and 7 are based on the same investigative techniques employed by chemists looking at the products of a reaction, and seeking the initial reactants. This thermite theory rings true for me, although I’m still skeptical because as convincing as the argument is, I don’t have the education to critique it. It is something akin to sitting in a graduate seminar listening to advanced concepts of which I’ve little instruction. It is entirely possible the man at the lectern is a loon. But on the other hand, there are other scientists reviewing this work. Larger acceptance of theories involving thermite will hinge upon faith in the system of critical peer-review. That being said, I’ve enough education to know that what is being proposed is not scientific conjecture, but a solid and rational step in critical analysis.

It starts with molten steel. Found in the rubble of the towers, were pools of orange, molten steel, specifically A36 structural steel. This is a video from CNN, reinforcing the official theory, but there are a few holes in the plot. The white stuff rising is called both smoke and steam; you decide which it is. Notice how fast the steam and/or smoke disappears. A worker at the site also describes the creation of black pums of smoke that are not shown in the video clip. A36 is a well known compound, engineered and created by man, so the chemical properties such as strength, density, composition and melting point are not subjects for interpretation; they are facts. The presence of molten steel infers that something must have melted the steel; not a leap of faith or reason in the slightest. To do this, the melting point, about ~1500 degrees centigrade, must have been achieved and maintained long enough for the steel to meet this temperature. Therefore, to precipitate the product of molten steel, something must have generated temperatures in sufficient amount, and for a long enough period to sustain the liquid state, to facilitate discovery days later. The question then revolves around the idea of “fire.” Was combustion sustainable in the fire, raising the temperature to “1500 degrees” or was there another source of heat?

At this point, I’ll inject a little skepticism. One might want to consider whether or not it was in fact liquid steel and not liquid aluminum, or an unknown combination of other metals. The rubble was after all, a pile of different materials. Were any samples taken from these observed pools? There are pictures, but such things can be doctored. There are also verbal descriptions from witnesses, but these sources need to be systematically corroborated. Whether or not this level of skepticism is warranted is left for the reader, but it does seem to precipitate a cyclical paradox for the argument. If steel had melted, then we would conclude that something, like thermite, which reacts hot enough to melt steel, must have been present. However, if the melting point could not have been achieved, then we could reason that the molten material was not A36. To be completely beyond speculation, there would need to be an analysis of the material in question. To date, I have not read of any such analysis being done. Most theorists rely on photographic evidence and eyewitness accounts; which is at the very least cause for further investigation.

The official theory for the molten steel comes from the theory for collapse. The airplane full of jet fuel created a huge fireball, and the subsequent fires caused the structural failure of the steel, and the pools of molten material. To be honest, this kind of argument is convincing for only the most shallow of analysis. To illustrate, I draw from the history of human civilization. Fire is a basic, natural chemical process, harnessed by man thousands of years ago. Some time later, it was learned that fire could melt some types of metal which could be cooled into a desired shape, precipitating the advent of copper, bronze, and most recently iron tools. Iron however, required a very hot, controlled fire with adequate fuel and constant attention. A simple, un-stoked fire will not melt iron. Steel is much stronger and lighter than iron, due to the addition of carbon through a process not mastered until the Industrial Revolution. To propose that a fire not dissimilar from a boy scout weenie- roast had sufficient energy to heat and melt steel, and maintain that temperature for more than a few days, is preposterous to both history and science. Jet fuel (long chains of hydrocarbons) does not burn hot enough to melt steel. Nor does any wood or wood pulp product. Hold a fire poker into a fire. It will get quite hot, but it will not melt. This does not address the structural integrity of steel subjected to combustion, which is more relevant to the method of collapse. I’ll examine this in another entry. The point at hand pertains only to the alleged presence of liquid steel.

While considering all this, another question occurs to me. One that I will need answered. If a hydrocarbon-fueled fire cannot sufficiently weaken or melt modern forms of steel, then why do fire and building codes require steel beams and joints to be covered in fire retardant material? Certainly, if I am to put enough faith into the design of the fire codes, it must be possible for fire to, under plausible conditions, at least weaken steel. Or is the purpose of the fire retardant material to address an entirely different problem? This point seems relevant and must be addressed, as the effect of the planes’ collision on fire suppression measures, specifically the blowing away of the fire retardant steel covering, is in the conscious mind of the wider audience.

It seems so far, irrational to conclude that thermite was used simply because it was the only thing that could have created and maintained sufficient temperatures to produce molten steel. There must be something in the reactants that directly infers the existence of thermite. Something that only thermite as a reactant could have produced as an observed product. Indeed, there is such an observed product.

Dr. Steven Jones, a physicist and former BYU professor, was looking for dust from the WTC site. A resident of the area claimed to have saved the sample from a much larger amount of dust that consumed her living quarters not far from ground zero. Jones collected a sample, in the presence of witnesses, and subjected the material to a series of tests to determine their composition. The results are something of a smoking gun. The tests show iron rich micro spheres. (Numbered page 76, PDF page 22) A separate study, done by the USGS, also notes “metallic particles” in spherical shapes composed of iron and titanium, along with other elements, found in the dust from the WTC.

What could cause these products? To form spherical shaped debris, the crystallization of the material must take place in an environment free of outside forces, such as free fall. To illustrate, imagine a cup of water in the space shuttle. As a liquid in a zero gravity or free fall environment, the floating water will oscillate for a time and come to rest as a perfect sphere, held in that form by its own surface tension.
Liquid iron behaves the same way, and will retain that form after cooling into a solid, which would happen relatively quickly depending on the size of the sphere. From this we can conclude that these iron spheres were once liquid, and cooled in mid-air. Because iron melts at 1500 degrees centigrade, we can also conclude that something was involved in the collapse that could produce such temperatures. In conjunction with the photos and the eye witness descriptions, it seems beyond reasonable doubt, the A36 steel melted by some process besides combustion.

Dr. Jones and other scientists hypothesize thermite was used in the destruction. Their evidence further relies on the chemical composition of the spheres. In addition to iron, they are composed of aluminum, sulfur, potassium and manganese, all products that one would expect to find if thermite were used. While some of these reactants were certainly present at the site without thermite, it seems irrational to expect the same result by just throwing all the ingredients into a bowl, mixing and setting flame to them.

This is not junk science. It is observation of a product, the iron rich spheres, and proposing a hypothesis for the method of creation of these spheres. Regardless of how these spheres were produced, it is clear and reasonable, that these small samples of iron were liquid, a fact that cannot be explained by any aspect of the official theory. Again, the most troubling thing about all this is the lack of a defensible explanation for these spheres on behalf of the government. The fires created by the jet fuel could not have burned hot or long enough to melt the steel. Imagine if jet fuel actually did burn that hot; the reaction would melt the steel and titanium engine cores when at full power, making air travel as we know it, impossible.

While thermite seems the most plausible explanation for the presence of the micro spheres, it does not implicate the government directly. Although the appearance of complicity during investigation is damning, there is no direct connection between the government and the use of thermite. Such munitions are manufactured by private companies. Thermite is used on the private market (for demolition) as well as for military applications. It is reasonable to believe that the government has benefited so much from the story line created shortly after the event, that any deviation from it at this point, whether the act was perpetrated by the government or not, would be disastrous in terms of political stability. Therefore, even if the government was not involved, it is in their best interest to maintain the status-quo. Perhaps it is also in the best interest of the country, if such a concept could be determined with any measurable reliability.

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