Thursday, January 17, 2013

Asking Truth scientists: How do you tell energetic and mundane chips apart?


It has been alleged that dust particles from WTC dust that have the two properties "attracted by a magnet" and "are red-gray chips" are also active thermitic material. However, recent remarks made by some of the researchers involved strongly suggest that many chips selected by those criteria may in fact be really just paint.

In order for follow-up researcher to select the "right" chips, an objective method should exist to separate the "right" ("energetic", "thermitic") from "wrong" (perhaps "paint" etc.) chips.

It is also not entirely clear, in my mind, if the researchers like Harrit, Jones, Farrer or Basile who have reported on "energetic" chips were aware of the distinction at the time, and did in fact separate the different kinds of chips prior to any desctructive tests that yielded exotherm reactions and suspicious residues.

I expect that these "thermite"-proponents can declare unequivocally how to distinguish "thermitic" from mundane chips before any destructive experiments are done. I have designed a series of questions to shed light on this.


  1. Introduction
  2. Detailed Questions
  3. How the Bentham authors selected the chips to be studied
  4. How Millette selected the chips to be studied
  5. Statements by "truther" scientists
    • Steven Jones
    • Frank Legge
    • Kevin Ryan
    • Mark Basile
  6. References


Harrit (2009 [1], refered to as "ATM [1]" throughout the rest of this article) have studied red-gray chips found in dust from the World Trade Center collapses that settled around "Ground Zero" on 9/11/2001. Their paper describes how these chips were selected, discusses how they are all similar, and presents data, much of which is said to be "representative" of all the red-gray chips they studied. They conclude that the red layer of these chips is "active thetmitic material" and some kind of "super-thermite" and "nano-thermite", i.e. contains the classical thermite ingredients iron oxide and elemental aluminium as nano-sized particles, embedded in an organic matrix.

The method to select these chips is described as involving only two steps:

a) Pull a magnet through the dust and select all particles that are attracted to it
b) Visually inspect particles and select those that are chips with a red and a gray layer

The paper gives the impression that virtually all chips that the authors found by this two-step method have the same "thermitic" properties - in particular, that they are all "energetic", and, when ignited and burned, leave in their residue iron-rich micro-spheres.

I have previously argued (Oystein [2]) that the data presented in ATM [1] speaks for the presence of several different kinds of red-gray chips, precluding the validity of lumping data from different chips together to form a single conclusion for all chips.

Millette (2012, [3]) has done a follow-up study to ATM [1] and selected red-gray chips from WTC dust samples using the very same method: a) Pull particles out with magnet; b) visually select red-gray chips. In addition, he focused on chips whose red-layer were similar in morphology and elemental composition (EDS spectrum) to chips a-d in Figures 6-11 in ATM [1]. He found that these chips contain no elemental Al, and thus no thermite at all. Instead, all the compounds he identified (kaolin clay, pigment-sized hematite and titanium dioxide ambedded in epoxy) are consistent with primer paint. His chips appear to be mundane.

It appears now that some of the authors of ATM [1] acknowledge that indeed some of the red-gray chips they selected were mundane - and believe that Millette looked at the wrong chips! This raises a few questions, that I would like these scientists to answer before any further studies (e.g. Mark Basile, [4]) are undertaken – most prominently:

  • By what non-destructive method and objective criteria – in addition to selection by magnet and visually seperating red-gray chip – can a researcher who attempts to study the "energetic" red-gray chips, that are alleged to be thermitic, distinguish them from mundane materials such as paint?

Detailed Questions

The scientists that, to my best knowledge, have stated there are non-thermitic yet magnetic (?) red-gray chips (I'll present their statements below) and who the following questions are addressed to most immediately are:

  • Steve E. Jones – the actual lead author of ATM [1]
  • Kevin R. Ryan – co-author of ATM [1]
  • Frank M. Legge – co-author of ATM [1]
  • Mark Basile – acknowledged in ATM [1] as contributor; has studied chips himself; proposes a new study to be done by an independent lab

Others who I'd expect to be able to answer them are:

  • Niels H. Harrit – named lead author of ATM [1]
  • Jeffrey Farrer – co-author of ATM [1], responsible for much of the analytical work in the lab (DSC tests and, I believe, all the work on at least chips a-d)
  • David Griscom – peer-reviewer of ATM [1] and currently advisor to Mark Basile

In the remainder of this section, I will talk about red-gray chips that are attracted to a magnet, and I will just call those „chips“. So whenever you read the word „chips“, I am talking about dust particles drawn from WTC dust with a magnet that have (at least) a red and a gray layer.

Here are two more terms that I define and consistently use throught this section to describe and identify chips:

  • energetic: This word denotes chips that react with an exotherm when ignited in the manner described in ATM [1] and produce spherical residues that include the element iron. Those are the chips that are considered „interesting“, „active thermitic material“, „suspect“ or what you want to call it. I give you some freedom to decide for yourself which chips you want to consider energetic.
  • mundane: Those are all other chips - they don't react energetically, or don't produce iron-rich spherical residue, and can thus considered to be non-thermitic, or not active, or not interesting, or whatever you prefer. Some or all of the mundane chips might be paint, but it is not important here what they are.

Each chips is either energetic or it is mundane, but can't be both, and can't be neither.

So here are my questions:

  • Do you agree that there are both energetic and mundane chips in the WTC dust?

If you agree that at least some chips are mundane, please answer the following (skip those that don't apply to you or that you can't answer on behalf of your team mates) (note that the recurring question „If yes, how (did you separate them)?“ is really the most interesting at the time of writing):

  • When did you first realize there are both mundane and energetic chips in the WTC dust?
  • Did you separate mundane chips from energetic chips before you photographed them? If yes, how?
  • Do any of the photographs you present in your work show mundane chips? If yes, which? If not, why did you not show photographs of any mundane chips? Do such photographs exist?
  • Did you separate mundane chips from energetic chips before you put them in the electron microscope? If yes, how?
  • Do any of the SE- or BSE-images in your work show mundane chips? If yes, which? If not, why did you not show micrographs of any mundane chips? Do such micrographs exist?
  • Did you separate mundane chips from energetic chips before you did XEDS scans on them? If yes, how?
  • Were any of the XEDS graphs you present in your work taken from mundane chips? If yes, which? If not, why did you not show any XEDS scans from mundane chips? Do such XEDS graphs exist?
  • Did you separate mundane chips from energetic chips before you did DSC or other ignition tests on them? If yes, how?
  • Were any of the DSC graphs you present in your work taken from mundane chips? If yes, which? If not, why did you not show any DSC traces from mundane chips? Do such DSC traces exist?
  • Was any of the post-ignition (DSC, flame test, heating strip...) residue you show in your work from mundane chips? If yes, which? If not, why did you not show photographs, micrographs or XEDS spectra from residue of mundane chips?
  • In your opinion, should a researcher who tries to replicate „ATM“ today, or wants to go beyond ATM and perhaps tackle the open questions, attempt to separare mundane chips from energetic chips before doing any ignition tests (such as DSC)? If so, how do you propose this be done?

If, on the other hand, you disagree that some of the chips are mundane, in other words, if you believe that all (magnetic! red-gray!) chips are energetic, then please answer the following:

James Millette reported on chips (from WTC dust that are both magnetic and red-gray), yet he said he didn't find any elemental Al in them.

  • Do you accept that Millette validly showed there is no elemental Al in the specimens he analyzed in depth? If not, what did he do wrong?
  • Do you agree that these specimens, where Millette ruled out elemental Al and thus thermite, are indeed chips, i.e. from WTC dust, red-gray, and attracted to a magnet? If yes, how do you square that with your assertion that all chips contain thermite? If not, what did Millette do wrong?

How the Bentham authors selected the chips to be studied

From ATM [1], page 9 (font colors added by me):

2. Chip Size, Isolation, and Examination

For clarification, the dust samples collected and sent to the authors by Ms. Janette MacKinlay will be sample 1; the sample collected by Mr. Frank Delassio, or the Delassio/ Breidenbach sample, will be sample 2; the sample collected by Mr. Jody Intermont will be sample 3; and the sample collected by Mr. Stephen White will be sample 4. The red/gray chips are attracted by a magnet, which facilitates collection and separation of the chips from the bulk of the dust. A small permanent magnet in its own plastic bag was used to attract and collect the chips from dust samples. The chips are typically small but readily discernible by eye due to their distinctive color. They are of variable size with major dimensions of roughly 0.2 to 3 mm. Thicknesses vary from roughly 10 to 100 microns for each layer (red and gray). Samples of WTC dust from these and other collectors have been sent directly from collectors to various scientists (including some not on this research team) who have also found such red/gray chips in the dust from the World Trade Center destruction.

Note that this section of the text provides only two methods to select chips of interest, and doesn't hint at any other criteria by which to select specimens to be studied. Further in the paper, it points out several times how the chips are similar, and how the data presented is representative for all chips (from pages 10-15):

1. Characterization of the Red/Gray Chips

Red/gray chips were found in all of the dust samples collected. An analysis of the chips was performed to assess the similarity of the chips and to determine the chemistry and materials that make up the chips.
All of the chips used in the study had a gray layer and a red layer and were attracted by a magnet. ... Similarities between the samples are already evident from these photographs.
... Fig. (5). These four cross sections are representative of all the red/gray chips studied from the dust samples. The BSE images illustrate the finding that all of the red layers studied contained small bright particles or grains characterized by a high average atomic number. ...
(XEDS) analyses of both the red and gray layers from cross sections prepared from the four dust samples were performed and representative spectra are shown in Figs. (6, 7). The four spectra in Fig. (6) indicate that the gray layers are consistently characterized by high iron and oxygen content including a smaller amount of carbon. The chemical signatures found in the red layers are also quite consistent (Fig. 7), each showing the presence of aluminum (Al), silicon (Si), iron (Fe) and oxygen (O), and a significant carbon (C) peak as well.

At still higher magnifications, BSE imaging of the red layer illustrates the similarity between the different dust samples.

No hint at all in all of the paper that some of the magnetically selected red-gray chips can be distinguished by any of the methods described and be grouped as "thermitic/energetic" chips vs. "non-thermitic/mundane" material before testing them in the DSC.

How Millette selected the chips to be studied

From [3], page 2 and 3:

The criteria for the particles of interest as described by Harrit et al.1 are: small red/gray chips attracted by a magnet and showing an elemental composition primarily of aluminum, silicon and iron as determined by scanning electron microscopy and x-ray energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) (Figure 4). The spectrum may also contain small peaks related to other elements. To that end, the following protocol was performed on each of the four WTC dust samples.
1. The dust sample particles contained in a plastic bag were drawn across a magnet and those attracted to the magnet were collected (Figure 5).
2. Using a stereomicroscope, particle chips showing the characteristic red/gray were removed and washed in clean water.
3. The particles were dried and mounted on a carbon adhesive film on an SEM stub and photographed (Figure 6).
4. Analysis of the surfaces of the chips was done by SEM-EDS at 20 kV without any added conductive coating (Figures 7 and 8).

Red/gray particles that matched the criteria (attracted to a magnet and an EDS Al-Si-Fe spectrum) were then considered particles of interest and subjected to additional analytical testing.

Millette used the exact same criteria that Harrit did – plus making sure the red layer has the Fe, Si and Al signals that Harrit consider a significant finding in "thermitic" chips.

Statements by "truther" scientists

Steven Jones

At the end of a blog post at 911Blogger [5], Steven Jones appended the following remark at the very end:

I (Dr. Jones) have searched Millette's plots and see no indication of strontium (Sr) or lead (Pb) in his samples, but he does report titanium (Ti) which we do not see. Thus, his samples do not appear to be the same material as what we reported on.

This implies that red-gray chips can be pulled from WTC dust with a magnet that are not the same material that Harrit reported on – i.e. a different material.

Frank Legge

Frank Legge recently engaged in an online debate with Ronald Wieck and others in the comments section of an Amazon customer review [6]. Note that he incorrectly addressed "Ronald and Millette", it should have been "Ronald and Erich", as Millette didn't participate in that exchange. To make reading easier, I'll format the questions quoted from Ronald's previous post blue, Legge's own words purple:

Ronald and Millette

"you write "Millette's ... carefully selected some paint fragments on which to perform his analysis. He did not study the chips described in the Active Thermitic Materials paper."

Do I understand you correctly when I construe your words to imply
1. that there are different kinds of red-gray chips, i.e. different materials? Such that some may represent thermitic incendiaries/explosives, some may perhaps represent paint, and some may perhaps represent other mundane or not so mundane things?"

Of course!

"2. that it is possible to select chips and pick out those that are not thermitic?"

Of course

"3. that, as a corrolary to 2., it would be possible to select thermitic chips from a mix of various kinds of red-gray chips?"

Of course.

"If that is so, can you provide objective, unambiguous and non-destructive, criteria by which to distinguish and separate thermitic chips from the dust? I believe this would be a great help for future studies, such as the one contemplated by Mark Basile ( right now? "

Of course. Read the Active Thermitic Materials paper. It is all set out there.

The questions don't mention the magnetic separation of red-gray chips. However, since Legge is very clear that "[i]t is all set out [in the Active Thermitic Materials paper]", these words must be construed as meaning that ALL red-gray chips selected with a magnet are thermitic.

Kevin Ryan

Prior to commissioning the James Millette study, Colorado-based journalist Chris Mohr was in conversation with Harrit's co-author Kevin Ryan. In those exchanges, Ryan acknowledged that there are paint chips among the red-gray chips, as Mohr relates on the JREF forum [7]:

BTW in support of what MM said, when Kevin Ryan was still talking to me, he said that he has in his possession both red-grey paint chips and red-grey thermitic chips, "and I can tell you they are not the same." He claimed that they look different to the eye, but more importantly, that the thermitic chips have an exothermic quality that the paint chips don't. Unfortunately, he refused to release the samples to me or Millette, and our personal connection broke down around that time. I was never able to get samples of these different kinds of chips, or more info about them in relation to the Bentham paper. Nor did I know at that time about the two different types of paint primer in use at WTC. So MM is right that the Bentham authors knew there were paint chips, but his noncooperation has made it impossible to know what he actually has. In the meantime, however, the Millette study has not been credibly refuted when it comes to the question of which chips he tested. Many 9/11 Truth people seem to agree that his methodology in finding the correct chips was sound.

Red font marking added by me to highlight the key statement. So the question is: How do the acknowledged paint chip look different? I note that there is again no mention of magnetic properties, which would in this case seem to indicate that magnetic attraction is not a key difference.

Mark Basile

Mark Basile is a chemical engineer who first approached Steven Jones about the alleged thermitic nature of the red-gray chips in december 2007, and was in due course supplied with a sample of WTC from one of the sources (Janette MacKinlay) which he did some tests on. I commented some of his results elsewhere in my blog

As Basile is currently proposing yet another lab study of the dust, he was recently (december 2012) interviewed by the radio talkshow "9/11 Free Fall Radio" (Bernie Suarez and Andrew Steele) on No Lies Radio [8]. Some passages transcribed - first one starting at the 27:26 minutes mark:

There are a lot of paint chips in the dust! You should make that perfectly clear! Just when you, if anybody in the audience, let's say, would get out there and get a World Trade Center dust sample, and they pull out red chips from this, I'm not telling anybody in the world that every red chip you're gonna pull out of there is one of these nano-thermite chips. The vast majority of them actually are primer paint, from what I'm finding, but that doesn't mean they all are. And they are not all, because […?...] pulled out ones where I've seen the reaction, I've seen the product, so I know you're in there. But there is also a lot of primer paint chips in there, too.

He even goes on to speculate about the work of Steven Jones (28:28 minutes):

I think some of the chips that, you know, Jones and all looked at were definitely, you know, primer paint chips, too, so not everything in there was necessarily nano-thermite chips.

(I wonder what Jones, Harrit etc. have to say on this?)


[1] Niels H. Harrit, Jeffrey Farrer, Steven E. Jones, Kevin R. Ryan, Frank M. Legge, Daniel Farnsworth, Gregg Roberts, James R. Gourley and Bradley R. Larsen: Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe ("ATM"). The Open Chemical Physics Journal, 2009, 2, 7-31

[2] Oystein: Why red-gray chips aren't all the same. Posted in author's blog on March 14 2012

[3] James R. Millette: Revised Report of Results: MVA9119. Progress Report on the Analysis of Red/Gray Chips in WTC dust. Prepared for Classical Guide, Denver, 01 March 2012.

[4] Mark Basile: Proposal for Labs to Study the Building Fire Dust.

[5] Steven E. Jones: Letter regarding red/gray chip analyses. Posted on 911Blogger on September 08 2012. Last retrieved: 2013/01/16

[6] Frank M. Legge: Reply to a question. Posted at as a comment to a Customer Review on December 25 2012. Last retrieved: 2013/01/16

[7] Chris Mohr: A forum post. Posted at the JREF forum on January 10 2013. Last retrieved: 2013/01/16

[8] Mark Basile: 9/11 Free Fall: Mark Basile and WTC dust. Radio talkshow, broadcast by No Lies Radio on December 27 2012.