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Chapter 6: Reaction from the National Science Foundation

The financial support for this research is a story in itself. During my tenure as a guest scientist at ORNL, my salary was provided from grant funds obtained through my affiliation with Columbia Union College. Through the early 1970's these funds came from private sources and the National Science Foundation to cover that expense. The National Science Foundation (NSF) is the government agency entrusted with allocating hundreds of millions annually for research in the scientific disciplines. Like all government agencies, it is publicly funded and legally obligated to disperse those monies impartially. In theory, taxpayers' money should be dispensed without preference for particular views or discrimination against alternative theories.

The earth and planetary sciences receive much support from the NSF through grants to university science departments for research based on the evolutionary model of origins. But has the NSF been equally inclined to support research related to a creation-based model of earth history? This chapter focuses on the reaction of NSF officials after it was more generally recognized that my scientific discoveries supported creation. NSF was supportive of my research before they were aware that the implications were damaging to an evolutionary point of view.

In 1974 the NSF awarded me a two-year grant, later extended to mid-1977, of approximately $55,000 for research on both polonium halos and the unexplained dwarf and giant halos. At the time this grant was awarded, the implications of my research had not been revealed to their fullest extent. Quite possibly most NSF officials and reviewers were then unaware that polonium halos provided evidence for an instantaneous creation of the earth.

Several of my scientific reports were published during the 1974-77 grant period: one related to my investigations of the "spectacle halo," a second [p. 74] to my work on halos in coalified wood, and another to the existence of superheavy elements in giant-halo radiocenters. Of these three, the results on giant halos and superheavy elements attracted the greatest attention and the greatest criticism.

The Elusive Superheavy Elements

A background of my research efforts on superheavy elements will be given here to help the reader understand some of the NSF comments about my research proposals. As earlier noted, the primary reason for my affiliation with ORNL in 1969 was to investigate whether the dwarf or giant halos provided evidence of superheavy elements. Consequently, much of my research there concentrated on these unusual halos in collaboration with colleagues at ORNL. In spite of considerable effort, by 1975 none of our investigations of giant and dwarf halos showed any convincing evidence of superheavy elements.

In mid-1975 I learned of a new analytical technique for determining the composition of tiny particles collected in air-pollution studies. In this technique the ion beam from a nuclear accelerator was used to excite the characteristic x rays of the chemical elements composing the particle. Its very high sensitivity seemed ideally suited for searching for superheavy elements in the microscopic-sized radiocenters of the giant halos.

In early 1976 I began a collaboration with physicists at Florida State University at Tallahassee (FSU) and the University of California at Davis (UC-Davis) to search for superheavy elements in giant-halo radiocenters. My main contribution to SHEP (SuperHeavy Element Project) was in supplying the samples to the experimenters at FSU. We conducted our experiments on the Van de Graaff accelerator located in the FSU physics department. A few months after experimentation began, we found what appeared to be indications of superheavy elements in the tiny radiocenters of certain giant halos.

Based on the results of our experiments, we prepared a joint article for Physical Review Letters, a rapid-publication physics journal. The article announcing our evidence for superheavy elements was published in the July 5, 1976, issue (Gentry et al. 1976b). This report immediately triggered a greatly intensified worldwide search for superheavy elements. The possible discovery of superheavy elements was featured in all major science news magazines and made the headlines of several newspapers.

[p. 75]

Unfortunately, later experiments did not confirm our original interpretation of the evidence. I participated in two elaborate follow-up experiments with colleagues from ORNL, but neither provided any data indicative of superheavy elements. The results of these experiments were subsequently published in two separate reports in Physical Review Letters (Sparks et al. 1977 and 1978).

Even though the evidence for superheavy elements was not confirmed in subsequent experiments, our 1976 report sparked enough interest in the topic so that an International Conference on Superheavy Elements was held in Lubbock, Texas, in March 1978. At that Conference my colleagues from FSU and UC-Davis continued to maintain that the giant-halo centers contained superheavy elements. A write-up of that Conference appeared in the April 15, 1978, issue of Science News. The following excerpt from that article illustrates the difference between their views and mine at the time of the Conference:

At the Lubbock symposium, Gentry made clear that while in 1976 he believed the evidence warranted the deduction that the inclusions contained element 126, now he does not. "At present, I do not have evidence for superheavy elements in giant halo inclusions . . . . As the evidence stands today, I will accept the view that the synchrotron radiation experiments did not confirm element 126."

Gentry emphasizes that in making that statement he speaks only for himself: "I don't speak for anyone else and they don't speak for me."

The reason he says that, is that some other co-authors of the original report have not given up the claim. Thomas A. Cahill of the University of California at Davis, for instance, vigorously defends the group's original report and strongly disagrees with Gentry's about-face. "The evidence for 126 in giant haloes has not gone away," he told Science News. "It's even stronger" . . . "The lines are there," says Cahill. "Something is there."

Gentry acknowledges that there are some things about the original experiment that even today he does not understand. "But," he told Science News, "I have to face it. In my opinion the Stanford work is of a sensitivity that it should see it [any evidence of superheavy elements]." (Frazier 1978, 238)

Ordinarily, a scientist gains some respect from his colleagues when he admits an error. In this instance, however, some opponents of my work later used the above retraction to cast doubt on my published evidences regarding polonium halos and their implications for creation. Generally they [p. 76] ignored my contribution to this Symposium (Gentry 1978a) in which I summarized the technical details of my research on the giant, dwarf, and polonium halos.

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