In May of 2007, we began a replication attempt of a phenomenon reported by Richard Oriani – the creation of tracks in CR-39, a nuclear track detector, placed within an electrolysis experiment. Oriani further claims these tracks to be direct evidence of nuclear reactions occurring in the cell. Our goals were to replicate the creation of tracks and to determine their origin.
We constructed a cell very similar to the one Oriani employs and purchased materials from the same manufacturer when possible. It was reported to us by Oriani that the best way to replicate his experiment would be to use a ‘seed’ from his own experiments. Therefore, he sent us a number of ‘used’ o-rings to employ in our work.
- The cell is a 15mm o-ring joint set (with used o-rings from Richard)
- 0.22 grams of Li2SO4 in 10 ml of distilled H2O (no H2O was added during the experiment)
- 0.25mm dia Platinum wire anode – about 10 cm in the electrolyte, 15mm above the cathode
- 0.3mm dia Ni wire cathode – about 1 cm exposed ‘foot’ (rests flat on bottom of cell)
- 6 micron Mylar separates 3cm square CR-39 from electrolyte
Many of the experiments produced track densities far above background. Following successful replication, we began experimentation aimed at improving our understanding of the phenomenon we were observing.
Upon examining the CR-39, it was apparent that the tracks were not evenly distributed. There were obvious areas of higher densities and we began mapping the tracks on the chip in order to study their distribution. Each chip was examined under a microscope with a grid pattern beneath it. The tracks in each square were tallied and the result was mapped as a three dimensional histogram.
The histograms clearly show that the tracks are concentrated in a ring that coincides with the position of the o-ring. We labeled this result ‘o-ring positive’ to differentiate between other potential forms of positive results.
Fig 1a: Counting grid on microscope slides
Fig 1b: View of grid through the microscope at 40x
Fig 2a: Histogram of track densities for experiment 3
Fig 2b: Position of o-ring during electrolysis
We noted that the experiments that produced null results were conducted with the same set of o-rings. Positive results were always obtained when using one of the other two sets of o-rings. The results appeared to be entirely dependent on the o-rings employed.
Oriani also reported that the o-rings remained active or ‘hot’ after the experiment. The residual activity of these o-rings could be seen by simply placing the o-ring on a chip of CR-39 (as in Fig 2b) for several days. We performed this test and confirmed that the o-rings were still active after removal from the electrolysis cell.
The recognition of the vital importance of the o-rings and the fact that they remained active after electrolysis led us to consider the possibility that the o-rings were contaminated with radioactive material. This hypothesis fits with many facts of the experiment.
Hypothesis: The o-rings are contaminated with an alpha emitting radioactive material.
The o-rings appear to be the only source of nuclear activity.
- The tracks on the CR-39 are concentrated under the o-ring.
- Other materials from a successful experiment’s cell (the glass, cathode, mylar, etc) do not produce tracks on CR-39.
The activity level of the o-ring appears to be unaffected by electrolysis (does not increase/decrease when used in an experiment).
- The o-rings emit the same level of radiation whether or not they are in an electrolysis experiment.
- We conducted a series of tests with the same o-rings first being used in an electrolysis experiment for two days, then placed on a chip of CR-39 for two days. This sequence was repeated several times. The activity did not change over the series of tests.
Active o-rings from Oriani’s lab are required to achieve positive results.
- Previous experiments using a different cell arrangement (without o-rings) did not produce positive results.
- Oriani cannot explain the process of making the o-rings active and therefore no other replicator has been able to change virgin o-rings into active o-rings.
- We ran several tests with all virgin materials without success.
- Following Oriani’s advice, we used an active o-ring in conjunction with a virgin o-ring in an electrolysis experiment in order to seed it, but without success.
The contamination hypothesis is well supported by circumstantial evidence. However, some results have not been conclusive or supportive of the hypothesis. We have yet to achieve direct evidence that the positive results seen in this set of experimentation are due to contamination.
One possibility is that the o-rings are contaminated with alpha emitting progeny of radon. Oriani conducts his research in the basement of a building in a radon rich area. This contamination could happen in one of two proposed scenarios.
Fig 3: Decay Scheme of Radon-222 
Radioactive Dust Contamination:
First, the o-ring could be contaminated when it inadvertently came into contact with radioactive dust. Ra-222 is a gas, but its progeny readily stick to surfaces. Pb-210 is a known surface contaminant and a serious concern for researchers investigating phenomenon that require low background radiation . Pb-210 builds up on surfaces and it and its progeny produce beta and alpha emissions.
Oriani reports that his o-rings become radioactive over time when used in various experiments. As he disassembles and reassembles the cell many times, the o-rings are exposed to the radioactive dust on the surfaces of his lab. The o-rings we received from him were coated in vacuum grease which would increase the chances of Pb-210 dust adhering to the surface. None of our o-rings ever became radioactive in our lab. This could be due to the fact that we are in an extremely low radon area.
The activity of the most active o-ring we tested amounts to only 0.156 picocuries. This small amount of contamination is quite feasible to imagine. In a typical room with a Ra-222 content of 4 pC/L, about 0.15 picocuries of Pb-210 is deposited on every 10 cm2 of surface in the course of a month.Depending on how the o-rings are handled, they could easily come in contact with that much bench surface.
However, Oriani has purposely rubbed non-active o-rings on the benches in his lab to see if they pick up radioactive dust. He has performed this test twice and reports that the non-active o-rings remain non-active even after this treatment.
Radon Absorption Contamination:
Second, it has been mentioned by a colleague that fluoroelastomers such as Viton readily dissolve inert gases. The o-ring would slowly absorb radon from the air and the progeny would be trapped within the material.
We are currently testing this hypothesis. We placed four new o-rings in a sealed box with uranium ore, which produces radon. O-rings removed after four weeks of exposure to this high radon environment (>1000 pCi/liter) showed no signs of contamination. Two o-rings remain in the box and will be removed and tested at a later date.
Determining the Radioisotope
Whether nuclear reactions or simple contamination are causing the tracks, we wanted more quantitative data on the nuclear particles being produced by the o-ring. The CR-39 merely tells us how many events have occurred. We have been working on three different areas to help us identify the radioisotope responsible for the tracks.
We studied the number of tracks of a particular o-ring over the course of 4 weeks. The activity changed very little over this time period. It should be noted that counting the thousands of tracks by hand is not a very accurate method. Decisions must be made to determine whether or not a particular mark is truly a track. This is an ambiguous process and counts of the same chip can vary as much as 10%.
Over the four week test, we did not see a statistically significant decrease in the activity of the o-rings. This is consist with a long lived radioisotope. We plan to conduct a more extensive study.
We have made several attempts to ascertain the identity of the radioisotope through alpha spectroscopy. The first spectra were taken with the sample in air. These spectra produced large smears over a wide range of energies. A vacuum chamber was constructed to prevent the attenuation of the alpha particles before reaching the detector. This new setup provided narrow peaks – the Po-210 sample (5.3 MeV) peak has a FWHM of about 88 keV.
Fig 4. Alpha Spectrum of o-ring “C1”
A spectrum collected from “C1” – the hottest o-ring from Oriani in the original shipment – is pictured above. Also graphed is the spectra of a lantern mantle coated in thorium and that of a Po-210 standard. The o-ring counts are on the secondary y-axis and the graph has been smoothed.
We are still collecting spectra from hot o-rings. Despite improvements in the detector setup, we have not been able to collect a spectrum with clear peaks. The level of activity of the o-rings is very small and we must count them for a week to obtain even 10 counts in a single channel (see Fig 4). We have only recently received another hot o-ring from Oriani which appears to be an order of magnitude more active than previous o-rings. Hopefully this o-ring will provide additional information.
Additionally, we have had the o-rings counted at the University of Texas Pickle Research Center in their ultra low-level germanium detector which is shielded with one ton of lead. We have not had an o-ring with enough activity to be readily detectable until recently. However, we counted C1 in this detector as well. There were no differences between the background and the sample. We plan to count the new, hotter o-ring as well.
Fig 5. Gamma Spectrum of o-ring “C1”
We observed two clusters throughout this experiment. Clusters are a grouping of tracks with a common point of origin located in an area otherwise devoid of tracks. Our first cluster occurred during an experiment that was otherwise deemed unsuccessful as it did not produce an o-ring positive result. The second cluster was on the side of a chip that was also not o-ring positive (the opposite side was). Both clusters were on the back of the chip, outside the area subtended by the o-ring. The appearance of these clusters in our work appears to be consist with the hypothesis that the tracks are due to radon progeny. A large piece of radioactive dust could have settled on the chip and produced such a pattern.
|Fig 6: Clusters|
We did not initially consider this an important event but further investigation by Ludwik Kowlaski has shown that these may also play a role in determining the phenomenon behind these results. Kowalski has also been attempting to replicate Oriani’s work by using seeded o-rings. To date, Kowlaski has not seen a general increase in track density, but he has produced several clusters like the one pictured above in his experiments but has not seen such a formation in any control runs. See http://pages.csam.montclair.edu/~kowalski/cf/ units 326, 327 and 329 for more details.
While we do not yet have direct evidence that the tracks seen in these experiments are due to contamination, it is still a viable hypothesis. Mundane causes must be ruled out before declaring that the results are a departure from currently understood science. There is not enough evidence to suggest that there are nuclear reactions occurring in the cell at this time. However, we are continuing to investigate this phenomenon and hope to provide more convincing evidence for either hypothesis in the future.