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Creation's Tiny Mystery
Appendix: First Letter from National Science Foundation

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NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
WASHINGTON, D.C.   20550

Division of Earth Sciences

            July 11, 1977

 

Dr. Robert V. Gentry

Dear Dr. Gentry:

This is in answer to your letter of June 27, requesting panel review comments on your proposal (EAR7713496). The panel review comments were not included in the declination letter because according to our rules that letter must go out first and then be followed by the comments, if requested. What I have done below is to give you the general nature of the panel discussion, based on my notes at the time, my memory of the discussion, and a short (two sentence) recommendation put on tape by the Chairman of the Geochemistry Panel. We do not tape the whole discussion. Here it is:

Much of the panel discussion centered on the general significance of the occurrence of "radioactive haloes" (both giant and dwarf) and the techniques the principal investigator has used to investigate them. The panel considers the occurrence of haloes of interest, but not of prime importance to geochemistry. One aspect of the past research was to try to detect "superheavy" elements in the mineral nucleii of giant haloes, and a tentative identification of superheavies was shown to be incorrect. The panel felt that the principal investigator and his colleagues handled the release of information concerning superheavy element detection judiciously — i.e., in an objective and straightforward manner with no sensationalism (which could have happened considering the potential scientific importance of the discovery). However, the panel did fault the principal investigator and his colleagues for the techniques used to try to detect superheavy elements. The initial method of an X-ray fluorescence attachment on a scanning electron microscope should have been known not to have the sensitivity. The tentative identification of elements with an atomic number near 26 resulted from using the proton induced X-ray emission method. The signal that resulted in the tentative identification of these elements has now been attributed with some confidence to a Ce (p, n γ) nuclear reaction rather than X-ray fluorescence from elements with an atomic number of around 126. The panel felt that the principal investigator and his colleagues should have checked out all such possible reactions before publication because monazite (the mineral inclusion of the center of the halo) is a mineral known to contain large [p. 253] amounts of cerium and other rare earth elements. The principal investigator proposes a continuation of the search for superheavy elements. The panel felt that there is little possibility of their detection by the proposed techniques.

The most important criticism of the proposal did not, however, have to do with superheavy element detection. The criticism stemmed from the general nature of the proposed research on haloes. The principal investigator has been collecting specimens, examining them petrographically, and reporting their morphology and mineral occurrence for a number of years. The panel considered that these descriptive contributions have been of some value, but felt that more of the same approach had little potential to contribute something new. The main difficulty with the proposal is that (aside from the superheavy element search) there was no hypothesis concerning the origin of the haloes that the principal investigator proposed to test. He has already looked at and described a number of occurrences. The panel felt that it was not justified in recommending funding of a research project that merely proposed to make additional observations of the phenomenon. There seems little possibility that the principal investigator could arrive at a hypothesis by looking at additional haloes since he has not been able to propose one at this time.

In summary, the panel considers giant and dwarf haloes to be of some geochemical interest, but feels that the proposed research was not likely to make significant additional contributions to our knowledge of their origin.

I hope that this outline of the panel discussion will be of use to you in your consideration of any future proposal you may want to submit.

Sincerely yours,

John Hower
Program Director
    for Geochemistry

Copy to:     Mr. Gordon E. Bullock
Business Manager
Columbia Union College

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