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Mystery in the Rocks

A physicist's discovery begins an extraordinary odyssey through
pride and prejudice in the scientific world.

By Dennis Crews

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Robert Gentry was destined to pick up the trail of investigation where it had been dropped years before. His interest in the subject of radioactive dating was keen and his training equipped him for the research. Scientists thrive on mysteries, and here was an unsolved one just waiting for somebody to notice it. Certain halos had been found with different characteristics from the others. What was their significance?

After several months of preliminary study on radiohalos Gentry concluded that modern research technology would reveal much more useful information than had been found in the halos years before. They were a well-documented phenomenon, ideally suited to his academic specialty. He discussed the subject with the physics department chairman at Georgia Tech, suggesting that his preliminary study on radiohalos be expanded into a doctoral thesis.

Suddenly Gentry found himself facing a kind of obstacle for which none of his scientific training had prepared him. The department head felt that present dating techniques were beyond question, and held no hope that anything new might be discovered about radiohalos. Furthermore he was not willing even to let Gentry try. The professor finally admitted his fear that if Gentry's research actually succeeded in finding anything which called conventional dating into question, it might bring embarrassment to the university and its faculty. Gentry would have to find a more conventional thesis topic if he planned to continue his doctoral program at Georgia Tech.

The chairman's decision came as a crushing disappointment. It seemed more like a relic of medieval prejudice than an example of academic integrity. However since a year's grace period had been provided for him to finalize his decision, Gentry decided to spend the time doing his own research on radiohalos. That summer he traveled to Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the late physicist G.H. Henderson had conducted a decade-long study of radiohalos in the 1930s.

Even though most of Henderson's specimens had been lost over the years, the physics department at Dalhousie was successful in finding a few. In addition, the geology department lent Gentry many fresh specimens of mica from their museum collection for longer-term study. He returned to Atlanta and began to examine the samples.

By the end of the grace year he was more certain than ever that radiohalos held crucial information and must continue to be researched. Unfortunately, the physics department chairman at Georgia Tech was unyielding. Radiohalos would not be considered an acceptable subject for a doctoral thesis. The American dream dwindled on the horizon as Gentry contemplated his alternatives. Would he surrender to pressure from the academic establishment, or pursue his own course? Offsetting his disappointment with the conviction that his research would someday vindicate him, Gentry laid his doctoral program aside and withdrew from the university.

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For readers interested in a more comprehensive treatment of this story, Robert Gentry's book, Creation's Tiny Mystery, is available for $18 (U.S.) + S/H.

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The above page was found at on April 19, 2014.

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Earth Science Associates