Mystery in the Rocks
A physicist's discovery begins an extraordinary odyssey
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
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
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 http://www.halos.com/book/mystery-in-the-rocks-02.htm on March 31, 2015.
Earth Science Associates