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Inorganic Chemistry

A Room Temperature Superconductor? Well. . .

Superconductivity is one of those places where chemistry and physics cross paths. That’s especially true as people search for higher-temperature materials, because that seems to involve more and more complex synthesis and characterization of the results. Very tiny changes in conditions or starting materials can make for huge differences in the behavior of the final products, and figuring out the atomic-level structures (not just unit cells, but defects, grain/domain sizes, interface effects, and so on) is a major analytical challenge.

A few weeks ago, a preprint showed up claiming room-temperature superconductivity in a mixture of gold and silver nanoparticles. That’s one out of deep left field, for sure, but so were the (by now well established) copper-oxide materials. This latest result really doesn’t seem likely at all, but you can’t quite rule anything out in this area. And the potential impacts of a room-temp superconductor are so gigantic (scientifically, economically, etc.) that even low-probability claims deserve a hearing.

 

That hearing they have gotten, and so far it doesn’t look good. Here’s Brian Skinner, a post-doc at MIT (and author of this physics blog) with a look at the original data. What he finds is disturbing: in a plot of magnetic susceptibility versus temperature, two completely separate runs of data (taken at different magnetic field strengths) appear to have exactly the same noise pattern. That is, whenever one of them zigs a bit up or down, so does the other. Every time. Perfectly in synch. It looks, in fact, as if someone copy-pasted one of the lines, changed the color of the points, and offset the new line a bit. Actually, it’s even worse than that: it looks like someone did that for just part of the figure – at the higher temperatures, the noise in the two runs are different.

This isn’t possible. Noise is noise, and it’s different every time you take a series of measurements. As Skinner delicately puts it, this behavior “has no obvious theoretical explanation”, but by gosh it has a very obvious practical one that is immediately obvious to even a casual observer. That is, someone copy-pasted one of the lines, changed the color of the points, and offset the new line a bit. If there were doubts about the validity of this report before this, they shrink into nothing compared to the doubts that people have now. Think about it: if you were about to report a world-changing result like a room-temperature superconductor, wouldn’t you want to make sure that everything about the paper was solid? Go over it a time or two? Make sure that a key figure didn’t include an obvious copy/paste that would call into question the veracity of the whole damn thing? The name “Jan Hendrik Schön” comes to mind, and that’s not something anyone wants to hear.

Here’s a Twitter thread from Skinner with some updates since his own note came out. The authors, he says, are sticking by their results, so it’s going to be something to watch. For my part, I certainly hope that an RT superconductor gets discovered. But this isn’t looking good.

Update: OK, this story is getting weirder, and a lot further from what should be happening if this were a real discovery. . .

74 comments on “A Room Temperature Superconductor? Well. . .”

  1. Anon says:

    There’s fraud, and there’s dumbass lazy fraud. Thankfully, the same personal traits that lead to fraud, usually lead to the dumbass lazy variety.

    1. Henry Clay says:

      Well aren’t we holier than thou? May those without sin cast the first anonymous comment. As if nobody here ever dragged the integration just a little extra to make sure the d.r. is JACS worthy, or left out that one pesky fluorimiter reading that dropped the r2 value below 0.99. Sheesh I didn’t work the leave early shift to publish in JOC

      1. Anon says:

        If they did, they shouldn’t have. If anybody is reading this, don’t do it. Be courageous and upstanding, not sleazy and insecure. It’s not always easy, but it’s always the right thing to do.

        Also, please do not contribute to making bad behavior socially acceptable, online or otherwise.

      2. I am holier than thou says:

        There’s a difference between showing your legit data in its best light and flat-out fabricating a set of data.

        1. The poster doth protest too much says:

          Is there? I’m not sure manipulating ‘above average’ data to make it ‘excellent’ is really as noble as you claim.

    2. loupgarous says:

      I like Derek’s term “deliriously incompetent fraud” (from “Crap, Courtesy of a Major Scientific Publisher” for cut n’ paste identical copies of different runs of stochastic data better. It sings.

  2. Sal says:

    Makes one worry how much fraudulent data gets passed on by people with the competence to not copy and paste a dataset from the same paper for their key result.

  3. Marc Piquette says:

    Well if you’re going to fake results (and MAYBE they didn’t…), you probably want to do it on something less important – something that isn’t going to garner high levels of scrutiny. Of course even if they had gotten away with it, what then? They won’t be able to (re)produce it for any sort of application. We’d probably end up with other groups wasting precious time and money trying to replicate the work. It’s just a mess.

    Still, I’m hopeful for the eventual prospect of a room temperature superconductor. Here’s hoping there’s something of merit in this study?

      1. Marc Piquette says:

        Looks interesting – thanks!

        1. loupgarous says:

          Just a cautionary note: The last time someone connected lots of organic molecules layered on thin metal substrates with exceptional properties, up to and including identical noise in test runs at different temperatures, it was the Schön scandal at Bell Labs.

          While I didn’t see the identical noise in different test runs in Kawashima-san‘s paper and sincerely hope he’s onto something, I hope his peer reviewers take the hint to re-read Schön’s library of bogus and suspect experimental reports, and examine this paper for troubling parallels. If it survives that, it’s great news.

  4. b says:

    I’m not that familiar with nanoparticle synthesis, but it seems their description of material preparation is… lacking. Basically “we prepared silver nanoparticles using standard techniques, then incorporated them into into a gold matrix”. One would think that with such claims, more care would be put into the description of preparation (as we gripe about in organic synthesis all the time). There’s not much of an experimental at all.

    1. tt says:

      Yep. Clear warning sign in that they give absolutely zero information on synthesis. Impossible to actually replicate this work to confirm/disprove the author’s claims. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This reminds me of the cold fusion fiasco, except that this is much more obvious and sloppy.

      1. dave w says:

        I’m not sure that cold fusion is actually a complete fraud. There’s clearly a lot of wishful thinking in some of the reported results, but I suspect that: a) there is an effect; and: b) that it’s a weak signal, and its observation has involved a certain amount of luck, since the conditions for reproducing it are not actually well understood.

    2. VR says:

      Even though their preparation methods may have been published earlier (it’s “standard”), the whole caracterization is lacking.
      They say the material is “structured”, but how ? Are the silver nanoparticles randomly dispersed in gold ? Is there an organization, some kind of cristalline structure as in an opal ? What about the relative amounts of materials ? Is the effect homogenuous or is there a preferred direction. So many questions…
      Two TEM pictures are really not enough, especially since what is important is understanding th mechanism of the supraconduction.

  5. M Welinder says:

    All that’s needed for room temperature superconductivity is a sufficiently flexible interpretation of “room temperature”.

  6. Chad Irby says:

    The non-fraud explanation could be “the grad student who made this chart screwed up and put in the wrong data for one of those runs.”

    That doesn’t speak too well for their quality control, but I’ve seen much, much worse in publicly-prepared data slides in well-received presentations over the years.

  7. Semichemist says:

    Hey Derek, both of your Brian Skinner hyperlinks go to the same place – the physics blog homepage

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Arg, fixed. Thanks!

  8. Hap says:

    If you fake something like this, you can’t be really smart, because lots of someones are going to be checking this quickly, and if it doesn’t work then it ought to be clear shortly thereafter, and if it works then that ought to be clear as well. In addition, the benefits one hopes to gain from the work are long-term reputation and money and grants, and a lot of that seems to unravel if it’s based on deception. The people who run scams aren’t trying to get a lifetime sinecure with their marks, after all.

  9. SP123 says:

    I’ve seen this type of mistake in a draft of a paper where it was not fraud but honest error. The way it happens is in Excel (yes, that’s the real problem right there) you set up a worksheet with a template to aggregate/normalize/plot the values. Then you copy the worksheet for the next sample and keep the same normalization formulae, and when you paste you mistakenly don’t cover the full range (usually because part of it is off the screen)- in the case I saw they replaced the control columns but forgot to replace the sample columns. The result was a reasonable looking curve on its own, but if you compared to another sample it was a perfect replicate of the curve shape, just shifted to reflect the different control data being used for normalization.
    Summary- yes it’s sloppy and requires a retraction, but don’t assume it’s outright fraud until you have more details or see the underlying data processing.

    1. Hap says:

      This would be the kind of thing you’d want to be pretty careful about, though, considering the importance of the finding and the size of the likely audience. Sloppiness at this level is bigger than normal sloppiness (though less than fraud would be).

      1. SP123 says:

        Oh, totally agree- the paper I was looking at was for J. Med. Chem. or the like about some project we had killed, if you’re going to publish groundbreaking claims you check every piece of data 10+ times going back to raw files. And it could be fraud, I’m just saying I can see how it could happen without the need to immediately toss out the name Schön. I mean, if you’re comparing activity plots of two compounds in a figure and your EC50s were all reproducible, do you examine the 5-10 inactive points at the bottom of the curves all with <1% activity to see if there's some mistake that those points were accidentally replicates?

        1. Isidore says:

          So far the authors of the paper have not acknowledged any errors, Excel of otherwise, and are sticking by their data and the plots, as per Brian Skinner’s Tweeter feed. Unfortunately (again as per the Tweeter feed) they have not agreed to share the numerical data either.

          1. SP123 says:

            Yeah that’s not a good sign and tips my priors more towards the fraud side. There’s clearly something amiss with the data and if they insist otherwise they’re hiding something.

    2. Curt F. says:

      As you allude to, this is a great reason not to use Excel and to use data analysis approaches where the data is cleanly separated from the analysis (e.g. Python or R scripts, maybe Graphpad or something like that too — I don’t use the latter so I’m not sure). It’s best if the raw data is in one file, your analysis routine in another, and the analyzed data winds up in a third. It’s far harder to make this kind of mistake, and as a bonus, what you actually did to the data will be more transparent to other observers too.

  10. Anon says:

    So we have one publication that reports a “proven” recipe for room temp semi-conductor, I wonder how that would affect what an AI algorithm would predict about other possible solutions.

  11. awkward_pickle says:

    Brian Skinner’s thread on twitter continues to evolve! Delightful lunch reading.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Bednorz and Mueller disclosed the first YBaCu High Tc superconducting ceramic materials in 1986 and then won the Nobel Prize in 1987. In subsequent stories, it was told that IBM tried to stop their work over and over again. They managed to keep the effort alive by incorporating it into other funded projects by representing it differently. (I forget the details, so I am making up examples: they knew that their goal was high Tc superconductivity but they had to claim that they were working on YBaCu for use in photocopier drums or as ceramic air filters or something else unrelated.) Bednorz and Mueller, Nobel Prize; IBM Management, Boob Prize.

    As submitted manuscripts from IBM, Chu (Houston), and elsewhere started to circulate (1986+), it was noted that many recipes didn’t seem to work. It came out that authors were deliberately submitting incorrect recipes because they had a sneaking suspicion that some reviewers would send their students into their own labs and try to copy the submitted work with the EVER SO POSSIBLE purpose of scooping the submitters or getting a leg up on the next obvious series of experiments for their own patent and career purposes. As far as I know, final recipes were corrected in final submissions or even as late as galley proofs before final publication.

    (A mentor, good friend, and great scientist helped to expose the Schoen fiasco. The kind of training he provided did not prepare me for what I encountered in chemistry in academia, biotech and Big Pharma.)

    1. Rhenium says:

      This is an awesome set on anecdotes. The stuff you’d never hear about in the “literature”.

      Thank you

      1. Anonymous says:

        A couple more: On another blog about this supercon topic, someone mentioned another series of fraudulent articles by physicist Adrian Maxim, ~2000-2008. Maxim made up data AND he made up fictitious co-authors. On at least one paper in a journal that publishes author bios WITH PHOTOS, he submitted photos of those fictitious co-authors. I will try to attach the link to my name.

        Depending on which biography you read (or choose to believe), Kamerlingh Onnes was not much of a scientist. He knew how to raise a huge amount of money for his world leading cryogenics labs at Leiden. He had an extraordinarily skilled staff who could design and build the machines to achieve high vac and low temp (which required a lot of money to do). It was staff scientists who designed and executed measurements of superconductivity in mercury at 4.2 K on their own (and that Onnes wasn’t even there at the time). Later, when told about the result, Onnes’ reaction was more of “Very good. Go find some more stuff to measure.” than “What a discovery!” He was a measurer. A sign above his door read, “Door meten tot weten.” which translates to “Science is measurement” or sometimes “Knowledge through measurement” (weten ~ science; kennis ~ knowledge). I hope that someone else can provide either balance to or corroboration of these anecdotes.

        1. Flying Dutchman says:

          Kamerlingh Onnes, as the story goes, was indeed an old school empiricist. Rather than proposing a hypothesis and attempting experimental verification, his style was “let’s do such and such and see what happens”.
          His motto, “door meten tot weten” is inscribed on the plinth of his bust that stands in front of the old Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory, which presently houses the Leiden Law School – o tempora, o mores 😉

        2. Isidore says:

          William Thomson, First Baron Kelvin, said it before:
          “I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind”

        3. Wavefunction says:

          Something similar can be said of Ernest Lawrence. He was a good albeit not great scientist but a great publicist; tremendously hard working and perspicacious when it came to securing financial support from rich philanthropists. Just like Onnes did, Lawrence had very talented physicists like Alvarez and Wilson working for him, along with theorists like Oppenheimer and Serber who interpreted his results.

          1. loupgarous says:

            Unfortunately, Lawrence forgot all about Oppenheimer’s invaluable help during Oppenheimer’s AEC security classification hearings, when Lawrence shivved him after Teller threw him under the bus.

  13. Uncle Al says:

    A conservative (yeah, well) ambient supercon would be a William Little exciton coax cable, polyacetylene core with chromophore cladding. Add monomer side chains for solubility.

    DOI:10.1126/science.aar8104, DOI:10.1103/PhysRev.134.A1416, DOI:10.1103/PhysRevB.13.4766

    http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/pave1.png
    … Stereogram. H-atoms and pi-bonds omitted for clarity.

    The [=(Ar)C-C(Ar)=]n boojum might arrive as a polyacetylene living polymer synthesized from a benzil analog monomer via (Tebbe) bis-methyleneation then ADMET (Grubbs) → decorated polyacetylene + H2C=CH2↑ Electron or hole dope as required. Block copolymer (contrasted redox potenials) as a supercon diode. Terminate with sulfur for spontaneous gold connection.

    It doesn’t need to believable, only testable. Near everything that “should be” already is. Metal chain supercons were diddled by Coleman to no hinted success.

  14. Shalon Wood says:

    You know, this raises a question for me.

    You’re an up-and-coming brilliant scientist. You’ve found a high-temperature superconductor. You’re preparing your paper… and two of your graphs, taken at different field strengths, are _identical_.

    No one is going to accept this paper; it’s obviously fraudulent.

    You go back and repeat the measurements, repeatedly, with no change, except that you manage to actually _increase_ the temperature at which the material is superconducting, because of small changes in preparation, which fortunately you happened to note as you made them.

    What do you do? If you publish the actual data, you’ll be decried as a fraud — not only are the graphs identical, but when you repeated your impossible measurments, you made them _better_. If you don’t publish, the world misses out on the superconductor.

    To the best of my knowledge, this has never happened yet, but someday its moral equivalent will. It’d be nice for the poor scientist who ends up in that position to have some sort of consensus opinion to point to when defending their choice.

    1. Isidore says:

      I don’t understand this argument. If you are convinced, after repeating the experiment and double and triple checking your data and you interpretation that it is correct then you publish. You will be derided as a fraud, or at least as a sloppy and careless experimentalist, if nobody else can reproduce your “impossible measurements”. If they can you will be lauded and invited to give plenary lectures at important meetings. Isn’t this how science is supposed to work?

    2. SP123 says:

      That’s not how measurement noise works. The phenomenon you’re describing is of such vanishingly small probability that it’s more likely the scientist will die of asphyxiation because all the molecules of oxygen decided to randomly float to one corner of the room while (s)he was preparing the manuscript. Problem solved.

    3. Anonymous says:

      Shalon: “To the best of my knowledge, this has never happened yet.” And I doubt that it would because it sounds ridiculous. If someone has faith in their work and have double and triple checked it they will often call in colleagues from the department for a sanity check. If all goes well, they will sometimes ask an outside expert to pay a visit. If things still check out, submit. If the reviewers raise issues, address them in reply. If it is something REALLY big, invite them to visit your lab or to send them materials.

      There have been some controversial papers that were delayed for long periods in order to fact check. I think that Benveniste’s “memory water” submission was held up by Nature for a year or so while other labs checked out the claims. While working for NASA, Felisa Wolfe-Simon claimed to have discovered a strain of bacteria (GFAJ-1 wikipedia) that thrived on arsenic and used arsenate instead of phosphate in its DNA backbone. I think that was slowed down — but published — while referees went back and forth for quite a while. (Eventually, the claim was totally debunked and shown to be the result of sloppy and irresponsible research. Referees suggested that particular “killer” experiments be done. The referees were ignored and those experiments were not done.)

      Other examples: The N-Ray investigation took place post-publication, but it’s still a good story. Read about it at wikipedia (link in my name). Wood visited Blondlot’s lab to observe the experiment and — pfffft — game over.

      Pre-pub, I had a friend who was asked to visit a physics lab to help with a “sanity check” on an amazing result. After the usual amenities they went to the lab to look things over. My friend, quite modest about explaining his role, just asked the usual questions that he thought others would have asked (if not personally immersed in the whole thing for many months). “Are you using a Type A or a Type B framistan?” The guy freezes up; asks “please wait here” and rushes from the lab. He returns around 30 min later (it seems he was checking his old data against Type A and Type B) and he now realizes that he was measuring output from a part in the system and not a signal from the sample. END OF EXPERIMENT; NOT A GREAT DISCOVERY. He thanked my friend for saving him from public humiliation.

      I don’t have a real example from chemistry, but you can imagine some. An uninvolved outside observer might ask, “Did you distill your ether? Even a trace of BHT will probably affect your catalyst.”

      To repeat, I think what you propose will never happen.

      On the other hand, some people are extremely careful about what they publish and hold back. Following his death, it was found that Oosterhoff had many unpublished insights into the Conservation of Orbital Symmetry. He was just too careful about publishing a result before he was certain of it. Some think that had he published those papers that the field might have progressed faster and that he might have deserved a part of that Nobel Prize (except he died in 1974; Nobel for Orbital Symmetry was 1981.)

      Other chemists, physicists, mathematicians and others have held back papers (only discovered post mortem) but we only know of THOSE because they were famous or there was someone to go over their papers and not toss them in the dumpster.

      Fermat failed to publish the details of his proof of his theorem in 1637. Wiles published his proof of it in 1994.

      1. AlphaGamma says:

        AFAIK we still don’t know what Fermat’s proof was (it’s fairly unlikely that it was identical to Wiles’s, as the latter relies on methods that were not known in Fermat’s time). Or even if it was correct!

        1. anon says:

          That Fermat indeed had a correct proof of the theorem is about as likely as medieval alchemists actually having found the secret of transmutation.

          1. Li says:

            It was never clear to me whether the note in the margins was intended to be a joke…

      2. Isidore says:

        I recall a (peptide) chemistry example one of my graduate professors mentioned, but it was decades ago so I may not have it correctly; peptide chemists can correct or confirm. It had to do with using anhydrous Tfa to remove some protecting group, that had been reported to work very well in some Russian-language journal (this was the 1980s). American peptide chemists could not reproduce the results. It turned out that a little water was necessary for the deprotection to work and the anhydrous Tfa available in the US was truly anhydrous, but that available in Soviet Russia was not.

        1. milkshake says:

          probably ester sidechain on Asp or Glu. I remember ethyl ester comes off if you let it sit long enough in TFA that has some moisture – I remember a colleague in our lab wanted to keep the sidechain protected as Et ester while deprotecting benzyl and t-Bu groups elsewhere, he quickly found out about this problem

        2. AlphaGamma says:

          See also the “transition-metal-free” Suzuki coupling (actually catalysed by a 50 ppb palladium impurity in the sodium bicarbonate they used).

          Or the reaction that allegedly worked at room temperature- which turned out to need to be heated to 30C as the room in question was in Bangalore and not air conditioned.

    4. M Welinder says:

      This is a materials field. You can simply offer samples of your materials to the first five teams who wish to test. Surely a few labs can spare a graduate student to test such a claim.

      The synthesis, while interesting, is unimportant to the Big Question: is the material superconducting at high temperatures?

      1. b says:

        According to the Skinner Twitter thread, the authors are not making their samples available.

    5. Scott says:

      “You know, this raises a question for me.

      You’re an up-and-coming brilliant scientist. You’ve found a high-temperature superconductor. You’re preparing your paper… and two of your graphs, taken at different field strengths, are _identical_.”
      Your equipment is broken. Call the supplier, have them send a tech out, if you don’t know how to fix it yourself. Actually, you should probably have them send a tech out anyway, since if you managed to break it you obviously don’t know how to set it up.

      I’m an HR major, and I know this.

      But then, I’m also an enlisted (submarine) sailor, and your log data is *never* identical. And that’s for time lags between recordings measured in fractions of an hour, not fractions of a second. It’s even worse as the time between recordings decreases. Logs repeated set after set are only ever obtained by not actually taking the recordings. And that’s been determined by the sum of knowledge throughout naval history.

    6. loupgarous says:

      In a case like that, you may have discovered an entirely new physical effect. However, the law of parsimony requires you to check and then have someone else check your experimental setup, as it’s vastly more probable something’s wrong there.
      Saying the gods smiled on you, no one can find an issue, and you’ve made test runs with other stuff, so you get non-identical noise as usual, hmmm.
      You didn’t mention the instrument in question, and probably wouldn’t need to if i worked in high-temp superconductors. But then you and some physics guys need to mull the issue – some sort of polarization that affects your sensor in a way that polarizes the normal sources of noise (some weird off-shoot of Meissner effect, say).
      At this point, you’ve gone beyond high-temperature research into a potentially un-observed effect in physics. If you’re scrupulous in how you do things, you may be sharing a Nobel down the road. If you finagle your results, you lose. It just varies how badly.

  15. annonymous says:

    In the supplementary info of the original arXiv version, in Fig. S8(a) and (c), the few data points of resistance after the transition temperature also show striking similarity in trend, although they are from different samples and the values are different. The similarity is absent in another set of measurement, Fig. S8(b). It is well known that behavior near critical point is universal, the presence of similarity in two sets of different measurements and absence in another set is surprising, needs special attention and could have further implications.

  16. milkshake says:

    one thing that is worth considering – the shittiest research integrity standards are to be found in the nanoparticle subfield. Cherry-picking datapoints and EM images as representative is endemic in the nanoparticle literature. This is why especially in the therapeutic drug-loaded nanoparticle subfield there has been little progress. Research groups operate on wishful thinking, postdoc and grad students churn out papers without attention being paid to basic control experiments. Faulty papers are not retracted.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Amen!

  17. An Old Chemist says:

    R. B. Woodward, the legendary organic chemist of all times, was working on organic conducting materials, just before his death. The C&E News talked about it, when in 2011, more than 30 years after his death, his notes on this subject were unearthed, by Woodward’s son. The handwritten notes were neatly packed in a cardboard box. These notes of Woodward were published in Tetrahedron in 2011:

    https://cen.acs.org/articles/89/i22/Woodwards-Unfinished-Work.html

  18. The newly “discovered” Au-Ag nano particle composite superconductor may or may not be a true story, however the kind of scientific reaction the same has attracted is welcome. If, the discovery proves right will value the silence of the Inventors, if NOT than not only them but will be a lesson to the larger scientific community. The Science Mag. Blog and the plenty of reactions to the same are very interesting, worth a read again and again for any one.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Awana: “the kind of scientific reaction the same has attracted is welcome. If, the discovery proves right will value the silence of the Inventors, if NOT than not only them but will be a lesson to the larger scientific community.” A LESSON? The original authors seem to have missed out on many lessons, succinctly stated and restated as “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” – Carl Sagan, 1979.

      I think that this pub is not going to hold up and it is going to WASTE huge amounts of time and money and other resources as it is investigated. (Here I am, wasting my time posting about this happening all too often!) That consumes resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.

      Cold Fusion diverted dozens, even hundreds or more, of researchers away from better projects. From Skinner’s twitter, Andrew Rhyne posted about his effort to reproduce an important analytical chemistry result; it was a part time effort spanning four years and multiple labs. (I will add the link to my name.)

      A fraudulent lysergic acid synthesis (Org. Lett., 2004, 6 (1), pp 3–5,
      DOI: 10.1021/ol0354369, still not retracted) led to the waste of considerable time and effort by another group to make use of it before exposing it (Org. Lett., 2012, 14 (1), pp 296–298. DOI: 10.1021/ol203048q ).

      The original authors (Thapa and Pandey) should have checked their results VERY carefully and possibly called in others for verification before publication.

      1. tt says:

        I wonder how many hundreds of millions of dollars were wasted (as well as research time) investigating “Dr.” Wakefield’s fraud. False claims do cause damage, and the crime is even more egregious when willfully carried out, as opposed to an honest mistake.

        1. tt says:

          Oops…forgot to mention all of the kids who then died because of Wakefield’s fraud. This isn’t nearly the same level as that, but extraordinary false claims can have dire consequences across many dimensions.

  19. Conundrum says:

    Interesting notes here. Coincidentally I too might have found something (see earlier notes about graphite and alkanes) but at the time it looked like just a resistance *drop* not all the way to zero. I really need to test it again under better conditions because only some graphite samples showed the effect where others did not.

  20. harsh jain says:

    The comparison with Schohn is almost alleging that the data is Fabricated and ruling out the possibility that it could be a mistake. It’s also threatening to places developing in the field of science by big giants at science magazine.
    Not expected of scientists to jump to conclusions so irresponsibly.
    It’s a world changing result, but it’s a two member team in a country where science is grossly under-funded. It could be a mistake in data analysis.

    1. milkshake says:

      You are quite right, it could be the usual course of sloppy science and wishful thinking with extra dollop of chutzpah that is so commonly served in certain parts of your subcontinent…

      1. An Old Chemist says:

        milkshake, ” with extra dollop of chutzpah that is so commonly served in certain parts of your subcontinent…”. This statement is nothing with chutzpah from people of your part of our planet earth, which I have encountered so often. In countries where science is not well-funded and hence is not part of the culture such results get published. Philip Eaton told us in his class that the first ever synthesis of cubane was published in a Russian journal, but their reported melting point was tens of degrees off!!!

        1. milkshake says:

          I would disagree, up until 70s, CCCC (“Collections of Czechoslovak Chemical Comminications”) had impact factor higher than Helvetica, and definitely higher than Liebigs Annalen under Eastern Germany. The procedures were rock solid – I know this because I never had problem reproducing them. With respect to Russian journals, it is a mixed bag. The biggest issue there was a lack of high-field NMRs. This definitely hindered the natural product chemistry and total synthesis in Soviet Union.

          With respect to cubane, the melting points can be skewed easily because cubanes tend to be fairly high-melting solids that sublimate readily. So you need to do melting point the old fashioned way, and use a sealed capillary – if you use Kofler heated block microscopy apparatus that used to be popular in the Eastern Europe, with open slide, while your material sublimates, it is likely to be off by something like 20 degrees.

  21. DSTrasi says:

    The term ‘ resistance’ used for measurement should have been either surface resistivity or volume resistivity. If volume resistivity then the figure claimed in the range of 10^-4 is not low, since volume resistivity of copper at room temperature is 1.7 * 10^-6 Ohm cm

  22. MatthewTKK says:

    And now a piece in Scientific American by Shannon Hall (linked in my profile name) appears to have lifted the bulk of its content – paraphrased of course – from your presentation here Derek. Pretty disingenuous. Same narrative, same links presented in the same order, with some additional quotes.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      I actually have no problem with that one – I think that’s how pretty much any article on this subject would come out. . .

      1. MatthewTKK says:

        I guess – but the similarity is uncanny. She did take the time to seek out comments and quotes though so I suppose it’s just fair-game journalism.

      2. Scott says:

        If she found your blog and then wrote that article, would have been nice (for values of “nice” including “required at my university”) if she had cited your blog. Though I realize that it’s pretty good odds that any article on the mess comprehensible by Joe Average is going to sound an awful lot like what you wrote.

  23. N.Adamopoulos says:

    Some years ago, during my PhD research in Type II superconductors, I had a series of results showing extremely hard superconductivity (trapped magnetization at very high external fields). It was a breaking result and send me to the moon. But I repeated the experiment three times and could not reproduce the results. I suppose everybody does the same and checks the reproducibility of the experiment extensively.

  24. jack hadley says:

    Well this is a fun one!

    The things about this that strike me as most interesting/significant I think while pondering “what if it were true” ?

    Keeping in mind that flieschmann & ponds were forced to publish early by a doe spy that had gotten a copy of their experimental setup/data, and that “low energy level nuclear reactions” involving paladium are now relatively well accepted theoretically and experimentally…. (scientists came to this position some time after flieschman and ponds were brutally discredited / maligned and laughed out of professional science )

    The legend around the campfire is that the doe/military/national secrecy state personally made sure that the “pure” paladium samples obtained by acedemic institutions following up on fleishmann ponds claims were doped with a trace impurity found to inhibit the effect. All of the institutions obtained their samples, doped to discredit cold fusion, from one supplier and reported loudly to the media that the experiments didn’t work and that flieschman ponds were frauds. Even though their claims have been replicated today, there is still a dark cloud of “bunk science”, fraud, and the general discrediting of “cold fusion” (renamed “low energy level nuclear reaction” by a scientist looking to study cold fusion and keep their funded job) associated with their names.

    It does seem somewhat likely that this gold/silver alloy is a fraud, but I can’t help but remember fliechmann ponds and think “what if it WAS true”? The fact is that if there were a possibility to make a room temperature superconductor from gold and silver the “ptb” would do everything in their power to make sure that didn’t become commonly known (much like cold fusion from palladium) They would go out of their way to prevent other teams from replicating or even attempting to replicate (due to the danger they may re-discover something even if the original team didn’t publish the required detail to reproduce the experiment) something like this…. Exactly the same as they did to flieshmann ponds, and for the same reasons (I suspect)

    If you haven’t watched Dr. Strangelove (or studied any modern american history with a working brain and a keen interest “between the lines”), you may not fully appreciate the pathological madness of the security state and those that dwell within it. These people are not monsters, but like horses, they are big, dumb and easily frightened. They do inhuman and truly demonic things in the holy name of “national security”, and have been caught with their dicks in the cookie jar so many times it is a fucking miracle anyone ever craves a cookie again. My point is, keeping scientific / strategic / industrial technology and innovation away from society is one of the primary functions of the military-industrial complex by design and they have cheated (and been caught cheating) repeatedly in the past (yes, they have cheated even more than, every year, the systemic theft of spending more than half of our nations wealth on technological/scientific advancement it does not share ,and conspires actively to do worse than that, with the people who’s money and lives has been spent on it). In general it is for “good reasons” (we tell ourselves, and they do the same) that these national security attrocities are routinely carried out in our name. Presumably the people that decided to discredit cold fusion did so because they were afraid of the instability that that could potentially introduce to the current world economy (imagine a world war over palladium, or gold and silver…. now that everyone in the world wants them desperately…..). The revolution will not be televised, and the advancements that will make life better for greater humanity (or could) will not be published for the exact same reason. Obfuscation makes this easy enough alone, and if someone discovers something that “shouldn’t be” based on their flawed but internalized worldview they will mostly be convinced by other scientists that it’s impossible and not publish anyway. The reason we are usng copper oxides now is because we don’t understand superconductivity. We expect our model’s and theoretical understandings to lead us to a solution, but that just isn’t how discovery typically works. We added lead to gas because we tried all the other elements first, and it was the one that best prevented the “knocking”… We should obviously be systematically brute forcing this problem with literally no regard for pre-existing theory, the fact that we are not most supports the view that we (industry, money) do not want to find this answer (like so many other possible technological advancements) and will not commit to do so in a substantial way.

    1. Design Monkey says:

      hadley’s kooky fantasies about cold fusion hiding conspiracy are easily refutable. One of largest world palladium supplier is Russia. At times of cold fusion bubble – Soviet Union. If the evil CIA/NSA/DOE/FBI/ZOG were deliberately tainting Western world academics palladium to stop their research, then they were pretty much handing cold fusion over to soviets on a dainty china plate.

      Didn’t happen. There isn’t anything worth about cold fusion neither in West, nor in Russia.

      1. Scott says:

        Now, if you wanted to make a joke about the Soviets poisoning the Fusion power ideas well with their tokamak claims, *then* you might have something.

        1. Design Monkey says:

          scotty, this was about kooky claims of jack hayden about cold fusion.

          If you have kooky claims about hot fusion, that is a separate matter.

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