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Journal of the Society for Psychical Research - Volume 51   No. 792 - 1982 - pp. 368-73


PARANORMAL DEFORMATION OF NITINOL WIRE: A CONFIRMATORY EXPERIMENT


Randall, John L. & Davis, C.P.

Abstract


This experiment was an attempt to replicate previous research carried out by Dr. Eldon Byrd with the subject Uri Geller. A schoolboy metal bender gently stroked a piece of nitinol wire which had previously been treated to ensure that it had a memory of straightness. Inexplicable deformations were observed, and the memory of the wire was permanently altered. Subsequent attempts to straighten the wire by heat treatment were unsuccessful. The authors conclude that their results provide a very satisfactory confirmation of the effects observed by Dr. Byrd.

INTRODUCTION

The deformation or fracture of pieces of metal, apparently without the application of sufficiently large physical forces, first came to the attention of serious parapsychologists during the early 1970s. Since then, the so-called 'Geller Effect' has been the subject of extensive investigation in many laboratories around the world. {2} ' {5} ' {6} . As with most allegedly paranormal phenomena, the possibility of fraudulent manipulation inevitably looms large in any attempt to assess the nature of these effects, and there have been all the usual claims and counter-claims. Some investigators, such as Professor Hasted, seem to have been more or less convinced of the authenticity of the phenomena from the very beginning {6} ; others, such as the magician James Randi, are certain that they have seen nothing but clever conjuring tricks. {7} A third group consists of those who have changed their views during the course of their enquiries. Among these we may mention the journalist Don Coolican who, having written a highly sceptical newspaper article about Uri Geller, became converted to a belief in the phenomena after carrying out his own investigation in Copenhagen. {1} Moving in the opposite direction, Professor John Taylor changed from believer to sceptic when he found that he could not incorporate the observed phenomena within the framework of present-day physics. {9} It is extremely difficult for the ordinary person to know what to make of this mass of conflicting opinions. Scientists, unless they also happen to be skilled magicians, are just as likely as anyone else to be deceived by the tricks of the conjurer. It is therefore important to develop methods of testing which will give clear and unambiguous results, and which are not susceptible to trickery on the part of the subject. For example, if a metal-bender brings about a change in the internal atomic structure of a metal specimen, and it is known that this particular change cannot be achieved normally without the application of extremely high temperatures, then we have convincing evidence for the paranormality of the event. In October, 1973, Dr. Eldon Byrd of the Naval Surface Weapons Centre in Maryland, U.S.A., performed just such a test with Uri Geller, using the shape-memory alloy nitinol. {3} {8} This is an alloy of nickel and titanium which possesses the remarkable property of 'remembering' a particular shape which Paranormal deformation of Nitinol Wire has been impressed upon it at high temperatures. The metal is bent into a desired shape and, while held in that shape, heated to about 500 degress C. After cooling it may be bent or twisted into any other configuration, but as soon as it is placed in hot water (80 - 100 degrees C) it will return to the shape which it received during the heat treatment. Byrd found that Geller, by gentle stroking, was able to alter the memory of a piece of nitinol wire, a feat which would normally be impossible at room temperature. {4} Furthermore, at the time when the Byrd experiments were being performed, nitinol was not generally available outside the Naval Surface Weapons Laboratory, so that substitution of a previously-prepared piece of the alloy seems unlikely. Later, Byrd submitted the altered wire to expert metallurgists who made an X-ray crystallographic analysis of it. They found a slight increase in the crystal sizes in the sector bent by Geller. Moreover, when they tried to remove the altered memory by heating the piece of wire to redheat in a vacuum, they found they could not do so. Geller had apparently conferred upon the wire a permanent configuration which the metallurgists were unable to remove. Later observations on other pieces of nitinol handled by Geller produced similarly inexplicable results.


BACKGROUND TO THE PRESENT EXPERIMENT

The subject of this report, Mark Briscoe (M.B.), first came to our attention in 1975, when he was eleven years old. M.B. was one of many children who, a year or so earlier, had been captivated by the activities of Uri Geller on British television. Several of these children told us that they were able to perform Geller-like feats with spoons, forks and other metal objects, and in a few cases we were able to observe what seemed to be genuine instances of paranormal metal-bending. M.B. seemed to us to be the most promising of these child subjects. We watched him bend several metal strips and thick wires by stroking them as they lay on the laboratory bench. He appeared to touch the specimens only lightly with his fingertips. The bending usually occurred in an upwards direction, the reverse of what would be expected from finger pressure alone. We also noticed that in some experiments a metal strip, as well as bending upwards, seemed to undergo a slight twisting movement in a direction away from the subject. During 1975 and 1976 we tried a number of experiments with M.B., our main object being to gain evidence of the Geller effect under conditions which would exclude the possibility of subject fraud. For example, we mounted an aluminium strip on top of a heavy steel reference bar and invited M.B. to make the strip bend upwards away from the bar. On 15 November, 1975, he achieved this feat in the presence of both of us and a BBC reporter, who subsequently described the phenomenon on the Woman's Hour programme. Later, we tried the experiment of providing M.B. with metal bars sealed inside glass tubes, but when he stroked the outsides of the tubes the glass shattered. We also provided him with a sealed perspex box containing straightened paper-clips, in the hope that he would produce some 'scrunches' of the kind described by Hasted, {8} but nothing came of these attempts. In general, although we witnessed several remarkable effects with M.B., we were not entirely convinced that the phenomena which we observed could not have been produced by clever trickery. When M.B. had left the laboratory we took a number of photographs of the deformed wire, and then set about restoring it to its straight condition. Crocodile clips were attached to the ends, and a heating current was switched on to bring the temperature to about 100 degrees C. As expected, the wire began to resume its straight configuration. However, the very sharp kink on the extreme right would not disappear altogether. We therefore decided to raise the temperature still further, in an effort to remove this kink. The current was increased to 1.5 amps, and the sheet of paper on which the wire was resting began to show slight signs of charring; however, the kink still refused to disappear, although it now assumed an angle of about 120 degrees. We then switched off the current and waited to see what would happen as the wire cooled. As we watched, the nitinol wire gradually returned to the shape it had acquired from the metal-bender, including the kink in the right-hand portion. This kink now returned to its original 90 degree shape. We concluded that M.B. had somehow succeeded in altering the memory of the wire. At this point we put the piece of wire into a drawer, and went home. Four days later we resumed our investigation of the wire. We decided to make a determined effort to straighten it. The wire was attached by clips to other wires which passed over pulleys, and weights were added to bring the tension in the wire to 0.5 kg. It was then electrically heated until it was just visibly dull red; at this point the current flowing was 2-5 amps at a potential of 15 volts. These conditions were maintained for a full five minutes. However, on cooling the wire and releasing it from tension, it resumed the curved and kinked shape it had had before, although the kink was not so sharp (about 140 degrees). In a final effort to straighten the wire completely, we increased the tension to 1 kg and the current to 3 amps at 22 volts. By this time the wire was glowing dull red, and we estimated its temperature at about 600 degrees C. To our great surprise the wire suddenly broke at a point 20-7 cms from the right-hand end, without any warning or indication of local heating or excessive strain. Upon cooling the two portions of the wire resumed the curved shapes they had had before, the kink returning with an angle of about 140 degrees.


CONCLUSIONS

In this experiment a child metal-bender succeeded in altering the memory of a piece of nitinol wire, in a way which we are unable to explain in terms of the known properties of the metal. Our attempts to restore the straight configuration of the wire were unsuccessful, so we can only assume that a fundamental alteration in the structure of the crystal lattice had taken place in certain parts of the wire. We consider this result to be a successful replication of the effect reported by Dr. Eldon Byrd, and an indication of the usefulness of shape-memory alloys in research with paranormal metal-benders. Clearly, experiments with nitinol can provide extremely strong evidence for the paranormality of the metal-bending phenomenon, and it is perhaps surprising that few parapsychologists have made use of this technique. Hasted {6 } mentions that nitinol samples have been used in investigating British children, but he gives no detailed descriptions of the experiments in question. To the best of our knowledge, the present report is the first to do so on this side of the Atlantic.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

We wish to express our thanks to Dr. G. Rowlands for providing the nitinol sample and for much useful information about its properties; to Mr. Robert Sadler for photographic assistance; and to our subject, Mark Briscoe, for his willing cooperation.

REFERENCES

 1. Bastin, E. W. and Padfield, S. (1975). Comment: Uri Geller and the Conjurors. Theoria to Theory, 
9,229-231. 

2. Bender, H. and Vandrey, R. (1976). Psychokinetische Expérimente mit dern Berner Graphiker 
Silvio. Zeit.fur Parapsychol. una Grenzgebiete der Psychol., 18, 217-241. 

3. Buehler, W. J. and Cross, W. B. (1969). 55-Nitinol: Unique Wire Alloy with a Memory. Wire 
Journal, June. 

4. Byrd, E. (1976). Uri Geller's Influence On The Metal Alloy Nitinol. In The Geller Papers, edited by 
Charles Panati, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, U.S.A. 

5. Crussard, C. (1976). Rapport sur les essais psychocinetiques efletues par J. P. Girard. Privately 
circulated report. 

6. Hasted, J. B. (1981). The Metal-Benders. Routledge & Regan Paul, London. 

7. Randi, J. (1975). The Magic of Uri Geller. Ballantine Books, New York. 

8. Schetky, L. McDonald (1979). Shape-Memory Alloys. Scientific American 241, 68-76. 

9. Taylor, J. (1980). Science and the Supernatural. Temple Smith, London. 

King Henry VIII School, 
Warwick Road, Coventry. 



October 1983 Book Reviews

Indeed in many respects the report of Randall and Davies is more impressive than the Geller work, given the age and apparent naivety of the child. But mini-Gellers are on the other hand notorious for their cheating (see for example Harry Collin's article in Nature 1973, Sept 4, p. 8) so it is for this reason that further details of the procedure and background of the child would be welcomed (such as the possibility of wire substitution or manipulation of the wire, the time spent on the test, the presence of other adults, the child's knowledge of magical tricks). Have any control tests been conducted with nitinol distorted in the same way by the previously mentioned means and then heated. Finally I wonder if the protocol of the experiment has been assessed by professional magicians and if they have any comment to make. I am also naturally curious to know whether any further tests have been carried out with this person.

ADRIAN PARKER University of Goteborg, Child and Youth Psychiatry Clinic, Box 11047, S-400 30 Goteborg.


To the Editor,

 I am grateful to Dr. Parker for his kindly remarks and helpful comments. I certainly agree with his general point, that we should welcome criticism, both internal and external, but—I would add—only if it is presented in a rational and scientific manner, Martin Gardner's attacks on parapsychologist are so laden with insults, innuendos and emotionally-toned phrases that I find it hard to take him seriously. For example, in the paper cited by Dr. Parker, Gardner solemnly informs us that Byrd is a Mormon, and darkly hints that this has something to do with his belief in the paranormal. Well, I happen to be a practising Anglican; I wonder what Gardner will make of that! I should feel much more confidence in Gardner's criticisms if he would (a) confine himself to a properly objective scientific analysis of the experiments, and (b) submit his conclusions for publication in the scientific literature, rather than propagandist periodicals such as The Humanist.

 Dr. Parker, citing Gardner, says that Byrd's tests 'were not in any way associated with' the Naval Surface Weapons Laboratory. Why, then, was it necessary for the Laboratory to approve the release of Byrd's paper? Panati states that the paper was examined and passed by four staff members of the Laboratory (all named), who checked it for (a) technical accuracy (b) quality and editorial competence (c) compliance with security regulations, and (d) professional ethics. According to Gardner, the Center later denied that Geller had ever been on its premises, and Dr. Wang, the metallurgist who was supposed to have conducted tests on the nitinol sample, 'could not remember' having done so. Obviously, something very strange is going on here. My guess is that all the publicity which followed the release of Byrd's paper caused so much embarrassment to the authorities at Silver Spring that it became necessary to do a 'cover up'job, in the course of which Dr. Wang suffered a very convenient loss of memory.

 Byrd tells us that, in 1973, nitinol was not generally available to the public. Gardner denies this, and suggests that Geller could easily have obtained a piece. Which of the two should we believe? I see no reason why we should always accept the sceptic's view of events rather than the parapsychologist's. Since Byrd worked at the centre where the alloy was developed, he was presumably in a better position than Gardner to know about its availability. It certainly was not easy to get hold of nitinol in Britain in 1976, because I tried to do so unsuccessfully for quite a long time after the publication of Byrd's paper.

 The only part of Gardner's paper which is really relevant to our work is the section where he describes his own experiments with nitinol. This is a really valuable contribution to the research, and it is a great pity that Gardner did not submit it to one of the parapsychological journals. Since I am not a subscriber to The Humanist, I did not see this work until after our paper had been written. If Gardner is correct, the memory of nitinol can be altered by cold working, so that, as an indicator of paranormality the test is nothing like as useful as we thought. It seems curious that Gardner should have discovered this fact, which is in contradiction to the properties of nitinol described in orthodox papers on the metal. However, I do not doubt his word. Gardner's work in this respect is a good example of the positive contribution which sceptically-orientated research can make to parapsychology. What a pity that he has to present it with so much unnecessary hostility!

To assist the evaluation of our experiment, I am happy to add the following information:

1. Our subject, Mark, did not read psychical literature and had never heard of nitinol prior to our experiment. His sole interest in metal bending arose from watching Geller on British television in 1973. To the best of my knowledge, nitinol was never mentioned in the British media before 1977.

2. On previous occasions Mark had caused bending in metal strips and thick copper wires in our laboratory. We did not tell him in advance that a special alloy was to be used on this occasion, nor did we mention the word 'nitinol' until after the experiment. As far as he was concerned, it was simply another wire-bending experiment.

3. To the best of our knowledge, Mark has never shown any interest in conjuring, nor performed conjuring tricks of any kind.

4. The experiment described in our paper took place on a Saturday morning, in a room on the second floor of the science building. I brought the piece of nitinol directly from my home. Apart from the two experimenters and the subject, no other persons were admitted to the room at any time before or during the experiment. The doors leading to the outside were locked before the experiment began, and remained locked until Mark went home.

5. As stated in the paper, Mark was under continuous observation throughout, and he certainly did not use pliers, pennies, or any other implements of the kind suggested by Gardner. The bending took about ten minutes to develop.

6. We would have liked to have done further nitinol experiments, but we were unable to obtain any more samples of the wire. Also, due to a change of employment I lost touch with our subject during the months that followed.

J. L. RANDALL


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