URI GELLER’S INFLUENCE ON THE METAL ALLOY NITINOL
by Eldon Byrd, Physical Scientist
Naval Surface Weapons Center,
White Oak Laboratory, Silver Spring, Maryland.
Eldon Byrd has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a M.S. in Medical Engineering. He has written on a variety of subjects; a paper on the telemetry of brain waves was published in the “Proceedings” of the International Telemetering Conference in 1972. He is also the author of the book How Things Work and a member of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers and of Mensa.
This paper recounts two meetings between Eldon Byrd and Uri Geller; the first took place in late October of 1973 at the Isis Center of the Naval Surface Weapons Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the second occurred a year later, at the home of a friend of Geller’s in Connecticut. Byrd’s paper recounts some unique and cogent experiments with Geller and his influence on the unusual alloy nitinol. To cause permanent change in the shape of nitinol wire, which Geller repeatedly did, normally requires that one heat the wire to a temperature of about 900 degrees F and reshape it under considerable tension. However, as Byrd reports, Geller was able to introduce permanent deformations in several pieces of nitinol wire by gently rubbing them between two fingers.
Published for the first time with the permission of the author.
ON THE EVENING of October 29, 1973, I had two pieces of nitinol wire, each with a different diameter, and a nitinol block in the laboratory at the Isis Center. At that time, nitinol was generally not available to the public. It was produced in very small quantities at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory (currently the Naval Surface Weapons Center), where it had been developed by William Buehler, a lab metallurgist. The alloy has been extensively studied and its characteristics are well known, the main one being that nitinol wire has a physical memory for the shape in which it is formed at the time of manufacture. For example, the alloy has been used for satellite antennas. When a satellite is injected into orbit, the nitinol antenna expands from a tightly coiled position within the satellite and blossoms like a flower.
The block of nitinol I had in the laboratory was approximately an inch by three- eighths of an inch square, and was composed of 60% nickel by weight and 40% titanium. The smaller of the two wires I had was 0.5 mm in diameter, and the other was approximately three times as large, or about 1.5 mm in diameter. The wires were composed of 55% nickel by weight and 45% titanium.
I was interested in determining whether Geller could influence nitinol. The block had been previously tested in the laboratory and found to have a Rockwell “C” Scale hardness of 49 to 60 on several test spots on its surface. The nitinol wires had been checked to ensure that they would, when placed in boiling water or heated with a match, assume a straight configuration.
The block of nitinol was very hard and nonmagnetic. Specifically, I wanted to know whether Geller could change either the block’s hardness, which is a function of the structure of the material (the lattice arrangement of the atoms) or whether he could influence the material of the block to make it magnetic. In regard to the two wires, I wanted to know whether Geller could cause them to lose or alter their memory of their straight configuration.
The first thing I had Geller do was handle the block. I told him that I wanted to see if he could alter the block’s hardness. Also, I asked him if he would try to alter the magnetic properties of the material. He said he would try to do both.
He handled the block for some time. Finally, he said he thought he would not be able to do anything to it because he somehow did not have a “feel” for the material. In a last attempt to influence the block, he asked for a piece of metal of any kind, and a brass plate was given to him. He placed the block on the plate and held his hand over it. Several times he pressed down on the block, but gave up, saying that he did not think he would be able to affect the material.
I put the nitinol block in my pocket and took out the wire with the larger diameter. Geller handled it for a while. He held the palm of his hand over it, placed the wire on the brass plate, picked it up again and held it firmly between his hands, but nothing seemed to happen. I then took out the smaller diameter wire, cut it into three pieces, each approximately five inches in length, and told him that if he could not influence this, he probably could not influence nitinol at all.
Geller asked me to hold the wire. I held it tautly between the thumbs and index fingers of both hands, keeping it very straight. Geller put his thumb and index finger over the wire and started to rub back and forth. After about twenty seconds of rubbing the wire, Geller said he felt a lump forming in the wire. When he removed his fingers, the wire had a definite “kink” in it, which looked like this:
I asked that some boiling water be brought in. This particular wire was formed, at the time of manufacture, in a straight configuration, and immersion in boiling water should have caused it to spring back vigorously to that shape. But when I placed it in the water, the wire, instead of snapping back with some force into a straight shape, began to form approximately a right angle. This was an exciting finding. I lit a match and held it over the kink, but still the wire did not straighten out. Uri then left the lab and had no further contact with this nitinol wire.
Later, I had the wire (with the kink in it) x-rayed along its entire length, The analysis showed no discernible difference between the density of the wire at the kinked section and at other locations.
I also had an x-ray crystallographic analysis made of the wire. (Such a study shows the relative crystal sizes of the material in the form of a diffraction pattern.) The crystallographic analysis of the shaft of the wire that Geller had deformed showed nothing unusual in terms of crystalline size and uniformity. However, the crystal sizes in the kinked section appeared to have changed, but not significantly. The direction of change was one of enlargement, rather than one of shrinkage or of increase in density.
Several metallurgists at the Naval Surface Weapons Center who had examined and tested the wire were intent on removing the kink. They put the wire under tension in a vacuum chamber and heated it by passing an electric current through it until the wire glowed. When they removed the wire from the chamber and laid it on a cooling plate, it was, indeed, straight. But as the wire cooled down to room temperature, the kink spontaneously returned. They had no explanation for this occurrence.
Throughout the experiment with Geller, I had held the wire so tight that it was impossible for him to have pinched it between his thumb and forefinger. Besides, the day following the experiment I took another piece of nitinol wire and tried to bend it into as tight a kink as Geller had formed: I used the point of a screwdriver. But it was clearly impossible for me to duplicate Geller’s kink without using Bunsen burners and pliers.
Later, I tried still other experiments with nitinol wires, using chemicals, all in the hope of duplicating the Geller deformation. Mercuric chloride was used to see if a nitinol wire could be temporarily “softened” so that a kink might be formed without extreme heat and sizable force. But nitinol proved to be impervious to mercuric chloride as well as to other chemicals I tried.
Anomalous effects can occur in the best of scientific experiments. is this what had happened during the test with Geller? I had pondered that question for almost a year before I had the chance to work again with Geller. The occasion took place in October 1974, not in the Isis Center, but at the home of writer John Fuller in Connecticut. Present that day were John Fuller, Ronald Hawke (a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California), my wife, and two friends of Geller and John Fuller, Solvej Clark and Melanie Toyofuku. However, only Geller, Ronald Hawke, and I took part in the events of that afternoon.
Because of the possibility that an anomaly had occurred during the first meeting with Geller, this time I took extra precautions. I had brought with me some nitinol wire that had been physically characterized prior to my departure from the laboratory. The wire contained no known anomalies and was configured to return to a straight shape after being heated. Prior to leaving for Connecticut, I had cut the wire into four pieces, each approximately four inches in length. The diameter of the wire was about 0.5 mm. One piece was used as a control and was not taken to Connecticut. Audio tape recordings were made during all observations.
I held one of the other pieces by both ends as I had previously done and Geller stroked it as before. A kink formed. I took a second piece of wire, held it by one end, and Geller stroked it unilaterally. It, too, developed a kink. The third piece of wire was given to Geller to do with as he pleased. He rolled it between his thumb and forefinger and it kinked sharply. (See Plate 4.)
All three pieces of wire were brought back to the laboratory. X-ray crystallographic analyses of the kinks revealed no discernible structural deformations in the molecular lattice of the wires. A scanning electron microscope photograph of one kinked section failed to reveal any clues as to the mechanism of the bending phenomenon. A shadowgraph of one of the kinked wires (see Plate 5) showed that the radius of curvature of the bend was less than one mm.
Geller had clearly influenced the alloy nitinol in a most unusual way: it was as if the kinks he produced had actually been manufactured into the wires, even though it had been conclusively determined before any experimentation that the permanent configuration of the wires was that of straight lines. No explanation has been given by nitinol experts, who have been consulted as to how kinks could have been formed without using high temperatures and mechanical stress. Mechanically produced kinks in nitinol leave obvious marks on the surface of the wire. Geller-formed kinks do not.
In November of 1973 two other pieces of nitinol wire had been given to Geller; he bent them, but not under controlled conditions. However, in light of the work just presented, some interesting observations can be made about those two pieces of wire. One wire (see Plate 6) developed multiple two – dimensional bends and a three-dimensional twist at its end. The other (see Plate 7) developed a three-dimensional bend also, but it took the shape of an ellipse. The only known technique to bring about this result is to twist the wire into an ellipse, constrain it so that it cannot move, and then heat it to 500 degrees C (or 932 degrees F). What is even more remarkable about this particular piece of wire is that it was permanently deformed in two planes; that is, it appears as an ellipse when viewed from above, and as one cycle of a sinusoidal wave when viewed from its side.
All of the bends that Geller had produced thus far in nitinol wires have been permanent deformations – the wires can be crumpled or twisted into any shape by hand, but on being heated to a temperature of about 210 degrees F. all the wires return to the shape Geller had imposed upon them.
How did Geller achieve such results? At the present I have no scientific explanation for what happened during both testing periods. I can say that the possibility of fraud on Geller’s part can be virtually ruled out. Because of the unusual properties of nitinol, the scientific controls essential for any investigation are, for the most part, built into the testing material. Geller would have had to “palm” a source of high heat or substitute his own personally manufactured or previously altered pieces of nitinol if deception is to be the explanation for the events that took place – two highly unlikely possibilities.
I would like to add, for the record, that I have been in the same room and right next to people who were being hypnotized, and I do not believe I am hypnotizable. I also used to be an amateur magician and have studied techniques of magic and sleight of hand. Throughout the tests with Geller, I tried not to let him affect me psychologically.
Neither I nor other experts can offer any scientific explanation of how these deformations may have occurred under the conditions imposed.
The paper appears here with the official approval of the Naval Surface Weapons Center. It was reviewed by Metallic Materials Branch Chief David Goldstein; Head of the Department of Research and Technology Dr. William C. Wineland; Nitinol expert Dr. Frederick Wang; and Security Department Head Ronald Valimaki. The review board checked the paper for (a) technical accuracy, (b) quality and editorial competence, (c) compliance with security regulations, and (d) professional ethics, and recommended its release for publication. The paper represents the first time parapsychological research conducted at a government facility has been released for publication by the Department of Defense.
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