27 December 2009

Uri Geller Bends On

The following is from pages 4-6 of The Geller Papers: Scientific Observations on the Paranormal Powers of Uri Geller, edited by Charles Panati. Geller demonstrated his metal bending ability for physical scientist Eldon Byrd of the Naval Surface Weapons Center, Silver Spring, Maryland, in 1973. He bent samples of the metal nitinol, which was, at the time, very difficult for the public to obtain.

Nitinol wire is composed of approximately 55 percent nickel and 45 percent titanium. It has a physical memory. That is, a piece of nitinol wire actually "remembers" the shape in which it was manufactured. No matter how much it is crumpled or bent, a nitinol wire, when heated, springs vigorously back to its original shape. Byrd is quite familiar with the properties of nitinol. He knows that no simple ordinary force can alter the wire's memory; he wanted to see if Geller could.
      Geller arrived at the Naval Surface Weapons Center in October of 1973. in one test Byrd held a five-inch straight piece of nitinol by its end while Geller "gently stroked" the middle of the wire with his thumb and index finger. After twenty seconds Geller felt a "lump" forming in the wire. He removed his fingers and there was a sharp "kink" at the wire's center. Byrd placed the wire in boiling water, which should have removed the kink. It did not vanish. "Instead of [the wire] snapping back with some force into a straight shape," Byrd writes, "[it] began to form approximately a right angle." Byrd then placed the kink over a flame, but still it did not straighten out.
      In his paper "Uri Geller's influence on the metal nitinol," Byrd states that a crystallographic analysis of the kinked section showed that the crystals that contain the wire's memory had actually increased in size. Such a change requires that the wire be reannealed by being heated to a temperature of about 900o F. "There is absolutely no explanation as to how Geller bent the wire by gently touching it," says Byrd.
      Perhaps not, but the metallurgists at the Naval Surface Weapons Center were intent on removing the kink. They put the wire under tension in a vacuum chamber, and heated it by passing an electric current along its length until the wire was glowing and almost molten; in other words, they reannealed it into a straight shape. When the wire was removed from the chamber and laid on a plate to cool it was indeed straight; it appeared to have regained its original memory. But when the wire cooled to room temperature, the kink spontaneously returned. "The day following the experiment, writes Byrd, "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 ... It was impossible for me to [do it] without using Bunsen burners and pliers." Byrd also tried various chemicals on pieces of nitinol wires to see if the wires could be temporarily "softened" so that a kink might be formed without extreme heat and sizable force. The nitinol proved impervious to all the chemicals tested.
      But experimentation between Geller and nitinol does not stop there. Byrd realized that anomalous effects can occur in the best of experiments. Perhaps the wires Geller altered (there were several of them) had a structural defect: Is this why Geller had been able to change their memory? Byrd pondered this question for eleven months before he got another chance to test Geller. This time it was not at the Naval Surface Weapons Center, but in an informal setting at the home of a friend of Geller's in Connecticut. Byrd brought with him three pieces of nitinol wire; all had been thoroughly tested at the lab to make sure that on being heated they sprang back to straight configurations. Geller rubbed the wires one at a time, and all three became deformed. Heating would not straighten them out. On later examination, nitinol experts at the lab concluded that the only way "permanent deformation" could have occurred was through the use of intense heat and mechanical stress. "All of the bends that Geller had produced thus far in nitinol wires have been permanent deformation," says Byrd. "The wires can be ... twisted into any shape by hand, but on being heated ... [they always] return to the shape Geller had imposed upon them."
      Could Geller have somehow cheated to achieve the results he did? Because of the unusual nature of nitinol, the scientific controls essential for an unambiguous investigation are, for the most part, built into the testing material. Byrd and his colleagues conclude that Geller would have had to either "palm" a Bunsen burner or substitute his own pieces of nitinol, manufactured to his specifications, if deception is to be the explanation for the events that took place. Geller had to deform the wire, Byrd thinks, by paranormal means.