The Scientific Method Applied to the Thermite Hypothesis


Judy Wood1 and Morgan Reynolds2

December 14, 2006

This article originated as a list of questions Steven Jones had been asking us to answer about our research.
We reworded his questions to apply to his own research work. Having asked us these questions, Dr. Jones should be able to answer these about his own hypothesis.

(This article has been "peer-reviewed.")

I. Introduction

Steven Earl Jones, a recently retired BYU professor of physics, talks a great deal about "The Scientific Method." For example, Dr. Jones presents this slide:

Answers to Objections and Questions, July 19, 2006 [pdf (7/19/06) p. 34]

Dr. Jones has used these principles as a club to beat on the work of other 9/11 researchers, yet his own work concerning causation in the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 has not been subjected to the same standard. Below we test Dr. Jones' thermite hypothesis for proof of concept, consistency with the data, practical applications and other issues. After more than a year of development, the thermite hypothesis continues to fall short, as demonstrated below.

Our analysis is not a personal attack nor is it ad hominem. Unfortunately in the past, Dr. Jones has too readily asserted that his critics, even if they are his peers, have engaged in personal attacks (whether they did or not) and he has therefore failed to benefit from their substantive comments. This article is about scientific content: what works to account for the WTC data and what does not.

Professor Steven Jones' presentation at UC Berkeley on November 11, 2006
Q&A session with Jim Hoffman

Watch beginning at 7:30, total time = 9:48
Watch the video above as Dr. Jones giggles about a female professor's loss of her job. Is Dr. Jones himself free of ad hominem attacks?

II. Proof of Concept

  1. Where is the proof of concept for the thermite hypothesis? Wikipedia Encyclopedia defines "Proof of concept" as "a short and/or incomplete realization (or synopsis) of a certain method or idea(s) to demonstrate its feasibility, or a demonstration in principle, whose purpose is to verify that some concept or theory is probably capable of exploitation in a useful manner. The proof of concept is usually considered a milestone on the way of a fully functioning prototype." Dr. Jones has never laid it out.

  2. Where is the proof that thermite has EVER been used to bring down major buildings in controlled demolition (not simply cleaning up debris)? To our knowledge thermite has never been used to bring down skyscrapers.

  3. Where is the proof that thermate has EVER been used to bring down major buildings in controlled demolition (not simply cleaning up debris)? To our knowledge thermate has never been used to bring down skyscrapers.

  4. Where is the proof that nano-enhanced thermite has EVER been used to bring down major buildings in controlled demolition (not simply cleaning up debris)? To our knowledge nano-enhanced thermite has never been used to bring down skyscrapers. Dr. Jones has criticized the competing hypotheses of others as "wacky, unproven ideas." We wonder if the same denunciation applies to thermite.

  5. In his Berkeley lecture, Steven Jones claimed that nano-enhanced thermite or thermate could account for pulverization of the Twin Towers. One difficulty with his hypothesis is that nano-enhanced thermite apparently did not exist in 2001 and only recently has the Department of Defense awarded contracts to prove and develop such a product.

    To see if thermite/thermate/nano-enhanced thermite have ever been used or even tested for pulverization, check here:

Google for "nano-enhanced" (thermite or thermate)
Google for thermite and CD (without WTC, Jones, 911, 9/11, mini-nukes)
Google for thermate and CD (without WTC, Jones, 911, 9/11)
Google for "nano-enhanced" (thermite or thermate) and CD
Google for "directed-energy weapons" and CD
Google for "beam weapon" and CD
Google for "space based weapons" and CD
More here

III. Pulverization

  1. Where is the proof that thermite has EVER been used to completely pulverize buildings in controlled demolition (not simply cleaning up debris)? The mechanisms of cutting and pulverization are mutually exclusive and thermite cuts and melts, it is not explosive. "Cutting requires action in one direction," says Jeff Strahl, a 9/11 researcher, "while pulverization requires action in all directions."

  2. Where is the proof, experimental or otherwise, that thermate has EVER been used to completely pulverize buildings in controlled demolition (not simply cleaning up debris)?

  3. Where is the proof that nano-enhanced thermite has EVER been used to completely pulverize buildings in controlled demolition (not simply cleaning up debris)? Could thermite have been used to turn the upper 80+ floors of the Twin Towers to ultra-fine dust?

  4. Above all, how do angle-cut columns relate to pulverizing a building? What is the connection? We fail to see it.

    To see if thermite/thermate/nano-enhanced thermite have ever been used or even tested for pulverization, check above.

    Jones claims that Dr. Wood and Dr. Reynolds have not presented evidence of "proof of concept" for their directed-energy weapon theory. Wood and Reynolds have indeed presented evidence for proof of concept on behalf of their theory. They show experimental evidence as well as other evidence:   


IV. Energy and Placement

  1. Where is the proof of concept for the hypothesis that thermite, thermate, and/or nano-enhanced thermite can do any of the things he claimed it did at the WTC, much less explain how angle-cut columns at ground level had any relevance to what pulverized the buildings? He fails to explain how a cutting/melting mechanism can pulverize.

  2. Exactly how much energy would be required to pulverize 80-90% of each WTC tower? Dr. Jones has not shown that thermite/thermate/nano-enhanced thermite can generate sufficient energy. Exactly how much energy is required?

  3. Exactly what volume of thermite/thermate/nano-enhanced thermite would be required in total to be placed in the building to generate enough energy?

  4. Exactly where did it need to be placed? Over how much surface area in the building did it have to be placed? For example, what x% of every beam, y% of every floor, z% of every wall, etc.? How thick would it have to be against various steel columns, beams, concrete, etc.? Derrick Grimmer attempted one calculation along these lines and found that thermite would need to be slightly less than 3 inches thick over the surface of every box column [Grimmer].

  5. How many hours of labor would it take to cover every surface of the building, carefully avoiding detection by WTC office workers? Grimmer's calculation ignores the much greater volume of the floors. In any event, thermite does not explode and pulverize. It cannot explain the data.

  6. Exactly who placed all the alleged thermite there? Please give us their names, ages, and social security numbers for validation. J

  7. Who directed them to place the thermite/thermate/nano-enhanced thermite there?

    Professor Steven Jones' presentation at UC Berkeley on November 11, 2006
    Q & A session that followed the presentation.
    Total time = 8:49
    Can Dr. Jones answer a challenging question about his work?

V. Ignition and Control

  1. How was the thermite ignited? Isn't thermite difficult to ignite?


    Conventional thermite reactions require very high temperatures for initiation. These cannot be reached with conventional black-powder fuses, nitrocellulose rods, detonators, or other common igniting substances. Even when the thermite is hot enough to glow bright red, it will not ignite as it must be at or near white-hot to initiate the reaction. It is possible to start the reaction using a propane torch if done right, but this should never be attempted for safety reasons. The torch can preheat the entire pile of thermite which will make it explode instead of burning slowly when it finally reaches ignition temperature.

    Often, strips of magnesium metal are used as fuses. Magnesium burns at approximately the temperature at which thermite reacts, around 2500 kelvin (4000 °F). This method is notoriously unreliable: magnesium itself is hard to ignite, and in windy or wet conditions the strip may be extinguished. Also, magnesium strips do not contain their own oxygen source so ignition cannot occur through a small hole. A significant danger of magnesium ignition is the fact that the metal is an excellent conductor of heat; heating one end of the ribbon may cause the other end to transfer enough heat to the thermite to cause premature ignition. Despite these issues, magnesium ignition remains popular amongst amateur thermite users.

    The reaction between potassium permanganate and glycerine is used as an alternative to the magnesium method. When these two substances mix, a spontaneous reaction will begin, slowly increasing the temperature of the mixture until flames are produced. The heat released by the oxidation of glycerine is sufficient to initiate a thermite reaction. However, this method can also be unreliable and the delay between mixing and ignition can vary greatly due to factors such as particle size and ambient temperature.

    Another method of igniting is to use a common sparkler to ignite the mix. These reach the necessary temperatures and provide a sufficient amount of time before the burning point reaches the sample.

    A stoichiometric mixture of finely powdered Fe(III) oxide and aluminum may be ignited using ordinary red-tipped book matches by partially embedding one match head in the mixture, and igniting that match head with another match, preferably held with tongs in gloves to prevent flash burns.

  2. Exactly how was ignition accurately controlled? How was it timed? Where is the experiment demonstrating it? Has thermite ever been ignited by remote control? Have multiple thermite ignitions ever been set off with exact timing by remote control? How many remote control radio frequencies would be required to do this? How many ignition devices would be needed to cut 236 outer columns and 47 core columns on each of the 110 floors? An ignition device on each column on each floor would total 31,130 ignitions. None of this would cut floor trusses or pulverize the concrete floors or any of the WTC contents, much less steel beams.

Dr. Jones says the buildings "collapsed," but he does not show the exact mechanism of "collapse," he does not model it (just like NIST does not model it), and he does not run experiments that demonstrate it. Of course such modeling is futile because the buildings did not collapse, they were blown to kingdom come. Where was the stack of all the steel from each tower at Ground Zero?

9/11 Truth: Structural Failures vs. Controlled Demolitions
This is a video response to
Preview of New 9/11 Truth Documentary "Improbable Collapse"

And what about the seismic signal? If most of the material from the Twin Towers crashed to the ground, there should have been a significant seismic event. Yet a NIST scientist says that "...the collapse of the towers were not of any magnitude that was seismically significant..." Here is the complete quote:

The National Construction Safety Team (NCST) Advisory Committee met via teleconference on Thursday, December 14, 2006, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
The following statement was made on the WTC1 and WTC2 seismic signals:

"The signals’ strength due to the collapse of the towers were not of any magnitude that was seismically significant from an earthquake design standpoint or from the design or a failure of a structural component or of I would say of a piping system that might be used in a structure, so ah there wasn’t anything that gave us pause in terms of that being a significant seismic event to have ruptured the pipeline."

Entire session: NCST Advisory Committee Webcast (mp3) (11.8 MB)

Segment: WTC SeismicSignature NCSTAd (mp3) (132 kB)

NCST Advisory Committee Met December 14, 2006

Thanks to Andrew Johnson for recording this.

VI. The Data

  1. Even if Jones were to prove the thermite concept, can he show an "official chain of custody" for each of his samples of materials allegedly from the WTC? Jones himself said at the American Scholars Symposium (ASS*) in Los Angeles in June that all of his samples came from unofficial sources.

  2. Can Dr. Jones show how each of his samples is valid and meaningful in terms of possible causation? For example, suppose Dr. Jones acquired a dust sample and had established its chain of custody. How would a chemical analysis of this dust sample prove anything about what caused the devastation at the WTC? What is the logic? A guy in a white lab coat working with something in his lab does not in and of itself establish any causal connection with the events of 9/11 in New York City. We cannot presume a connection, it must be shown. Connections must be drawn conceptually and supported empirically. That is using the scientific method.

  3. Dust is not location specific. A dust sample does not allow discrimination about what caused the destruction WTC7 versus WTC1 and 2. Videos, eyewitness testimony, the debris pile, the protective bathtub and other evidence establish that WTC1 and 2 exploded and WTC7 imploded. No amount of dust analysis will change these facts. The destruction method for WTC1 and 2 were fundamentally different from the destruction method for WTC7.

  4. How do you know a sample is representative of WTC1 and/or WTC2? Many of the vehicles in the area had their engine blocks disintegrate. So, if you take what's left from one of these cars, it may, for example, have a much higher ratio of barium-to-steel than the typical car. Weren't some of the offices occupied by a medical supply company? How can anyone rule out that someone had barium in a WTC office? And so on.

  5. If the Twin Towers were destroyed by unconventional means, how could a scientist know what traces of material it would or would not leave? How would she know a priori?

VII. The Scientific Method

  1. Dr. Jones offers no proof that thermite, thermate, or nano-enhanced thermite could have pulverized the buildings, so would it be logical to conclude that he is now pushing "mini-nukes" because that the only other method Jones has written about? The illogic of this conclusion should be obvious but why has Dr. Jones said that "Wood and Reynolds are promoting mini-nukes" just because we find thermite an unsatisfactory hypothesis? We explicitly declare mini-nukes inconsistent with the data of 9/11.

  2. Dr. Jones has described his thermite/thermate/nano-energetic thermite "results" as "preliminary" for more than a year. When will Dr.Jones acquire enough confidence in his work to reach conclusions? How can a paper with "inconclusive" results be accepted in a tier-one "peer-reviewed" journal? For that matter, does it go through "peer review" every time Jones changes it? Dr. Jones claimed his paper was accepted in a "peer-reviewed" journal over a year ago. When will it appear? We are still waiting.

    Dr. Jones presented, "9/11 Revisited: Scientific and Ethical Questions (2006)," February 1, 2006, Utah. An excerpt from the question and answer session follows.

    (Q: = questioner, J: = Jones)

    Q: I keep hearing reference that you've -ah- published your paper in a peer review journal -

    J: Uh - It's not been published, it's been accepted, but that takes time to get it published of course -

    Q: OK - let's just -um - waiting for it , because to me if it gets published, is that a significant journal and would it be newsworthy and when is this going to break into the national media ?

    J: You know- this - it's actually getting into the media - Desert News you know has had articles lately. Miami Herald today, pleased to say about our scholars for truth group, and as far as publication, I'm hoping - uh - I haven't asked the - editor recently but -ah - I'm - uh -It's this spring.

    Q: So what's the journal again ?

    J: It's a book and -ah - by - It's actually a book and it's in now in -ah - Professor Griffin's book which -uh - In the title is - 9 - 11 ..ah..beginning of the American empire. Or something that- I don't remember exactly.

    Q: But my question's that - in the academic world for something to get legitimacy it needs to go through peer review in a substantial national or international tier one journal, and I ‘m just wondering if you've, you've submitted anything to such a journal.

    J: Well, hehum, of course we're calling for an investigation and -ah - I do believe that this material on the fake Bin Laden will be publishable in that, in a major journal. That's what we're looking for -


    Q: What about the stuff on WTC7 ? That should be in the New York Times.

    Thanks to Rick Siegel and Gerard Holmgren for this transcript.

  3. Why does Dr. Jones continue to boast that he uses "the scientific method" after it has been pointed out repeatedly that his thermite hypothesis does not account for the data? [Reynolds and Wood] Does not science throw a failed hypothesis overboard after the evidence repeatedly contradicts it?

  4. Dr. Jones claims to have debunked our August 23 article, but we have never seen a full, point-by-point response to it. While Dr. Jones claims it was an ad hominem, personal attack, it was a content-rich, peer review of Jones’ work. Dr. Jones trickled out a few initial comments and kept changing his file. He never addressed the issues we raised.

    Here is an example of Dr. Jones' use of the scientific method. Instead of addressing the planes/no-planes issue on its scientific merits, especially the physics of plane crashes, he attacks the researchers. Psychologists refer to this behavior as "projection."

    I will also observe that there is a group of 9/11 researchers, including Reynolds, Wood, Haupt and Holmgren, who take the approach of personalized attacks on any other researcher who dares to suggest that real planes hit the Towers. Really — they support the "no-planes-hit-Towers" notion so strongly that they resort to personal attacks on anyone who challenges their pet theory. As I have done. I have been the subject of such attacks for some time now. 

    The debate on the "no-planes-hit-Towers" notion is explained further in point #2 below where I suggest the solution is for both sides of this "How it was done" issue to write scholarly papers. Both sides have now done so, and they have submitted their respective papers to the Journal of 9/11 Studies, where the papers (following necessary peer-reviews) are to be published side-by-side. Ad Hominem (attacking the person rather than addressing evidences) arguments will not be allowed in such scholarly papers. 

    And so we hope to proceed in the realm of civilized, scientific discussion. For now, I find I must point out the unscholarly ad hominems and false arguments being used against me by the "no-planers" Reynolds and Wood.

    0. Ad hominems/false accusations in the R&W essay

    The above is from: Reply to Reynolds and Wood--Part I (Word Document) (PDF) by Steven E. Jones

    Now, let us compare, "side-by-side."

    A Critical Review of WTC 'No Plane' Theories
    26 October 2006, by Eric Salter
    Exploding the Airliner Crash Myth
    27 October 2006, by Morgan Reynolds and Rick Rajter
    accepted by Jones
    rejected by Jones

VIII. Aluminum Glows

  1. Steven Jones has stubbornly insisted that aluminum does not glow like iron. Yet aluminum glows just like iron if it is heated to the same temperature at which molten iron glows. Nearly anyone who can heat metals to a high temperature safely can prove this. There is nothing complicated about this. We are at a loss to explain why he is unable to conduct such a controlled experiment to compare the two. In the picture below workers are pouring molten aluminum to make a crankcase for a replica of the Wright Brothers engine. Jones says aluminum looks silvery and does not glow (at all temperatures?). He fails to account for what molten aluminum looks like if heated to the same temperatures as molten iron (1538°C). The workers wear dark face shields, the equivalent of sunglasses, for a reason. The aluminum is white hot and the inside of the pot is completely glowing while the outside is glowing too but isn't nearly as bright.

    Figure 1. This is close to pure aluminum.
    (Source: Popular Mechanics)

  2. In Steven Jones' Berkeley presentation, he said that Judy Wood believes it was molten aluminum pouring out of a window of the South Tower." He knows better.

  3. The two photographs below show glowing metal pouring from a furnace. We cannot tell what kinds of metals these are without additional information. Steven Jones cannot either, despite his claim that aluminum is always silvery and does not glow (much). This was proven on Jim Fetzer's radio show August 10, 2006 when Jones was directed to look at one of these pictures. Morgan Reynolds called in to the radio show and asserted the metal was aluminum, perhaps mistakenly. Steven Jones, unsure, played it safe and said it looked "silvery." When he saw the picture, he recognized it as one discussed in the ST911 forum. His behavior demonstrates that he cannot identify the metal when it is glowing this hot by a photograph alone (nor can we).

    Figure 2. These molten metals may be aluminum with a mix of slag or iron with a mix of slag or... ( Audio of Jones saying, "When it's flowning it looks kind of "silvery," but then goes on to contradict that statement. So, he can't apparently tell what material it is from the color.)
    (Source: metalwebnews) link

* Did the same people who named the US invasion of Iraq as "Operation Iraqi Liberation" (OIL) name the Scholars Symposium in Los Angeles?

1Ph.D. in Materials Engineering Science, from the Department of
Engineering Science and Mechanics, Virginia Tech, 1992
M.S. Engineering Mechanics, Virginia Tech, 1983
B.S. Civil Engineering (Structural Engineering), Virginia Tech, 1981
2Ph.D. in economics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1971
M.S. Economics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1969
B.S. Economics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1965