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Scientists Find Explosives in World Trade Center Dust

Matt Sullivan
Rock Creek Free Press
April 20, 2009

Scientists have detected flecks of undetonated explosives in four samples of dust from the World Trade Center catastrophe. A paper just published in the peer-reviewed Open Chemical Physics Journal describes the findings of nine scientists after 18 months of work.

The paper is titled “Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe”. The primary authors are Niels Harrit, professor of chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, and Jeffrey Farrer, professor of Physics at Brigham Young University (BYU), Provo, Utah.

The research was initiated when Dr. Steven Jones, then also at BYU, observed small red/grey chips in the magnetic fraction of dust he was analyzing from the WTC disaster. The scientists studied four independently collected samples of dust. One sample was collected by a Manhattan resident about ten minutes after the collapse of the second WTC tower, two samples were collected the next day, and a fourth was collected about a week later. The properties of these chips were analyzed using optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), X-ray energy dispersive spectroscopy (XEDS), and differential scanning calorimetry (DSC).

After careful study of the material the scientists concluded that the red component of the bi-layer chips is a high-tech explosive nano-material known as super-thermite. The material is composed of ultra-fine grains of iron oxide intimately mixed with nano-sized aluminum metal in a matrix of silicon and organic compounds. While these chips are very small (typically less than a millimeter) tests show that the material is highly energetic and can be ignited to produce a micro-explosive effect. The observed properties and composition of the thermitic material appears to match the published descriptions of nano-thermite fabricated at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and elsewhere. These high-tech explosives were relatively new at the time of the disaster, with some of the first published descriptions appearing in the literature in the late 1990s.

The scientists begin the paper with an explanation of their motivation for pursuing the research. “The destruction of three skyscrapers (WTC 1, 2 and 7) on September 11, 2001 was an immensely tragic catastrophe that not only impacted thousands of people and families directly, due to injury and loss of life, but also provided the motivation for numerous expensive and radical changes in domestic and foreign policy. For these and other reasons, knowing what really happened that fateful day is of grave importance.”

While several government agencies, including NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) produced reports on the collapse of the three World Trade Center buildings, they pointedly did not analyze the debris for the presence of explosives. This omission is at odds with the requirement of the national standard for fire investigation (NFPA 921), which calls for testing related to thermite and other pyrotechnics. It is also at odds with the video evidence of explosions, and the testimony of fire department personnel, more than 100 of whom officially reported hearing or seeing explosions. NIST also failed to explain the source of large quantities of molten metal in the WTC rubble, or the abundant amounts of iron microspheres in the dust.

NIST spokesperson Michael Neuman was challenged by Hartford Advocate reporter Jennifer Abel on this glaring omission in the WTC report…

ABEL: … what about that letter where NIST said it didn’t look for evidence of explosives?

NEUMAN: Right, because there was no evidence of that.

ABEL: But how can you know there’s no evidence if you don’t look for it first?

NEUMAN: If you’re looking for something that isn’t there, you’re wasting your time….

And NIST cannot claim that it is unfamiliar with the nano-thermitic materials. Several of the lead 9/11 investigators at NIST collaborated with Lawrence Livermore National Lab, in the late 90s, to test and characterize sol-gel preparations of high-power thermitic materials. Arden Bement, the former deputy secretary of defense who was appointed director of NIST by President Bush immediately after 9/11, was a metallurgist and expert on fuels and materials and former director of DARPA’s office of materials science and a former executive at TRW. He would be expected to be familiar with nano-thermite since DoD and DARPA are lead agencies in its development and TRW supplies NASA with advanced propellants including nano-gelled thermite.

[In an interesting side note: Bement was also a director of Battelle Corporation which was most likely the source of the weaponized anthrax spores used in the anthrax attacks of 2001.]

Some of the same individuals and organizations contracted by DoD and DARPA to develop nano-thermitic materials were selected by the Bush administration to investigate the collapse of the towers and Building 7. What the Scientists Found

The red/grey chips were found to be present in all samples of fine WTC dust analyzed to date. While the grey layer is the subject of ongoing investigation, the current paper focuses on the red layer. Very high magnification electron microscopy of the layer reveals a sponge-like structure composed of very small particles of several types. By using XEDS, researchers were able to map the elemental composition of the material. Iron oxide particles, shown as white in the image above, are fairly uniform in size and shape and about 100 nanometers long while the metallic aluminum appears as plate-like structures about 50 nanometers thick and up to a micron (1000 nanometers) in length. Other elements such as silicon and carbon were also detected in the red layer. This is significant because the presence of carbon in the material would supply the hot gas reaction products needed to turn the thermitic material from an incendiary into a low explosive. The authors avoided describing the material as “explosive” because the flakes studied are too small to assess the bulk properties of the material.

To test the power of this thermitic material, small samples were heated in a Differential Scanning Calorimeter, a very sensitive device for detecting the heat generated by a chemical reaction. The samples ignited at about 430ºC and generated as much or more heat than an equal mass of high explosive such as TNT. They also produced, as a reaction product, tiny metallic iron microspheres, just like the iron microspheres found in abundance in all samples of WTC dust as previously reported by USGS, FEMA and NIST.


“The chips are clearly a nano-engineered material with two types of extremely small particles, each highly consistent in shape and size, held in close stable proximity by a durable matrix which is laminated to a hard homogeneous material. The student of energetic materials will appreciate that this description matches exactly that of a super-thermite in which the reactant particles are suspended in a sol-gel matrix applied to a substrate.” (Jim Hoffman, 2009)

Sol-gels of nano-thermites are described in the literature as being very stable and safe to handle in liquid form. They can be applied to surfaces by spray or even paintbrush. It is entirely possible that the explosives were applied to the building disguised as a paint or as a spray-on fireproofing.

Researcher Kevin Ryan has previously published a paper (Journal of 9/11 Studies) noting the extreme coincidence that the floors in the towers where structural failure was initiated exactly correspond to the floors where fireproofing had recently been “upgraded” in 1999 and 2000. (See diagram)

Researchers have estimated, based on the weight of red/grey chips found in the four samples tested, that these chips make up as much as 0.1% of the mass of the fine dust produced on 9/11. While it is difficult to estimate the total mass of fine dust produced that day, the dust did cover Manhattan from river to river and for several miles in all directions. The dust mass was certainly at least several thousand tons (estimates range as high as 30,000 tons) which would mean several tons of the red/grey material is involved.

How did several tons of unexploded super-thermite end up in the dust of the World Trade Center disaster?

View Open Chemical Physics Journal article here.

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