Responses to questions regarding thermite, nanothermite and conventional explosives used in the WTC destruction.
Submitted by Professor Steven Jones on Wed, 05/11/2011 Source

Here I field questions that come to me fairly often, to help get the facts out and to counter misrepresentations and misunderstandings. I expect to make edits for a while and welcome comments.

1. Can nanothermites (also called superthermites) be explosive?

The definition of “explosive” can lead to endless debates. Is a flash of light required? Is a loud sound required? How loud? What rate of energy generation is required for a material to be called an explosive? Where is the line between low explosives and high explosives?

Rather than getting mired into ad nauseum debates, I will use the term “explosive” in conjunction with superthermites/nanothermites IF the national defense laboratories which developed these materials use the term. Here we go.

“Researchers can greatly increase the power of weapons by adding materials known as superthermites that combine nanometals such as nanoaluminum with metal oxides such as iron oxide, according to Steven Son, a project leader in the Explosives Science and Technology group at Los Alamos. “The advantage (of using nanometals) is in how fast you can get their energy out,” Son says. Son says that the chemical reactions of superthermites are faster and therefore release greater amounts of energy more rapidly… Son, who has been working on nanoenergetics for more than three years, says that scientists can engineer nanoaluminum powders with different particle sizes to vary the energy release rates. This enables the material to be used in many applications, including underwater explosive devices… However, researchers aren’t permitted to discuss what practical military applications may come from this research.” {Gartner, John (2005). “Military Reloads with Nanotech,” Technology Review, January 21, 2005; }

I wish to emphasize that nanothermites can be “engineered” or tailored to burn more slowly or more quickly, even as “explosive devices” as the above article from Los Alamos National Laboratory states clearly.

Next a reference to “explosives” based on nanocomposites involving aluminum and iron oxide from the large US Defense Laboratory at Livermore, California:

“We have developed a new method of making nanostructured energetic materials, specifically explosives, propellants, and pyrotechnics, using sol-gel chemistry. A novel sol-gel approach has proven successful in preparing metal oxide/silicon oxide nanocomposites in which the metal oxide is the major component. By introducing a fuel metal, such as aluminum, into the metal oxide/silicon oxide matrix, energetic materials based on thermite reactions can be fabricated. Two of the metal oxides are tungsten trioxide and iron(III) oxide, both of which are of interest in the field of energetic materials. In addition, due to the large availability of organically functionalized silanes, the silicon oxide phase can be used as a unique way of introducing organic additives into the bulk metal oxide materials. These organic additives can cause the generation of gas upon ignition of the materials, therefore resulting in a composite material that can perform pressure/volume work. Furthermore, the desired organic functionality is well dispersed throughout the composite material on the nanoscale with the other components, and is therefore subject to the same increased reaction kinetics. The resulting nanoscale distribution of all the ingredients displays energetic properties not seen in its microscale counterparts due to the expected increase of mass transport rates between the reactants. The synthesis and characterization of iron(III) oxide/organosilicon oxide nanocomposites and their performance as energetic materials will be discussed.”
(Clapsaddle BJ, Zhao L, Gash AE, et al. Synthesis and characterization of mixed metal oxide nanocomposite energetic materials. UCRL-PROC- 204118, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: Livermore, Ca; 12 May 2004)

Note in particular that Dr. Clapsaddle states that nano-thermite with organics can indeed perform pressure/volume work, key to their explosive capabilities. I understand that the organics are part of the production process and integral components of these types of nanothermites. One final corroborating quote from the same author:

“We have previously prepared pyrotechnic and explosive composites based on thermite reactions whose fuel and oxidizer constituents are intimately mixed on the nanometer-sized scale […]”
B. J. Clapsaddle et al., “Formulation and Performance of Novel Energetic Nanocomposites and Gas Generators Prepared by Sol-Gel Methods,” 2005.

2. What is the difference between ordinary thermite and nano-thermite?

There are major differences, although the basic thermitic reaction is involved in each:

Aluminum powder + Iron-oxide powder ? (ignited) ? Aluminum-oxide + Molten Iron

Enormous energy is released as molten iron is formed, and this typically ends up either as flowing molten metal or, if ejected into the air, as metallic-iron spheres (which are found in the WTC dust in great abundance: Jones SE, Farrer J, Jenkins GS, et al. Extremely high temperatures during the World Trade Center destruction. J 9/11 Studies 2008; 19: 1-11. ).
Technical point: other fuels can be substituted for aluminum, and other oxidizers for iron-oxide.
Here’s a summary of major differences:

Starts with larger particles of aluminum and iron-oxide (bigger than about 100 nanometers)
Incendiary (non-explosive)
Sulfur added (typically called thermate) forms a eutectic with molten iron product, staying liquid at lower temperatures (red-orange-hot) when ordinary iron and steel would be solid

Starts with particles of aluminum and iron-oxide smaller than about 100 nanometers; hence “nano”
Often mixed with organic material so as to generate gas
Can be tailored to be explosive (see point 1 above), or used as a trigger material –for explosives used for demolitions.

Recent experiments by Jon Cole demonstrate that thermite with sulfur added (“thermate”) can indeed cut through steel and do pressure-volume work; sulfur makes a huge difference (as I also pointed out in my first 9/11-research paper)! Very exciting work, especially starting around the 11-minute mark: .

3. Are you now saying that nanothermite was used instead of thermate, or was the only explosive material in the operations?

No, never said that. On the contrary, I have consistently noted that more conventional explosives may very well have also been used in the destruction of the WTC skyscrapers. And the presence of orange-colored molten metal flowing from the South Tower just minutes before its complete fall along with a bright white fire (both admitted by NIST) strongly indicates the presence of pyrotechnic thermite plus sulfur. (Thermite when ignites generates white-hot molten iron; sulfur keeps the iron liquid to lower orange-hot temperatures and allows the liquid iron to attack steel much more vigorously.)

In recorded remarks given publicly in Australia, I noted that a Dept. of Defense journal Amptiac showed the use of nanointermetallic material such as nanothermite as a fuse or initiator, in conjunction with a shaped charge of more conventional explosive. {Miziolek AW. Nanoenergetics: an emerging technology area of national importance. Amptiac Q 2002; 6(1): 43-48.} {See also my videotaped presentation here: .}
Consistent with this, a publication from Los Alamos National Lab noted that “superthermite… applications include triggering explosives for… demolition” {}. I personally think that this triggering is the most likely reason for the presence of the red thermitic material observed in the WTC dust; but further investigation with subpoena power would be needed to verify this point.

4. Do you agree that “ Jones is putting “superthermite” in the same category of explosiveness as HMX and RDX” as claimed by Mark Hightower? (Email to Jones and numerous others from Mark Hightower, 8 May 2011).

No, I do not. While the Los Alamos developers note that superthermite can be tailored for use in “explosive devices” as cited above, specifics are not given, evidently because of “military” applications.

5. Could the red nano-thermitic material found in the WTC dust have been the result of clean-up operations after 9/11?

No. As noted in our peer-reviewed paper on the discovery of this material in the WTC dust, a sample was collected on 9/11 about ten minutes after the destruction of the second tower, long before clean-up operations began.
“The earliest-collected sample came from Mr. Frank Delessio who, according to his videotaped testimony [17], was on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge about the time the second tower, the North Tower, fell to the ground. He saw the tower fall and was enveloped by the resulting thick dust which settled throughout the area. He swept a handful of the dust from a rail on the pedestrian walkway near the end of the bridge, about ten minutes after the fall of the North Tower. He then went to visit his friend, Mr. Tom Breidenbach, carrying the dust in his hand, and the two of them discussed the dust and decided to save it in a plastic bag. On 11/15/2007, Breidenbach sent a portion of this dust to Dr. Jones for analysis. Breidenbach has also recorded his testimony about the collection of this dust sample on video- tape [17]. Thus, the Delessio/Breidenbach sample was col- lected about ten minutes after the second tower collapsed. It was, therefore, definitely not contaminated by the steel- cutting or clean-up operations at Ground Zero, which began later.” {}

6. Could the red nano-thermitic material found in the WTC dust have been the result of iron oxide from the building combining with aluminum from the building, during the collapses?

You left out the significant presence of organic material found in the red chips – where did that come from? Not so easy. You also need to explain how the aluminum can end up on 40-nanometer thin platelets as observed in our electron-microscope studies of the material from the WTC dust. Get serious. The observed mix has nano-components which do not organize themselves into a highly active form (including organics) from larger objects in violation of the laws of physics. (Needless to say, I disagree with Judy Wood’s explanation; see several related papers in the Journalof911Studies, e.g.,…)

7. Could the red nano-thermitic material found in the WTC dust have been primer paint used on the WTC?

No. We obtained asample of primer paint from a 9/11 monument at Clarkson College in New York with the help of a colleague there, and the paint proved to have a distinctly different chemical composition from that observed in the red/gray chips. In particular, the primer paint used on the WTC shows significant zinc content, absent when the interior of a red-material sample is exposed (see our paper {} and Australia talk, ). See attached XEDX graphs showing distinct elemental contents of the red chips and the primer paint (both from the WTC). Even under a good optical microscope, one can see the difference between the primer paint and the red/gray chips; see for example, recent photomicrographs by Jon Cole. While both are present in the WTC dust, the primer paint is rather flexible and non-glossy whereas the red thermitic material is rigid and rather brittle and glossy under white light illumination. It is the observed brittleness that evidently led to the fracturing of the red material into small fragments during the destruction of the buildings.

Further, after soaking in MEK, the red/gray chips (still wet with MEK) remained very hard, easy to pick up with forceps without deforming. OTOH, primer paint chips became very flexible and limp after soaking and still wet with MEK. There can be no mistaking the distinction.

5. Figure 14 in your paper shows zinc. Doesn’t this mean that this sample (which later was soaked in MEK) was a primer-paint sample?

It is unfortunate that we did not first fracture the chip which was later soaked in MEK and measure the fresh surface — a procedure we followed (thanks to Dr. Jeff Farrer) on the FOUR chips thoroughly analyzed in the paper. I am certain that if we had done this, there would have been no zinc on the inside of the chip-later-soaked, because after soaking there was NO ZINC (as we showed in our paper, Figures 16, 17 and 18). Clearly, soaking and agitating in MEK removed surface contamination. The Zn seen in Figure 14 was before soaking, as we said in the paper, and was very likely due to surface contamination, but we could have stated that more clearly. A lot of Zn was present in the dust (a fact recorded also in the USGS data set for the WTC dust). The fact that no Zinc or Ca show up in the XEDS spectra post-MEK, Figs 16, 17 and 18 is crucially important as demonstration that this is NOT primer paint.

6. What is the main evidence you have that the red material undergoes a thermitic reaction when ignited?

I would say the main evidence is the formation of reduced-iron spheres in the ash as the red material is heated to ignition, as described in some detail in our paper.

“That thermitic reactions from the red/gray chips have indeed occurred in the DSC (rising temperature method of ignition) is confirmed by the combined observation of 1) highly energetic reactions occurring at approximately 430 ?C, 2) iron-rich sphere formation so that the product must have been sufficiently hot to be molten (over 1400 ?C for iron and iron oxide), 3) spheres, spheroids and non- spheroidal residues in which the iron content exceeds the oxygen content. Significant elemental iron is now present as expected from the thermitic reduction-oxidation reaction of aluminum and iron oxide.

The evidence for active, highly energetic thermitic material in the WTC dust is compelling.”

7. What would be the motivation to place pyrotechnic material in the Towers and WTC 7 so as to cause the observed accelerated fall of these skyscrapers? Who would do such a thing?

These questions go beyond what we can learn by direct scientific methods such as use of electron-microscopy coupled with EDX probing and analysis of the accelerated fall of these buildings. We have done our part as scientists and engineers to demonstrate holes in the “official 9/11 story”, that no explosives were also involved that day. We believe that to get answers to the “who” and “why” questions will require a determined investigation with subpoena power. It is the same in most criminal cases where the evidence is not destroyed – scientific/forensic study is followed by a criminal investigation and trial.

The presence of pyrotechnic material in the WTC dust – along with other compelling evidences such as the free-fall acceleration of WTC7 – means that such an investigation and trial are necessary in order for justice to be served. The rubble of WTC7 was observed in a rubble pile on the footprint of the building; classic controlled-demolition style — certainly not “dustified”. Pushed by a few of us, NIST finally admits that WTC 7 fell with “free-fall acceleration” for over 100 feet, which requires that hundreds of tons of steel and concrete had to be moved out of the way via explosives.

For discussion and comments see:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dr. Rancourt

Thank you for your interest in our publication, and the effort you have made to formulate the questions as they appear in

Our answers follow below. Your questions are highlighted in green. (on this post here they are italics)

Yours sincerely

Niels Harrit


QUESTION: The Al slugs would give inhomogeneous background Al signals in the EDXA spectra. This was not considered or discussed in the paper. There could be no or little Al in the red-layer.

ANSWER: When doing a scientific, instrumental investigation, there always is a great number of control experiments, which are implicit to every serious worker in the field. It is understood by the experienced reader, that these tests have been done, since you cannot put every basic control test image or report every bit of supporting data in a journal article. The articles would be so enormous that no one would bother reading them and no journal would possibly care to print them. There are some things that are implied.

Thus, numerous background studies were carried out which were not reported in the red/grey chips paper. Among them, we performed a background study where the SEM beam hit the pedestal directly. We found that the pedestal was not pure aluminum (as you somehow(?) anticipate), but rather an Al-Mg alloy.

Therefore, if we were picking up aluminum signal from the pedestal then we also would have seen Mg.

We did not.

As the controls also showed, the electron beam couldn’t even penetrate the carbon conductive tab used as substratum for the chip samples during measurement. That is, the Al/Mg scaffold was never hit in any of the spectral recordings published in the article.

These circumstances are illustrated by Figs. 6 and 7 in the article. Fig. 6 shows the EDS spectra of the grey layers of four chips from each of the four dust samples. Thus, these data served as kind-of internal standard for the emissions obtained from the corresponding red layers (Fig. 7). In principle, the target areas for the electron beam on the two phases could be in a distance of microns only. It is immediately seen, that there is:

1. No aluminum in the grey layer (and only traces of carbon – no magnesium), and

2. Plenty aluminum in the red layer (and plenty of carbon – no magnesium).

Taken together, Figs. 6 and 7 prove unambiguously, that the aluminum signal is specific for the red layer. That is, there is NO background contribution!

TEM wide-field studies aimed at determination of stoichiometric compositions of the red and the grey layers were carried out after publication article (and therefore should not go into this discussion). However, the samples were mounted on a copper holder and these measurements also confirm the presence of aluminum in the red material (in the platelets). If money and time permit, the TEM studies may be completed and published.

The spread of the electron beam inside the samples was tested and Monte Carlo simulations were performed to get an idea of the interaction volume of the electron beam within the sample. There was NO aluminum signal when the beam was not on the red layer.

To suggest that there is no aluminum in the red layer is ludicrous.


QUESTION: The carbon adhesive tape will give inhomogeneous background C signals in the EDXA spectra. This was not considered or discussed in the paper. There could be no or little C in the red-layer.

ANSWER: Referring to the previous answer, it stands to reason that we acquired control spectra of the carbon tape on the Al stub, as well as on samples NOT mounted to carbon tape.

Again, comparison of figs. 6 and 7 reveals that the carbon signal almost exclusively originates from the red layer.

True, there seems to be carbon everywhere, which is exactly why some spectra were acquired from samples that were NOT mounted to carbon tape to ensure that the C was from the sample and not spurious X-rays from the carbon tape. In fact, one sample was mounted so that the X-ray signal could only possibly originate from within the red layer, and the measurement verified that there is carbon in the red layer.

The amount of carbon in the red layer had not been accurately determined at the time of writing and therefore we only reported qualitatively the presence of the C in the red layer.

Independently, the observation that the red layer swells in methyl ethyl ketone is an unambiguous proof that an organic matrix is present!


QUESTION: There is as much or more Si (silicon) in the EDXA results than Al in all the red-layer results and Si and Al are closely correlated in their spatial distributions (e.g., their Figure 10). No probable explanation is given for this. This is not consistent with the presence of metallic Al.

ANSWER: Fig. 10 shows the elemental mapping BEFORE soaking the chip in methyl ethyl ketone. Please, compare with Fig. 15.


QUESTION: Oxygen (O) is more closely spatially correlated with Al and Si than with Fe (e.g., their Figure 10). No probable explanation is given for this. This contradicts the conclusion of the presence of metallic Al.

ANSWER: Fig. 10 shows the elemental mapping BEFORE soaking the chip in methyl ethyl ketone. Please, compare with Fig. 15.


QUESTION: No effort was made to estimate the Fe:Al elemental ratio in the red-layer. Synthetic thermite or nanothermite would have a ratio of 1:1. The point is never discussed.

ANSWER: This ratio is not decisive. According to stoichiometry it should be 1:1. However, in real life there is always more aluminum. One reason is, that every aluminum item exposed to the atmosphere is covered by aluminum oxide. The relative fraction of Al2O3 increases as particles get smaller as a simple mathematical consequence.

Wonder where Dr. Rancourt got this information on nanothermite? Please provide a reference next time.

And what on earth is “synthetic thermite”?

In contrast, from the recipe provided in ref. 25 in our paper, one can derive an Fe/Al ratio of 0.17. But be sure that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory would never publish a preparation of “the real stuff”.


QUESTION: The exothermic peak in the DSC traces occurs at a temperature (420 C) approximately 90 C below the temperature for the thermite reaction. No explanation is proposed for this. Chemical activation energies of known reactions cannot be so sample dependent, whether nano-sized or not. This is not the thermite reaction.

ANSWER: We do not claim that the red/grey chips are the same material as Tillotson et al. described. Actually, we are pretty sure it is NOT for the same – for reasons given above.

Your statement about activation energies is nonsense. An activation energy is a thermodynamic quantity referring to standard conditions in solution or in the gas phase. That some people take this lightly is another matter. But to postulate a unique correlation between ignition temperature and activation energy in a two-phase solid reaction is ridiculous. Well, maybe you can expect a lower ignition temperature the smaller the particles – as observed.

Of course, all samples have a different ignition temperature (Fig. 19), and of course, different preparations with different compositions will have different ignition temperatures.

And what do you mean by “the temperature for the thermite reaction”? You are going to have a very hard time if you try to search the literature for a well-defined ignition temperature of conventional thermite mixtures. Please, provide a reference next time you come up with such a statement.

Furthermore, in the paper we hypothesize that the organic matrix (plus atmospheric oxygen) is decisive for the low ignition temperature and the overall energy output.


QUESTION: In the reacted product (after heating in DSC), no Al-oxide is observed as a residue, as required by the thermite reaction. No explanation is given for this.

ANSWER: Obviously, you have never done the experiment. In a conventional thermite reaction, you can observe the aluminum oxide as a white dust cloud (plume) leaving the reaction site. And if you care to watch the videos of the collapse of the WTC towers, you may also observe, that the rocket-projectile fragments, which were ejected up-and-out from the towers, drew white smoke-trails after them. Gypsum from wallboard CANNOT account for this. Take a look!


QUESTION: The obvious needed measurement of X-ray diffraction was not used to confirm the solid mineral species (oxides or metals). This is unacceptable in a materials chemistry paper. This is not considered by the authors.

ANSWER: X-ray diffraction studies on samples as small as these are very far from being a trivial matter. We did not have access to specialized X-ray sources (like synchrotrons) for this study.


ALTERNATIVE HYPOTHESIS: Much is made of the fact that Fe-rich spheroids are present after reaction but there is no discussion of the grey-layer or of the origin of the Si-rich spheroids. Heating causes many things and there is an exothermic reaction so the conclusions about the presence of Fe-rich spheroids (which are reported to contain oxygen) as evidence for the thermite reaction is tenuous.

ANSWER: A scientific paper is a set of data and the best hypothesis rationalizing the observations. Fe-rich spheroids are observed after a thermite reaction. Fe-rich spheroids have never been observed unless there was a thermite reaction.



ALTERNATIVE HYPOTHESIS: Here is an alternative explanation for the observations reported by Harrit et al.

Steel rusts. Rust crusts crack and blow off the steel when physically disrupted.

Rusting steel is one of the most studied materials science problems in engineering.

When steel rusts in a humid building environment it grows a crust composed of layers of different Fe-oxides and Fe-oxyhydroxides. These are stratified micro-layers with successive layers of different Fe-oxides species (wustite, maghemite, hematite, etc.). In a humid atmosphere the outer layers will be Fe-oxyhydroxides such as goethite, lepidocrocite and akaganeite. The latter three Fe-oxyhydroxides have the same chemical formula: FeOOH, and differ only in their crystal structures.

These Fe-oxyhydroxides typically form as nanoparticles and have the same needle and nanoflake-like morphologies as observed here.

When these Fe-oxyhydroxides are heated in a DSC they undergo a solid to solid exothermic reaction of dehydroxilation (loss of OH) and transform from FeOOH to Fe2O3 (hematite) at a temperature of approximately 400 C. The temperature of the transformation can vary depending on exact chemical composition, and on the crystal structure, but it is always at approximately 400 C.

Looks like our boys may have been discovering the properties of rusted steel. Steel contains C and Si which would end up in its oxidation products, especially in the oxyhydroxides.

ANSWER: Sensational.

According to your suggestion, when you heat rust, elemental iron is formed.

I look forward to the publication of this hypothesis in – say – Journal of Inorganic Chemistry (an ACS publication). If supported by observation(!) – be sure it will be accepted promptly and be widely recognized.

Next time you present this hypothesis, the least you can do is to provide it with proper references and observations.


Yours sincerely

Niels Harrit