Nancy’s ray guns

French physicist, Prosper-René Blondlot, was working at the University of Nancy, France, when he thought he’d discovered a new form of radiation.

image found here

He had perceived changes in the brightness of an electric spark in a spark gap placed in an X-ray beam which he photographed and attributed to the novel form of radiation, naming it the N-ray for the University of Nancy.

Cathedral, Nancy, France found here

The “discovery” excited international interest and many physicists worked to replicate the effects.

Dr J Stetson Hooker described his experiments on rays given off by humans thus: I have conducted during odd moments some 300 experiments to test this question of the human-ray spectrum and the extraordinary unanimity of the results is astounding…. rays emanating from a very passionate man have a deep red hue… the ambitious man emits orange rays;

Triumphant orange found here

the deep thinker, deep blue;

read about blue Paul here

the lover of art and refined surroundings, yellow; the anxious, depressed person, grey;

The Grey Man of the Merrick found here

and he who leads a low debased life throws off muddy-brown rays.”

American physicist Robert Wood was one who failed to replicate the experiments. Wood was a mischievious fellow – he’d gone on a joyride on the Trans-Siberian Railway while it was still being built, had swooped about in a glider before its design was remotely safe to life and limb, and had written a loony spoof of nature manuals titled How to Tell the Birds from the Flowers.

image found here

He had a reputation as a popular “debunker” in the period, and was prevailed upon by the journal Nature to travel to Blondlot’s laboratory in France to investigate further. In the darkened room, Wood secretly removed an essential prism from the experimental apparatus, yet the experimenters still said that they observed N-rays. He also secretly replaced a large file that was supposed to be giving off N-rays with an inert piece of wood, yet the N-rays were still “observed”. By 1905 no one outside Nancy believed in N-rays even as Blondlot himself is reported to have still been convinced of their existence in 1926.

image found here

A park in downtown Nancy is named after Blondlot. He left his house and garden to the city which transformed it into a public park. This can be seen as appropriate since he made significant contributions to physics before the N-ray debacle. James Randi reported that citizens of Nancy and members of the faculty at the university did not remember ever having heard about N-rays or Blondlot.

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40 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I wanted to read about Blue Paul but your Blue Paul link is the same as the Trump link. Now you are going to have to make me google it..

    • Oops sorry about that… fixed now.

  2. Donald Trump is the most marvellous colour. And yet entirely natural.

    • As is the cow lick. No hairspray needed.

  3. N for Nuts, Nonsense and Nincompoop?

    • I think it was a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes

  4. “he who leads a low debased life throws off muddy-brown rays”…
    I prefer to think of my rays as Rainbow Sparkles.

    • I think your rays would be pink, red and purple

  5. regardless of his silly colored ray theories, Dr. J. Stetson Hooker could have his way with me based soley upon his name.

    D. Fae Harper

    • Isn’t it fabulous?

  6. I wonder if Stetson Hooker was picking up orgones? Blue Paul is a fine poster boy for colloidal silver!

  7. Ha ha, the parrot, the carrot. easy mistake to make. lol

    • Oh I make it all the time, thank heavens for the reference book

  8. The Donald is a scary human being

    • What makes you convinced he’s human Malach?

  9. I’m surprised the Goths and their morgue brethren haven’t got into colloidal silver…

    Proves those Emo kids are chicken.

    The King

    • cheep cheep cheep

    • Can you explain more about colloidal silver, KW?
      My father is very sick and my sister has been buying this stuff but I don’t know about the healing properties of it.

  10. I do like a comb-over that can be read as a barcode ….

  11. I’m in no way a sun worshiper.
    I just don’t care to tan and all that.
    The result is that I’m very, very white.
    Reckon that makes me a cracker?

    • I’d have to see your rays to determine that

  12. I like the sound of Mr Wood

  13. Wasn’t N-ray ‘Iggins the dude from My Fair Lady?

  14. I have quite tardily added you to my DelVecchio-approved links. You may repay me with continuing to pretend to like me.

    • as you wish Denny 😉

  15. Is there a greater word in the history of language than ‘debunker’?

    I shall do my best to get that into a serious sentence before the fall of the sun this day.

    • do it thrice and you get a reward

  16. Paul Blue looks like a mere dilettante compared to these guys….

    • Ooh I’d love to see them some day. That show looks fantastic.

  17. Having travelled all over France, I was sure i’d done Nancy – must visit someday… was Puy de Sancy we did on the Tour de France. Fantastic views!

    • My Tour de France involved resting, reading, eating and drinking. yours sounds exhausting.

      • Travelling with a friend who was useless at building (do I mean erecting?)tents, cooking and who I wouldn’t trust to drive me as a passenger…I suppose it was exhausting – but it was still one of the best holidays I ever had.
        If you ever need a driver/cook/erector….you know where I am….

  18. Everyone knows carrots squawk when bitten!

  19. The picture of the cathedral is just gorgeous!

  20. I’m terribly afraid of ginger men.

  21. My giant talking rabbit gives off N rays too.

  22. My ex did not give off rays but her and that lawyer had a certain magnetism for paper and copper that drew every note and penny out of my wallet

  23. I am basking in the hilarity of the photos on this post. Particularly amusing is the carrot bird. A while back I blogged about the “Sweet Potato Bird,” a painting of two parrots my mother retrieved from my late grandfather’s house. I thought the birds looked like sweet potatoes, and my comment about it “ruined the painting” for her. She put it on the street!

  24. *whew* It’s good to know I don’t have to worry about that muddy-brown glow I seem to give off…

  25. A friend of mine used to say that she interpreted music as different colors.

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