N ray

The N- rays were one of the great discoveries of physics in the early 20th century, which proved to be a scientific error and self-deception.

Alleged discovery

The French physicist René Blondlot at the University of Nancy, from which the name N ( ancy ) rays derived, believed in 1901 a new type of radiation, similar to the 1895 discovered X-rays ( X - rays) to have observed that emitted by a hot platinum wire will.

Evidence of radiation should by their influence on the brightness of a gas flame be possible. Many French research colleagues pounced eagerly on the new discovery and numerous scientific articles were published as the subject in the following years. Even a spectral decomposition of the N- rays by means of a prism made of aluminum appeared to be possible.


The end of the supposed discovery began when the German Kaiser Wilhelm II, who was always interested in science, wanted to see these new rays. But Professor Heinrich Rubens, who should perform it, the experiments of the N- rays could not understand. At a scientific meeting, he advocated a detailed review of the relevant radiation through a laboratory visit at Blondlot, which, however, should take over the American Robert Wood, as a German nationalist would encounter in research conducted on reservations.

Wood visited the laboratory in 1904, but could not recognize the detection of N- rays with a gas flame, the other experiments did not convince him. Finally Blondlot led him before the spectrum by means of the aluminum prism and described spectral lines. Since Wood could see nothing, he asked Blondlot to measure the spectrum again, but removed before sneaking into the darkness of the laboratory the prism. Nevertheless Blondlot could detect spectral lines again. His outraged assistant had been watching him and demanded, even again to measure the spectrum. He realized that nothing could be measured. Wood, however, had previously secretly inserted the prism again. Thus, the N- rays were exposed as a deception. France saw this as a national disgrace.

This classic example of scientific blunders is often first-year students of physics tells to illustrate typical errors in scientific work. Similar fame acquired the Polywater ( in the 1960s and 1970s ) and a method of cold fusion in 1989.