Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Ununoctium Affair

Victor Ninov (Bulgarian: Виктор Нинов) is a former researcher in the nuclear chemistry group at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) who was alleged to have fabricated the evidence used to claim the creation of ununoctium and ununhexium.[1]

Ninov was trained at the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung (GSI) (in Germany. His hiring by the LBNL from GSI had been considered a coup: he had been involved in the discovery of elements 110 (now named darmstadtium), 111 (now named roentgenium) and 112 (now named copernicium) and was considered one of the leading experts at using the complex types of software needed to detect the decay chain of unstable transuranium elements.

When the results of allegedly successful ununoctium and ununhexium discovery experiments proved to be unrepeatable by the Berkeley group and other laboratories around the world, an internal investigation was convened. The result of the investigation was that Dr. Ninov's work had been "fraudulent" and an unusually high-profile scandal followed.[citation needed] An internal committee at the lab concluded that Ninov was the only person in the large project to translate the raw computer results into human-readable results and had used this opportunity to inject false data.[2] Re-analysis of the raw data did not indicate the events which Ninov's analysis originally reported.[1] Ninov was fired in 2001 after claiming that the unique design of his apparatus was responsible for the faulty evidence leading to the alleged new elements. Ninov continues to deny vigorously any wrong-doing and maintains his innocence of any intent to commit fraud.[citation needed] He has also alleged that it was part of an international attempt to frame him and that he was scapegoated because his co-authors did not want to admit to their own errors.[citation needed]

Ninov's work at GSI was also called into question.[citation needed] Re-examination of the data from the experiments conducted at GSI during which Ninov's team had discovered elements 111 and 112 found that the original data had been altered,[1] however repeats of the experiments confirmed the discoveries.[3][4]
Here we see examples of:
  • "My experiment acted up! How was I supposed to know!?"
  • "I am innocent! It is a conspiracy!"
  • "I just fudged the data for cosmetic reasons"

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