Author: John Brawley (John.Brawley@p1.f9.n8012.z86.toadnet.org)
Title: Evolution's Tiny Violences
Copyright (c) 1992 by John Brawley.
Permission hereby granted to copy and disseminate.
EVOLUTION'S TINY VIOLENCES:
An Amateur Scientist Examines Pegmatitic Biotite Mica
John G. Brawley, Jr.
ABSTRACT:Samples of mica (var. biotite) from pegmatites in two states
[North Carolina: Spruce Pine district and South Dakota: Harney Peak
batholith (Black Hills)] are examined under the microscope. Radioactive
element decay chains and alpha particle energies are explored in order
to determine possible mechanisms for production of point-source
pleochroic radiohalos in the samples. Special attention is paid to
"Polonium"-type halos of the series 84Po218, 84Po214, 84Po210.
Not many of the subjects attendant on the creation/evolution
"controversy" are accessible to the amateur scientist for direct
examination. DNA analysis requires expensive technical equipment, and
examining for oneself the extensive fossil record 'in situ' might
require a lifetime.
The claims put forth by Dr. Robert V. Gentry, however, seem
uniquely suited to direct examination by anyone with access to biotite
mica and a decent microscope such as can be begged, borrowed or rented
from the local high school science department. I am perhaps lucky that
my mother taught high school biology for most of her life, and that upon
her passing I obtained her personal 'scope.
Samples require only some knowledge of where they might be found,
the means -- vehicle and gas, food and lodging -- to get there, and a
small sledgehammer and pocket knife. Labelled plastic sandwich or
freezer bags make good sample containers. A slight talent for glib talk
(or better: complete honesty), is helpful in explaining why one wishes
to enter mines abandoned and ignored for more than forty years -- and
which are located primarily on private property. One does not enter
dangerous areas to obtain samples, in most cases.
I was first alerted to the "polonium halo problem" via a local
electronic bulletin board ('BBS') which carried an "echo" (nationwide
message-repeater system) called BioGenesis, in which the
creation/evolution "controversy" was being heatedly discussed.
Upon obtaining Dr. Gentry's book, "Creation's Tiny Mystery," I
found that there indeed seemed to be a legitimate claim being made: the
requirement for long cooling periods (many, many years) in granites,
combined with an extremely short half-life for Polonium, made it seem
quite impossible for particles of Polonium-218 (half-life around three
minutes) to have become entrapped in crystals of biotite which grew
slowly to include them. All Polonium-218 must have decayed at least to
mass 210 by the time the crystal had solidified sufficiently to retain
alpha-particle damage to its crystal lattice.
The suggested decay chain for Polonium is as follows. (I have
begun the chain at Radon-222, fifth in the series of alpha particle-
emitting daughters of Uranium-238, both for brevity and for another
reason which will shortly become clear.)
86 Rn 222 (86 protons, Radon, mass 222)
Decays in about four days to Polonium-218 with the emission of an
alpha particle of 5,486,000 electron volts (5.486 MeV).
(Please note this energy value.)
84 Po 218 (84 protons, Polonium, mass 218)
Decays, through two additional non-alpha-emitting (beta decay)
steps involving Lead and Bismuth, over a total of about 45 minutes, to
Polonium-214 with the emission of a 6.111 MeV alpha particle.
84 Po 214 (84 protons, Polonium, mass 214, arriving via
Lead-214 (27 minutes) and Bismuth 214 (20 minutes))
Decays through two additional (and time-consuming) steps taking
about 21 years, to Polonium 210, with the emission of a 7.687 MeV alpha
particle. This involves the immediate alpha decay (.000164 seconds) of
the Po-214 nucleus to Lead 210, which has a half-life of 21 years, then
via beta decay to Bismuth 210 with a 5 day half-life, and another beta
decay to Po 210. (There is a small chance of the Bismuth 210 appearing
in its isomeric form, which has a half-life of three million years.)
This Polonium-214 alpha energy is the highest in the Uranium 238 decay
chain, and consequently creates the largest, outermost, halo.
84 Po 210 (84 protons, Polonium, mass 210)
Decays with a half-life of 138 days directly to Lead 206 (stable),
emitting an alpha particle of 5,305,000 electron-volts' energy. (Note
the close similarity between this energy and that of the decay from
Radon 222 to Polonium 218.)
82 Pb 206 (82 protons, Lead, mass 206)
End of the line. Stable Lead. No further decay is possible.
My first explanatory hypothesis was that if there were enough
Uranium-235 or other fissionable material in the pegmatite, and if there
were tiny Lead particles (any stable isotope) also present, then a low-
level background flux of neutrons captured by the lead might produce a
Polonium-210 halo. The CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics'
radionuclide tables showed that this process would, in fact, result
inevitably in a Polonium atom from Lead-206, with the addition of only
four neutrons per atom over geologic time. Interestingly, this would
produce Polonium-210 repeatedly, being a cyclic process; Lead plus four
neutrons producing Polonium, then the Polonium alpha-decaying back to
lead-206. It also, with the addition of two more neutrons during a
'window' of time, could produce outer halos sized very nearly as
Polonium-218 and Polonium-214. This was the hypothesis I carried with
me to North Carolina on my first sample-gathering trip.
However, on that trip I made a stop at Oak Ridge National
Laboratories in Tennessee and talked my way inside, to speak with a Mr.
J.K. Dickens, scientist in the electron laboratory, who had worked
alongside Dr. Gentry during his stay there. Mr. Dickens pointed out
that, while my hypothesis was quite valid from an ideal point of view,
there were several "bottlenecks" where an unusually low neutron-capture
cross-section would make the transition to Polonium highly unlikely,
although not impossible. (Mr. Dickens did give me some encouragement,
both by suggesting a way to test for neutron addition/Polonium/Bismuth
formation from lead, and by stating, upon seeing my photomicrographs of
'drifts' and 'strings' of halos along cracks and inclusions, "I've never
seen anything like that!" I found it significant that one of the people
who had been near Dr. Gentry and had seen his work, had "never seen"
certain phenomena in the biotite that I had seen and photographed.)
[Note: Mr. Dickens also told me a story about the procurement by one of
the researchers of radiohalo samples from Madagascar--samples previously
possessed by the daughter of Madame Curie and obtained from France. A
most interesting story indeed, but beyond the scope of this paper.]
Dr. Gentry's book contains an excellent section of photomicrographs
of various radiohalo types. Bearing in mind the two similar alpha
energies (Radon 222 and Polonium 210, noted above), I saw that Dr.
Gentry's photographs of Uranium 238 halos, which must contain eight
alpha emitting steps, show in all cases only five damage rings. This
means that some of the U-238 rings are actually several rings so close
to one another that they are microscopically indistinguishable even at
powers of 1000X and higher. As it happens, one of those rings which is
actually two rings is the ring formed by both Radon 222 and Polonium
It is known that all eight rings are present in a Uranium 238 halo,
yet the double ring Rn-222/Po-210 looks (in all cases I have seen) like
only one ring.
If this were so, I thought, then how could identification of halos
consisting of only the Polonium isotopes be certain? There could be no
way microscopically or even with an ion microprobe to distinguish
between a Radon 222 --> Polonium 210 halo and a Polonium 218 -->
Polonium 210 halo.
At this point, one of those rare and welcome "Aha!" experiences
occurred as I realized that Radon is:
A) A gas,
B) An inert gas,
C) Produced a few atoms at a time in the U-238 decay chain,
continuously and steadily over geologic time.
There was therefore no reason to think that Radon manufactured in
any nearby Uranium mineral particle (uraninite, betafite, uranophane,
etc.) would stay attached to the disintegrating particle; an atom with a
filled outer shell would not 'attach' to the biotite crystal's atoms,
nor would it be likely to remain attached to the disintegrating Uranium
mineral inclusion. Moreover, with about four days to move around as
single atoms subject to thermodynamic gas laws, it could wander
literally anywhere in the mica permitted by the slightest crack, cavity,
lattice discontinuity, or separation between crystal planes, "pushed"
along by new Radon atoms forming back 'behind' it in the inclusion.
Preexisting observational evidence:
My initial microscope exploration of biotite mica (kindly given me
by Mike Fix of the physics department of the University of Missouri at
St. Louis) had shown many interesting and unusual features not mentioned
by Dr. Gentry in his book, among which were cracks and fissures
surrounded by faint discolorations of halo width. In a few cases, these
crack-following halos were actually double halos, just as if they had
been crack-shaped deposits of Polonium at one time. If Radon 222 were
migrating, a few atoms at a time, down these cracks, most of which
originated at or near large, obviously radioactive mineral inclusions or
at the biotite crystal's edges where severe radiation damage was
apparent, then such 'crack-halos' would be expected. Moreover, given
restrictions in the cracks, and particles of previously-deposited lead
206, I could envision locations along the haloed cracks where Radon 222
might find itself preferentially delayed long enough to decay repeatedly
in the same spots, generating spherical halos there. This might account
for the many cases of multiple halos I found 'strung out' along the
cracks like beads on a chain. (I have some photos of such strings and
'drifts' of halos.) It also occurred to me that there might be
electron-based attractions between Polonium, Bismuth, or Lead, formed
suddenly as the Radon underwent decay, and Lead atoms previously
deposited in these areas. (Lead, like Carbon, has four electrons in its
outer shell, thus presumably might have a net attraction for a nearby,
suddenly-appearing atom of Polonium, which has six. My knowledge of
chemistry is limited, however, so this idea needs further work.)
Since I had been examining mica from an uncertain source, (I had
only UMSL's and its source's word that the source was the 'Etta' mine in
South Dakota), it became scientifically necessary for me to be able to
pin down the exact location from which my samples were obtained, so I
packed my truck and left for North Carolina, the closest place where
mica mines had existed in profusion in past years. There I obtained
very few biotite samples; the Spruce Pine district was a fine source of
muscovite (white) mica, but biotite was scarce. (Even so, some halos
were observed in this mica. As far as I know, this constitutes the
first reporting in the literature of pointlike halos found in muscovite
mica.) Two sources near Mars Hill, N.C. did yield large quantities of
'sheet' biotite. However, I have yet to find a single halo in this
biotite. Significantly, there is also no evidence whatsoever of
radioactivity in this biotite. These two sources, the Roy Young
property and two old workings atop Nofat Mountain, perhaps indicate most
clearly the relationship between radioactives and radiohalos: no
evidence of radioactivity or radioactive inclusions seems also to
indicate no halos.
The sparsity of halos in the North Carolina biotite samples drove
me to find the 'Etta' mine in South Dakota, and to sample it as well as
other mines in the Custer and Keystone areas. This gathering trip was
highly successful, and several mines, notably the "Helen Beryl Mine,"
yielded nice biotite crystals literally peppered with halos of many
types. The Etta, Rainbow no.4, and Peerless mines were also very
(A 'Mine List' is attached. See Appendix 'A')
In this mica I observed halos which caused me to begin to suspect
that not only would precise identification of "Polonium" halos be
difficult due to the impossibility of being sure they were not Radon-
caused halos, but also there seemed to be some problem merely correctly
identifying a two- or three-ring halo which was not actually a Uranium
halo either in some early stage of development or produced by a somewhat
oversized particle of Uranium mineral. A very dark Uranium halo, if no
detail can be distinguished inward of the Polonium-210/Radon-222 ring
(where all the Uranium/Thorium decays are located), cannot be told from
a very dark "Polonium-218" halo. They look exactly alike. Only a three-
ring "Polonium-218" (or Radon-222) halo which is a) light enough to
reveal detail within the innermost ring and b) made by a sufficiently
small particle, can be unambiguously identified as such: a light inner
halo reveals Uranium/Thorium rings if present, and if the radiocenter is
too large, all the inner rings overlap and do not show distinct "ring"
structure, yet since both the Po-218 and Po-214 rings are made by much
higher energy alphas--thus having much greater range than the inner
ring-forming alphas, a Po-214 halo remains a feature of even large-
particle Uranium halos. A maximum difference of only 520,000 electron-
volts exists between even the farthest-apart inner halos, but between
the outermost of these and the Po-214 halo, a difference of 2,200,000 eV
Dr. Gentry notes in his book that it takes about 100 million alpha
decays before a halo "initially develops" (CTM, p19), becoming darker
after 500 million, and very dark after 1 billion alpha emissions. If it
were true that the three-ring, "Polonium-218" halos were actually Radon-
222 halos, it would be difficult also to distinguish between the single,
smaller, "Po-210" halos and early Radon halos: I had observed that
around some "Po-210"-type halos existed the faintest imaginable outer
ring, sized as a Po-214 halo, which disappeared under higher
magnification. That is, some Po-210 type halos, viewed at 40, 60, and
100X magnifications, showed an outer Po-214 type ring that was just on
the edge of visibility. It was actually a case of "Am I really seeing
that?" Yet, going to higher magnification, the outer halo could not be
seen at all. This was the case with even Po-214-type outer halos that
were definitely there under the lower powers. If these were actually
Radon halos in an early stage of development, then while the "Po-210"
halo would be visible due to two alphas being employed to cause it
(Radon-222 and Po-210), only one alpha each would be available to form
the other two rings (Po-218 and Po-214), which might then still be on
the edge or below the threshold of visibility. Additionally, the
density of the smaller halo would be improved through concentration of
damage relative to the larger-area halos. Thus, it would be possible to
observe what appeared to be a single, Polonium-210 halo which was
actually a two-alpha-produced Radon halo, with the two outer halos (Po-
218 and Po-214) present but still below the level of visibility.
Unlike a "Polonium" halo, which must be formed once in a
geologically short time and thereafter merely sit waiting to be found, a
Radon-222 halo would be in a state of continuous formation more or less
throughout geologic time, without requiring any hydrothermal activity to
'separate' the Polonium isotopes from any Uranium-particle source:
gaseous Radon transports itself. Hence, depending on multiple factors
such as the configuration of cracks, buildup of Lead particles in them,
new cracks or distortions formed under geologic shifting, and other
changing conditions, Radon-222 halos might be seen in all conceivable
stages of development. Radon halos would be the only types capable of
continuing 'migratory' formation, since "Polonium," Uranium, and Thorium
halos can only form around particles locked into places in the biotite
crystal lattice or transported by subsequent hydrothermal activity.
I have at this point in my work reached an impasse. I have many
photos, in both color and black-and-white, of my samples, and I have
amassed a small collection of samples labelled and stored. I know where
exactly each sample came out of the earth, having scraped the biotite
off of the pegmatite surfaces or gathered it from the mine dumps with my
own hands. I have examined much of the biotite directly, and have
approximately a hundred times as much yet to examine by splitting and
observing. I have expended personal funds, and have reached the end of
them. I have several proposals for testing the Radon hypothesis, but
not yet the means to do them. For example:
1) If it is true that these unambiguous "Polonium-218" (according to Dr.
Gentry) halos are actually Radon-222 halos, then it should be possible
to statistically determine the relative density of the three rings. If
this were done with a through-the-microscope photometer, the inner halo
should have a density reading roughly twice that of either of the outer
two halos, when adjusted for the difference in their diameters.
Visually, this seems to be the case with both Dr. Gentry's own
photomicrographs and with my own positively identified three-ring halos.
Visual judgement, however, can be wrong.
2) Although I am unfamiliar with scanning electron microscopes, it
should be possible to image the general damage in the crystal lattice at
each halo's location. If so, then while each of the outer two halos
would show a perhaps gaussian 'curve of damage pits' reaching from the
inner edge of the halo through the field of alpha-particle hits to the
outer edge, the Radon-222/Polonium-210 ring should reveal either a wider
field with a flat extent in the middle, or an actual saddle-shaped
distribution of damage pits resulting from the presence of two sets of
alpha particle shocks. This might be detectable under electron
microscope magnifications, while it is certainly not visible with a
standard light microscope.
3) It should actually be possible to reproduce in some way the halos,
using clean (halo-free) biotite samples and a source of Radon-222. If a
small sealed cell were arranged, with the edge of a sheet of this clean
mica sandwiched into its perimeter so that Radon produced by a large
sample of Uranium-238 would have access to the ragged edge of the mica,
then given enough time, the Radon produced by the Uranium should migrate
into the biotite and decay there, reproducing the process hypothesized
to occur in the natural pegmatite. The time this would require might be
prohibitive, but at least one could generate Radon with a more
concentrated and larger sample of Uranium than typically is present as a
mineral in the natural state, reducing the time required. This
experiment would most closely duplicate the actual conditions forming
Radon-222 halos, and would be a definitive test of this hypothesis.
(Most of my halos are found around radioactive inclusions in the
biotite, and most of the samples of biotite from the Black Hills have
their edges peppered with halos, contrary to the information Dr. Gentry
reports in his book (CTM, p30).
In Conclusion, I believe that Radon-222 is the most likely
candidate for the source of certain "Polonium-218" halos in biotite
mica. The process envisioned is most consistent with the data
(including some observational data not mentioned by previous
researchers), and providentially is unique in its characteristics:
Radon is an inert gas, the only gas in the Uranium-238 decay chain,
having the thermodynamic ability and more than enough time to migrate
about in the mica, a few atoms at a time. Also significant is the
apparent impossibility of distinguishing Radon-222 halos from Polonium-
218 halos under the microscope.
This work was done during the months of March-November, 1992, by
John Brawley. Both a Bausch and Lomb Student microscope and a Bausch
and Lomb professional flat-field microscope capable of 40X through 1500X
magnifications, provided by Chris Downs of St. Louis, were used. Samples
came from North Carolina near Spruce Pine, and from the Black Hills of
South Dakota (Appendix A).
[Note: In South Dakota, measurements of pegmatite gamma radiation were
made using an Integral Field Spectrometer ('scintillometer'), EDA model
GRS 400, rented from the South Dakota School of Mines in Rapid City.]
This text is copyright (c) 1992 by John Brawley. Permission is hereby
granted to copy and distribute freely, in the interests of science, but
all rights remain with the copyright holder, his heirs and assigns.
(List of source mines for mica used in these observations)
North Carolina: (Spruce Pine District)
Wiseman Mine, 1 mi. NNE of Minpro.
"Ed and Will Swain mine" (crest of Nofat Mt.), 1/2 mi. NW of Democrat.
Sinkhole mine, Bandana district., (The oldest mica mine in NC; this mine
was used by the Indians.)
Bud Phillips' dolomitic marble workings, Bandana district.
(Near the Sinkhole mine.)
"Emerald Village" (the old McKinney mine).
Hootowl mine, 1/2 mi. N of Crabtree Mountain.
Chestnut Flat mine, 3/4 mi. E of Bear Creek P.O. (Note: this mine is
noted in the referenced source as the mine from
which quartz for the 200-inch mirror on Mt.
Palomar was taken.)
Pine Mountain mine (owned by K.T. Feldspar Corp.), 1 mi. N of Minpro.
"Crabtree Emerald Mine", at end of a BAD road above the McKinney.
Roy Young property (old Hipp-McSwain mine), 1/2 mi. E of Beech Glen.
Arrowwood mine, 3 1/4 mi. W of Barnardsville.
Chrome Spar (Goldsmith) mine, 3 mi. W of Barnardsville.
South Dakota: (Harney Peak batholith, Black Hills)
Etta mine, NW1/4, sec.16, T.2S, R.6E, 1 mi. S. of Keystone.
Helen Beryl pegmatite, in sec.7, T.4S, R.4E, approx. 8 mi. SW of Custer.
Rainbow #4 mine, about 1 mi. E. of the Helen Beryl.
Hugo mine, within 1/2 mi. of the Etta.
Peerless mine, 1/4 mi. above the Borglum Museum, Keystone.
Bob Ingersoll mine nos. 1 and 4, NE1/4NW1/4, sec.6, T.2S, R6E, 2 mi.
NW of keystone.
Homestake Gold Mine, Lead, SD.
NUTEC Corp. mines: 2 mines located above the Etta, sampled from mica
extracted by the company. This mica is the only
material not removed by myself.
Weast, Robert C., Ph.D. ed.: CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics
(61st edition); Boca Raton; CRC Press, Inc., 1980.
Gentry, Robert V.: Creation's Tiny Mystery; Knoxville; Earth Science
Associates, 1988 (2nd edition).
Olson, J.C.: Economic Geology of the Spruce Pine Pegmatite District,
North Carolina (Bulletin No. 43, part I & II, N.C. Division of
Mineral Resources); Raleigh, 1944.
Parker, John M. III: Geology and Structure of Part of the Spruce Pine
District, North Carolina (Bulletin No. 65, N.C. Division of Mineral
Resources); Raleigh, 1952.
Page, Lincoln R. et.al.: Pegmatite Investigations 1942-1945, Black
Hills, South Dakota (U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper
247); Washington, 1953.
South Dakota Geological Survey: Geologic Map of the Black Hills
(Educational series map five, after N.H. Darton, USGS); 1951.
U.S. Geological Survey: Topographic maps in the series 15 and 7 1/2
minutes, various, covering both locations.
In Saint Louis:
Mike Fix, Physics department, University of Missouri at St. Louis: for
the first radiohalo-containing biotite samples, for information and
advice, and for chats and equitable sample trades.
Walt Stumper, System Operator, Origins Talk electronic bulletin board
system, and librarian, Missouri Association for Creation: for my copy of
"Creation's Tiny Mystery" and for friendly assistance at all times.
Dr. David N. Menton, professor, Washington University: for encouragement
and friendly debate.
In North Carolina:
Carl E. Merschat, Area Geologist, N. C. Geological Survey, Asheville:
for extensive and excellent help in locating likely sources of biotite,
and for providing maps and advice from his personal experience in the
area. Mr. Merschat was helpful beyond all expectation.
Bud Phillips, owner, Mitchell Lumber Company: for kind and personal help
and advice, for samples, and for permission to hunt mica on his
dolomitic marble workings in the Bandana District. Mr. Phillips is a
local expert on mines and minerals, and an impressive individual.
Mr. J.K. Dickens, scientist, Oak Ridge National Laboratories: for a
discussion of radiohalos and Dr. Gentry's work while there, and for
advice and help on the neutron-addition-to-Lead hypothesis.
David Merrick, mineralogist, FELDSPAR Corp.: for permission to collect
samples in the Wiseman mine.
Roy Young, resident, Mars Hill: for permission to collect on his
property, where the old Hipps-McSwain mine is located. This mine
yielded the largest and most lovely samples of biotite I recovered. It
appears, however, to be utterly devoid of halos.
Mars Hill College, Mars Hill: for permission to camp in the parking lot.
In South Dakota:
Tom Hack and Michael Cepak, Office of Minerals and Mining, Pierre: for
advice and information on the Black Hills area, and for contact names
and phone numbers of mine property owners.
South Dakota School of Mines: for rental of a Field Scintillometer, and
for advice and cooperation.
Ray Aldritch, (of Gunderson, Farrar, Aldritch and DeMersseman,
representing Harold Shafer, owner) Rapid City: for permission to enter
and workcamp on the Bob Ingersoll mine property.
Mrs. Laura L. Pankratz, Borglum Historical Center, Keystone: for
permission to collect on the Peerless mine property (currently owned by
Dr. Pankratz), and for her kind and friendly personal attention.
Gene Kuhnel, owner, the Rock Shed: for permission to collect at the Etta
Homestake Gold Mine, Lead: for drill core samples and information on
biotite in the Northern Black Hills.
Mr. Alexander, owner, Hugo mine: for personal attention and permission
to search for samples in the mine.
I would like to express my appreciation also to all those individual
residents of North Carolina who gave me assistance in one way or
another. These people demonstrated true Southern hospitality, and were
friendly and cooperative almost without exception. I met with no
resistance of any kind, except for the managers at K.T. Feldspar, who
were singularly uncooperative, and the reluctantly helpful operators
from UNAMIN corporation, who expressed complete astonishment at my
appearance (via an old road marked on the 1944 maps) in the offices of
their high-security mining operation and could not wait to get me the
hell off their property.
The people of the Black Hills region also deserve my thanks, for once I
made it clear that I was not a tourist (Mount Rushmore; July), they gave
me every possible assistance.
A special note of thanks goes to Chris Downs, who provided the Bausch
and Lomb flat-field microscope whose use was so critical to the ability
to photomicrograph many of the samples used in this study.
Copyright (c) 12/22/1992, by John Brawley.