By Tim Binnall
A pair of nuclear scientists in Pennsylvania is applying their expertise to a piece of metal that may have come from Amelia Earhart's doomed aircraft in an attempt to glean new insights into the legendary pilot's disappearance. Director of the Penn State Radiation Science and Engineering Center, Daniel Beck reportedly had his interest piqued when he saw a cable TV documentary on the case last year and, on the program, they showcased some intriguing potential debris from the aviatrix's plane and mused that perhaps someday modern science could unlock clues hidden in the material. "I realized that technology exists," he recalled, "I work with it every day."
With that in mind, Beck connected with Earhart researchers who were intrigued by the possibility that neutron radiography could detect critical details in the metal that might otherwise not be visible. His colleague Kenan Unlu, who is working with him on the project, explained that scanning the piece with a neutron beam may reveal "paint or writing or a serial number" that have been largely worn away over time to the point that they can't be seen with the naked eye. Additionally, the duo subjected the metal to a "neutron activation analysis," which "helps precisely identify the make-up of material" down to the "parts-per-billion level."
Observing that the piece appears to have been removed from an aircraft using an axe, Beck indicated that their study ought to determine if that is the case since there would be minuscule fragments of elements, like iron or nickel, left behind by that action. "We're not going to find Earhart’s signature on the patch or something that definitely confirms this belongs to her plane," he cautioned, but postulated that "we will provide more data about what this patch is." The pair plan to study the puzzling metal piece using these advanced scientific techniques over the next few weeks and hope to publish a paper detailing their findings later this year.