Aggie Alchemy

John Bockris was known around Texas A&M as a chemist interested in "weird science." Joe Champion gave him all he could handle.

"I always had hope that [Champion] had something," says Bhardwaj, who now works in private industry in New Mexico. "You see, my idol is Dr. Bockris. I consider him like a god. I never thought Dr. Bockris could be made a fool of."

The first thermal experiment yielded nothing. When the analysis returned two days later, Bhardwaj reported the result to Bockris. The professor then asked Champion what was next.

"John, can I talk to you alone?" Bhardwaj remembers Champion asking Bockris.
When they were alone, Champion came clean. John, he said, this recipe is so important, if I start giving it to all the people in your lab, do you know what will happen to the economy of the world? The recipe I gave those people, he said, is not complete.

When Bhardwaj was told what Champion had said, the senior scientist hit the roof.

"You have wasted my time," Bhardwaj shouted at the two of them. "Three days, with analysis and everything, and now you're saying the recipe is not right."

"I can only give the recipe to Dr. Bockris," Champion insisted. "I will mix the chemicals and give it to you for analysis."

"I am not a technician that you can just give something to to be analyzed," Bhardwaj replied. "That is not the way to do science. If I am involved in the research, I want to know everything you are doing."

Champion finally relented, but not until Bockris told him Bhardwaj was crucial to the project. Any results would be incomplete without input from the senior scientist.

The experiments continued with Champion working closely with Bhardwaj. Champion had taken charge -- mixing the chemicals himself, guiding his co-workers through the ignition and burn phase, showing them the extraction process. Bhardwaj noted how confident Champion appeared in a lab setting. The man did seem to know something of the scientific method.

But there were red flags. One in particular went up when Champion suggested dissolving gold in nitric acid. "This is basic chemistry," noted Bhardwaj. "It doesn't work." Bhardwaj says he often had meals with Champion in which the two men shared their pasts. Presumably, Champion skipped the time he spent in prison in Huntsville. He did, however, give Bhardwaj his educational resume: a master's degree in geology from the University of Houston, a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Arizona. But when Bhardwaj checked, he discovered that Champion had no credentials.

"I had a feeling from the beginning that Champion was telling lies," Bhardwaj says. "All of these things told me that this is not science we are doing. This is dirty tricks going on here."

Nonetheless, on June 2, 1992 -- "one fine morning," Bhardwaj calls it -- there was gold. There was great excitement, of course. It's not every day that a recipe for gold is discovered. Bockris wrote up an abstract and asked everyone to sign it. Bhardwaj signed, but not before suggesting that it might be premature to issue a written report.

"We should do some independent experiments first," he said.
"This is just for Mr. Telander, not anyone else," Bockris replied. "He just wants to know how we did the experiments and what we saw."

Bhardwaj might not have known that Telander was pressuring Bockris for results. According to a letter Bockris received from Telander two weeks before the gold appeared, Champion was reporting "positive progress" in the transmutation experiments and in the EMR stimulation of radioactive isotopes.

In the letter, Telander said he was convinced that the team had proven transmutation. He went on to say, however, that "in light of the information you have provided me ... I am reticent to continue any further support. I have made it very clear during this relationship that I am not a philanthropist wishing to fund research projects. I am a businessman wishing to fund industrial science projects." Telander closed by saying he planned to pull the plug on the project by the end of the week.

Bockris, concerned about losing the funds, went straight to the A&M Development Foundation. An official there told Bockris not to worry: donors can't rescind Foundation gifts. But he advised Bockris not to accept "additional contributions."

Bockris was also having difficulties with Bhardwaj. Champion continued to report transmutation. To Bhardwaj, there were only two possible explanations for the presence of gold, and alchemy wasn't one of them. It could be either contamination (trace particles of certain elements turning up on others with similar atomic weights) or concentration, an effect so elementary that a high school student could spot it.

Bhardwaj said that Champion was adding what he called a "seed" to the mix -- say, 150 grams of gold ore, which, depending on the size of the mixture, might measure out to 200 parts per million. After the burn, the ppm might leap to 500 -- an effect explained by the partial dissipation of the other chemicals. The net amount of gold is the same, but the percentage of gold in the total mix is greater.

But it appeared that the harder Bhardwaj argued that the alleged transmutation was nonsense, the more it seemed Bockris wanted to believe Champion. This clearly confused Bhardwaj, who was used to having Bockris' unwavering trust.

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