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We’ve got X-rays, radio waves and gamma rays, so why not N-rays? Because they don’t actually exist, despite what French scientist René Blondlot would have had you believe.

Professor of Physics at the University of Nancy in 1903, Blondlot had been trying to polarise recently discovered X-rays when he spotted something unusual out of the corner of his eye. Firing the X-rays through a quartz prism, which previous experiments had shown wouldn’t reflect them, Blondlot saw the telltale electric spark getting brighter. Some new type of rays must have been deflected into it. Blondlot called his discovery N-rays after the University of Nancy.

If this foray of ours into science fiction over fact has taught us one thing it’s that experiments demand replication. Try as they might, other scientists couldn’t. But still Blondlot persisted, so his critics sent in serial debunker of dubious discoveries Robert W Wood. Happy to oblige, Blondlot welcomed Wood to his lab, demonstrated how the prism inside his N-ray spectroscope would split the rays into different wavelengths, and proudly read off the measurements. Unconvinced, Wood asked him to repeat the exercise, but not before secretly removing the prism. Blondlot reeled off exactly the same measurements as before, effectively extinguishing both N-rays and his career.

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