The Cold War Science Hoax-Polywater
Polywater hoax created by USSR spread like wildfire in the USA. The quest millions for USA and wastage of bright minds.
It was 1969, the peak of the cold war. US citizens glued to their newspaper, and TV set eagerly to hear breaking news on Soviet scientific advancements. Though moon landing is about to happen in a month from now, US citizens are more concerned about a recent Russian invention, Polywater. Polywater scare would cause millions of dollars invested in research by the USA and later proved as a hoax. Polywater is still considered one of the most significant paranoia of the cold war era.
Start of the race:
USSR launched Sputnik, the first satellite of humankind into space, and brought in the USA and the USSR’s scientific race. The cold war, which brewed between the countries, brought competition between scientists from both countries. The clash of communism and capitalism sometimes caused considerable mistakes in the scientific community. Nikolai Fedyakin, a Russian scientist, made a startling discovery and reported it to Boris Deryagin at the Institute of Physical chemistry in Moscow. Boris was able to ascertain the breakthrough, but it didn’t see the light of the day until Nikolai presented his observations at a conference in England.
Nikolai found a new element called Polywater. It is like water but has unusual properties. Polywater froze at -40°C while normal water froze at 0°C. Its boiling point is 650°C. Polywater was thick and viscous. The procedure to make Polywater was tedious. Normal water should be forced through a narrow pure quartz capillary even then only a meager amount of Polywater can be obtained.
The Chaos in US:
Scientists around the world tried to replicate Nikolai’s experiment to produce Polywater. US scientists were able to synthesis Polywater and performed an infrared spectral analysis. The report caused massive outrage in the USA in 1969. Polywater found a new field in Chemistry with scientists discovering new properties each day. Polywater found a new application area like use as a moderator in nuclear reactors, lubricants to the engine, cloud seeding, etc.
The most daring claim of Polywater was that its usage as a weapon. As an element of low energy state, Polywater, when in contact with normal water, might convert regular water into Polywater. It meant that a tiny droplet of Polywater might contaminate water reservoirs and make the water non-drinkable. There was also speculation that Polywater might increase resistance in Trans-Atlantic phone cables and cause communication damage between Europe and the USA. The US government jumped into the chaos and directed the CIA to coordinated US scientists on the Polywater topic.
Media in the USA, which had coined terms like the “Missle gap,” “Bomber gap,” started to publicize the “Polywater gap” between the USA and USSR. US government, along with the Pentagon, spent millions of dollars in Polywater research. In 1970, several papers appeared predominantly from US scientists on the Polywater topic. Nobel prize discussions started around the theme of Polywater as world’s best minds pondered on the peculiar element.
American scientist Denis Rousseau saw foul play in the entire Polywater saga and wanted to debunk it. One day after a handball match, he took the sweat out of the T-shirt and did a spectral analysis. The sweat exhibited the same properties as Polywater did. The experiment concluded that Polywater was nothing but impure water. Some scientists repeated the Polywater extraction using clean glassware and were unable to produce any and settle the case. Richard Feynman quoted on Polywater as
if such material existed, then an animal would exist that would ingest water and excrete Polywater, using the energy released on the process to survive.
Scientists worldwide due to the fear of missing out jumped headfirst in the quest of Polywater extraction. Their minds clogged by the glory to find Polywater missed the most obvious thing right in front of their eyes. Science must be free of political influence, or political endeavor might waste scientific minds. Polywater is not the first time politics had influenced science. The case of N ray discovery took the same path of Polywater a few decades ago. A new term came into existence to name such false results “Pathological Science.”