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17 September 2014
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The Dark Secret of Hendrik Schön - transcript

NARRATOR (JACK FORTUNE): This is the story of the man behind the most remarkable discovery. His breakthrough seemed so revolutionary it could have created an extraordinary new world. A world where disease could be destroyed before the first symptoms appear. Where nothing would be beyond the boundaries of human knowledge. But others thought it could also be a world where the darkest evil could be unleashed. Where microscopic machines would link up to destroy us all.

IAN PEARSON (Futurist, British Telecom): It could solve all of our technology problems and give us a technia-utopia or it could wipe us out and cause complete extinction. We really have to think very carefully before we go down that sort of a road.

NARRATOR: This amazing world could have been brought a step closer by the brilliant mind of Jan Hendrik Schön.

Prof DAVID MULLER (Former colleague of Schön’s): What Hendrik had reported was just so amazing that we used to joke at lunch that either he’s going to Stockholm to pick up that Nobel Prize or he’s going to jail.

NARRATOR: Tonight Horizon tells the astonishing saga or Jan Hendrik Schön and his discovery that could have changed everything.

Our day of reckoning has come and gone. Most of life has literally been devoured by something called nanotechnology. Tiny machines that were designed to save the human race. But instead, they turned on us. Human life has been wiped out by the nanobot.

DR JOHN ALEXANDER (Adviser to US Special Operations): The size of nanobots are hard for most people to imagine because we’re talking about instruments that are designed literally atom by atom and molecule by molecule so they’re below what you can see. That if you can think of a speck of dust that would be a very large nanobot.

NARRATOR: Nanobots were created to be like life. To be able to reproduce to serve our needs.

RAY KURZWEIL (Kurzweil Technologies): The intelligence of nanotechnology will not be in one nanorobot or nanobot. It will be a collective intelligence of millions, actually trillions of nanobots working together and pooling their thinking resources.

NARRATOR: But then the machines began to change, and as they changed we found that we could not control them. They began to take on a life of their own.

RAY KURZWEIL: And if that gets out of control we would have essentially a non-biological cancer that could just eat up you know the natural world, that’s the so-called grey goo problems.

NARRATOR: This creeping grey goo stripped bare all life, devouring it to create more nanobots. In this future world your only defence would be to pray that grey goo will not arrive at your door. So great is this fear of the grey goo that eminent figures around the world such as Prince Charles have raised concerns about it. The British Government have asked the royal society to investigate nanotechnology. And while to most it may seem that this world of grey goo is nothing more than science fiction it all seemed to take a step closer thanks to a discovery by a brilliant young physicists. His name was Jan Hendrik Schön. Hendrik Schön was one of the greatest minds the world of physics had seen for years.

Prof LYDIA SOHN (University of California at Berkley): Was he like David Beckham and soccer? Yes. Was he like um some major rock star? Yes. He could actually go by his first name, Hendrik, and we would all know who he was.

NARRATOR: By the tender age of thirty-one Hendrik had already made breakthroughs in the world of lasers and superconductors.

Prof PAUL McEUEN (Cornell University): The amazing thing about Hendrik was that everything he touched seemed to work.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG (University of Southampton): It blew everybody away.

Prof DAVID MULLER: We thought we were pretty good and, and we just couldn’t touch this guy, he was coming up with a brainstorm every few weeks.

NARRATOR: He seemed to be showing many with vastly more experience than him how to do science.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: We all have ideas about experiments and unfortunately they never work out as planned but in his case they always seemed to work out just as planned.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: What was amazing about Schön is he got them all to work. You know five or ten experiments, twenty experiments, all of them incredibly difficult in different areas, and they all worked.

NARRATOR: And his breakthroughs were reflected by a prolific rate in publishing. At one point he was producing a paper every eight days. He barely seemed to pause for breath.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: This was the new level of science that you had to match yourself against. And everybody knew they couldn’t, they couldn’t meet that. It was like competing against a god really.

NARRATOR: And in December 2000 this scientific god accepted a permanent position at one of the world’s greatest research facilities, Bell Laboratories in the USA. It was a dream job. Bell Labs have a reputation for producing Nobel Prize winners. Eleven have won the prize since its founding in 1925. He would now be given the resources to do truly amazing work, and before long people were whispering that he might be in line for the greatest prize in science himself.

Prof GÜNTER SCHATZ (University of Konstanz): I even remember that one day I went to my president telling him, look, you should know that there is a former student of ours who is really doing excellent work. Because you know, I’m joking a little bit but anyway, in case he wins the Nobel Prize, I told to my president, you should know before and not reading it in the newspaper.

NARRATOR: A mere two years after leaving university he was already a legend. And yet his most daring work was still to come. In the spring of 2001 Schön started the work that would bring him worldwide fame and seemed to draw us a little closer to a new world, of nanotechnology. Schön had set about trying to solve what some see as the greatest scientific threat to global wealth. The breakdown of Moore’s Law.

Prof MICHIO KAKU (City University of New York): The end of Moore’s Law is perhaps the single greatest economic threat to modern society, and unless we deal with it we could be facing economic ruin.

NARRATOR: Moore’s Law is nothing to do with the threat of terrorism. Or even the fear of a terrifying natural disaster. Moore’s Law relates to the one thing that has powered our progress and defined our age.

Prof MICHIO KAKU: And this is it, this is a silicon chip.

NARRATOR: Moore’s Law is the law that governs the silicon chip. One of the greatest triggers of economic progress ever. This tiny element has created a world which at the beginning of the last century would have seemed unimaginable. It has led to growth on an extraordinary scale.

Prof MICHIO KAKU: Because of the silicon chip productivity has exponentially increased. My grandfather for example was a small farmer. You could take the entire productivity of the last fifty years of his life and compress it down to six months because of the computerisation and because of the silicon technology in our life.

NARRATOR: As silicon chips become more and more powerful they inject fresh energy in to our economy. But some believe that Moore’s Law hints that this growth will soon begin to decline. And if it does we will face stagnation and depression. At the root of the crisis is the heart of the silicon chip itself, the millions of tiny elements that actually control your computer. The transistors. Because the more transistors you have on your chip the more powerful it is.

Prof MICHIO KAKU: Moore’s Law states that computer power doubles every eighteen months. This means that at Christmas for example we more or less expect our computers to be almost twice as powerful as they were in the previous Christmas.

NARRATOR: Computer power has doubled every eighteen months for nearly forty years. It has lead to unprecedented economic growth. But some believe that all this progress is about to grind to a halt. The problem relates to nothing less than the fundamentals of physics. It seems there is a limit to how small silicon can go before it begins to break down.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: So this is a copper wire which acts like a pipeline for electrons. Electrons travel through it and it’s just like a piece of silicon, and just like a silicon transistor we can actually turn it on, in which case the light bulb lights, or turn it off and turn it on and turn it off, and it works perfectly.

NARRATOR: But to pack more silicon transistors on to a chip means you need to make them smaller.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: So if you're following Moore’s Law and you're cramming more and more transistors on to the silicon you have to make everything smaller in all dimensions. So we have to make this wire thinner. And when we do that something very different happens when we switch it on.

NARRATOR: Just like this wire when silicon transistors shrink down to a certain size they will just fizzle and die.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: What worries many people is that when you make a silicon transistor this small, the very smallest possible, it just doesn’t work, like this.

NARRATOR: This implications of this one small fact are immense.

Prof MICHIO KAKU: We could be facing economic stagnation because computers are simply not capable of evolving to the next step if they are based on silicon. As power levels off the wealth of nations, the productivity of workers, the prosperity of societies could be endangered because of the stagnation of computer power.

NARRATOR: A whole engine of our economic growth could stall. No more growth means no more profits. We could be plunged in to a depression. This is the fear implied by Moore’s Law. Today billions are spent trying to squeeze more out of silicon, but the worry is that we will eventually get to the stage where we can push it no further. Some think it is a problem in desperate need of a solution.

Prof MICHIO KAKU: The good news is any individual, any nation which seizes this opportunity could literally leapfrog to the forefront and hit the jackpot. That could be the next generation of wealth for the world.

NARRATOR: With the breakdown of Moore’s Law looming large on the horizon, the rising star of physics Jan Hendrik Schön entered the arena. Schön believed that the answer might not lie with silicon but rather something totally different, a transistor made from organic molecules, molecules based on carbon.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: Organic molecules are used for everything around us, they make grass, they make trees, they make our food, sandwiches, they make us. We’ve learned to use them as well, for the cellophane that wraps your sandwiches, for the box that you put them in. I mean everything is built around carbon-based systems.

NARRATOR: Jeremy Baumberg is one of many who hope that one day computer chips could be built from organic molecules.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: If nature was going to make a computer it would use organic molecules, and that’s what we set out to really try and solve ourselves. How can we use these organic molecules to make the heart of computing?

NARRATOR: And one of the key reasons that many are looking at transistors made from organic molecules is their tiny size.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: They’re so small and they, they tend to be strings of atoms put together so they’re less than a billionth of a meter across.

NARRATOR: Because an organic molecule can be so much smaller than a silicon transistor it means you can pack more of them on to a computer chip.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: That’s completely different from the transistors that are inside this chip. It’s a very advanced chip now, millions of transistors on this chip, and each one is tens of thousands of atoms, so we can replace those by single molecules, we can increase the density of processing here enormously.

NARRATOR: It seemed like a fantastic idea. Scrap silicon and use organic molecules. It could transform society and might one day blast open the world of nanotechnology. Schön’s task was to get his single organic molecules to speak the language of computers, the digital tongue of ones and zeroes. Transistors relay this language around the computer world. They use it to channel messages to arrive at the right place at the right time. These transistors control everything, from the air-conditioning in your office to the pitch and yaw of satellites high above the earth. But no one had so far been able to get tiny single organic molecules to behave like silicon. Among those who had tried and failed was Paul McEuen from Cornel University.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: A lot of other materials are, are coming along that look very exciting but as of now we can't do anything of the level of complexity that you could do in silicon, nor in most cases do they even perform anywhere near the level that silicon does.

NARRATOR: But in Schön’s hands this was all about to change. Schön thought the answer might lie with an organic dye. In early 2001 he engineered a layer of these dye molecules to assemble on a specially prepared circuit. He was hoping that when he ran a current through them they would show the classic signature of a transistor circuit.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: So in a an experiment like this the kind of behaviour you would like to see out of your transistor circuit looks like this. You would like a small change in the input signal to produce a large change in the output signal. This property is absolutely critical for a useful transistor circuit.

NARRATOR: No experiment with single organic molecules had ever shown these characteristics before.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: This is exactly the kind of curve that Hendrik Schön would have been looking for in his experiments.

NARRATOR: Eventually Schön’s preparations were complete, it was time to switch the experiment on. And the result came instantly. It was the perfect signature of a transistor. This modest looking graph disguised the true magnitude of the breakthrough. Schön had just taken the first step to smashing Moore’s Law apart. Schön took his findings to the most prestigious scientific journal of them all, Nature. His paper caused a sensation.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: Really stunning to those of us who had been toiling away long and hard to try to make these kinds of things work. It just blew us out of the water.

NARRATOR: It was the breakthrough that everybody had been waiting for, one day it could reenergise our economy, it could also revolutionise the way we make computer chips.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: What Schön was showing is you didn’t need all that, you could do this in a different way that would blow this multibillion dollar industry potentially out of the water.

NARRATOR: Expensive silicon factories could become a thing of the past. Organic molecules like Schön’s dye could be used to make computer chips for as little as the cost of a beaker of chemicals.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: The whole principle of molecular electronics would be that we could just use a chemistry lab like this and we can be mixing things together and we can be getting them to grow themselves in to the right architectures for building a computer, and that couldn’t be further from the current fabrication in technology which is incredibly expensive and everything has to be done incredibly precisely to make it work just right.

NARRATOR: The hope is that one day these molecules would be connected up to create computers more powerful than we have ever seen. Some are already planning how these new molecular computers could be used. It is Ian Pearson’s job to predict how this new technology could fit in to our world.

IAN PEARSON: It would be impossible for somebody two hundred years ago to think about what life would be like today and get it right. You know it would just be beyond their imagination. And yet as a result of molecular computing and, and those sorts of technologies, over the next few decades we’re going to see far more change than we’ve seen over the last few hundred. So life will be just be beyond recognition.

NARRATOR: Ian Pearson’s vision of the future is a world where powerful computers could be made at incredibly low cost. And he believes that if you can make computers cheaply you could afford to have them everywhere. Even woven in to the shirt on your back.

IAN PEARSON: Well supposing twenty, thirty years from now I’m wearing a really smart shirt and I have an accident, the shirt knows I’ve had an accident because it can measure the G force and it might even measure that I’m bleeding. The shirt can tell the ambulance in great detail while they’re on their way exactly what’s wrong with me so they’ve got the equipment ready for when they arrive, it might save my life.

NARRATOR: More powerful computers would allow us to crack age old problems that have defeated science, like understanding the extreme complexities of our climate. Molecular computers would give us faster, more accurate forecasting of even the most complicated weather systems.

IAN PEARSON: If we got molecular computing giving us phenomenal processing power to handle all of that we would be able to do far more accurate forecasting, we’d be able to give people more advanced warnings of storms and hurricanes and we’d save people’s lives.

NARRATOR: But it could go even further, molecular transistors may one day usher in a world of nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is the ability to manipulate matter at the scale of atoms and molecules. It is a science in its infancy, but already nanotechnologists have tinkered with carbon atoms to make lighter, stronger tennis rackets. The molecules in sunscreen have been manipulated to give improved protection. And though this might not seem much the hope is that in the future nanotechnology could go far, far further. One day scientists could manipulate molecules to create tiny computers that will fuse with our bodies.

IAN PEARSON: Today it’s very hard to imagine things like direct brain links, you know we just get dismissed as a nutter if you talk about these things. But in forty or fifty years time it will actually be quite possible to do that. If we can imagine molecular computers, molecular transistors and so on, being small enough, we can get these things in to contact with every synapse in your brain.

NARRATOR: With molecular computers in your brain other people could literally download your thoughts. You could download theirs. All knowledge would be instantly available.

IAN PEARSON: It totally transforms our experience of what it is to be human because we’ve got vastly more intelligence than we have today.

NARRATOR: But the wonder of Schön’s discovery might not even stop there. The extreme possibility is that because they are organic molecular transistors could reproduce themselves like life. They could be part of machines that will grow as living cells grow. And if this could happen the world of the nanobot would have moved a step closer.

RAY KURZWEIL: One nanobot doesn’t do much, you need trillions of them, how do you get trillions of them? Well you need them to self replicate, you need one nanobot to turn in to two, to four, to eight, and scale itself up to trillions.

NARRATOR: Ray Kurzweil is one of those who believe that in the future huge numbers of these self-replicating machines could be programmed to target every diseased cell in our body.

RAY KURZWEIL : Our immune system of course keeps us alive but they’re very slow, I actually watched my white blood cells destroy a bacteria and it took like an hour and a half. A nanorobot can do the job in seconds. It would be far more powerful like destroying pathogens in cancer cells.

NARRATOR: Trillions of these tiny machines could even be swallowed in pill form. Their tiny onboard computers controlled perhaps by tiny molecular transistors will direct them through even the smallest blood vessels to destroy any infection they come across. And though the technical know-how may be decades in the future one has even been given a name, a respiracyte. Respiracytes could be injected in to the victims of drowning. Once in the blood stream these nanobots would break down the excess molecules of carbon dioxide, and release oxygen in to the blood. They could mean the difference between life and death.

RAY KURZWEIL Ultimately we’re not going to go to doctors that have visits in the way that we do today, we’re going to have systems in our body that are continually monitoring our body, detecting problems and fixing them immediately.

NARRATOR: This then is one vision of what the brave new world could be like for our children. A vision where all diseases could be fought. Their lives could be extended by decades. All because of nanotechnology. But there could be another use for nanotechnology. Doctor John Alexander advises the Commander of US Special Operations. He believes that in decades to come war would be fought using nanobots.

Dr JOHN ALEXANDER (Adviser to US Special Operations): Well the battlefield of the future is going to look very different from the one in the past. You're not going to see large armies of infantry and armour in a raid against each other and fighting in the open.

NARRATOR: Alexander believes that one day the same technology that we hope will seek and destroy infections could be turned in to the ultimate weapon. Nanobots could lie silently in the environment for years, sending back information about our enemies. They could even be our assassins. these killers could be programmed to know precisely who to attack.

Dr JOHN ALEXANDER: You can target them very specifically so that they will attack people with only certain characteristics.

NARRATOR: They could be sent to take out people in even the most secure locations. Once programmed nothing could stop them.

Dr JOHN ALEXANDER: Some of them will be small enough that you can actually introduce them into a person. Undetectable, and they can go in and punch holes in the blood vessels.

NARRATOR: And then of course there’s grey goo. Creating nanobots is one thing but can we be sure that we can control them? The fear is that to breed they will need organic material. And as their numbers increase they could turn on the environment around them. They could devour plants, animals, and ultimately us.

RAY KURZWEIL: What happens if that self-replicating gets out of control? You’d have a non-biological cancer, it’s called grey goo, it could just spread and eat up the whole world.

NARRATOR: Extinction at the hands of nanotechnology is definitely far fetched, but it is a fear that is beginning to worry many influential people around the world.

RAY KURZWEIL: The dangers are real and we’re going to have to have many layers of protection. But then let’s say if somebody overcomes those protections because they want to make it damaging? We’re going to have to actually develop protective nanotechnology, like a nanotechnology based immune system, I call it blue goo, means there are police nanobots that would try to combat the destructive ones.

NARRATOR: Could this be our future, a world transformed for good or ill by nanotechnology?

RAY KURZWEIL: We have to realise that this is coming, it is profoundly risky, it’s also profoundly beneficial, we can overcome age old problems of suffering which have been with us you know since time when we’re ill. And we have to work hard, I think it’s the primary challenge of the twenty first century to gain the benefits while we manage these perils.

NARRATOR: These are extraordinary hopes and fears, they were certainly way beyond the mind even of Hendrik Schön. But his discovery could have been a small step that would lead to that future. And then something happened that no one could have predicted. Lydia Sohn was working as a physicist at one of America’s greatest universities. One morning she got in to work to find a message waiting on her answer phone.

Prof LYDIA SOHN: I just happened to check my voicemail messages in my office and I had a very interesting voicemail message and it said, Lydia this is your homework, look at these two papers by Hendrik. And by the tone of his voice I knew something very juicy was going on and so I quickly downloaded the, these two papers, one from Science and one from Nature.

NARRATOR: The two papers described two different experiments. One, his breakthrough experiment on molecular transistors carried out at room temperature. The other also on molecular transistors but carried out at more than two hundred degrees below freezing. Lydia began reading the two papers.

Prof LYDIA SOHN: Everything seemed to be very reasonable and I’m trying to think well what’s so special. And then what I ended up doing was to look at the very first figure, just looking at each figure individually they looked very reasonable so I was like ok, well, this can't be it.

NARRATOR: But then her eyes drifted on to two graphs. The actual results of Schön’s experiments.

Prof LYDIA SOHN: And then at that point it was like wait, something is really wrong right here.

NARRATOR: The results just didn’t make sense.

Prof LYDIA SOHN: I realised just having them right next to each other that they were completely identical.

NARRATOR: Two totally different experiments with exactly the same results was impossible. Yet that’s what Schön’s papers reported.

Prof LYDIA SOHN: Well all you need to do is really just look at them and what you see is that they’re really nice beautiful curves, but then the interesting part is is all you have to do is slide them on top of one another. What’s really unusual was that you can look in this area and in this area and you can see that the noise, all these little squiggles and bumps, they should never overlap one another, noise simply can't reproduce to, to the T like it’s showing here. And with that, that’s really telling me that something is very wrong with these two graphs right here.

NARRATOR: Lydia was intrigued, could Schön have made a mistake. She contacted her old friend Paul McEuen.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: When Lydia first pointed out to me that these two graphs were identical it was, it was really extremely shocking. The chances that those two graphs were identical, truly meaning two separate experiments giving exactly the same results was basically zero.

NARRATOR: So they alerted the scientific journal who first published Schön’s breakthrough. Karl Ziemelis from Nature took Lydia’s call.

KARL ZIEMELIS (Nature): The first response I had on hearing the concern that Lydia had raised was well damn, what is going on here. We got the papers out and we compared the figures, and sure enough they were the same figure, there was no, no two ways about that.

NARRATOR: Ziemelis was worried, was the breakthrough paper founded on mixed up results? He decided to contact Schön.

KARL ZIEMELIS: We were in touch with him by email later that day and we had a response very rapidly from him, reassuring us that it had been an honest mistake.

NARRATOR: Schön had simply got his graphs mixed up. It had all been just a silly mistake.

KARL ZIEMELIS: It was a temporary wobble, although a mistake had been made and perhaps the author had been a little bit sloppy in the preparation of his papers at least we could feel confident that the results were now correct and would stand the test of time.

NARRATOR: Schön’s breakthrough transistor still looked good. But for Lydia Sohn something still didn’t add up. For months now rumours had been circulating about Schön’s work. Many of his claims just could not be repeated in the lab by others.

Prof LYDIA SOHN: I don’t know how else to describe it, like you know you have in your head these red lights going ding, ding, ding, ding, warning, warning, warning, this is, there is something rotten in Denmark.

NARRATOR: Lydia decided to get to the bottom of the Schön enigma. She printed out a range of his old papers. And started to read. Three hundred kilometres away Paul McEuen was doing the same.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: It’s a Thursday evening and my wife is out of town so I’m obsessing over Hendrik Schön’s papers.

Prof LYDIA SOHN: Each of us must have brought home at least ten of Hendrik’s papers. And it was almost eleven o’clock in the evening that Paul gave me a call.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: Yeah I’m looking at the new graphs again.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: And we’re chatting away about one thing or another and she’s talking to me, and at one point I, I say to her.

Prof LYDIA SOHN: Oh my God Lydia, you’ve got to look at this, these, you know this paper.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: I found yet another example where that same bit of data seemed to have been used in yet a third paper.

NARRATOR: There were now three graphs from three different experiments, yet all with strikingly similar noise.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: It couldn’t be an accident, you don’t submit the same data three times. You can get away with being wrong once but not twice.

NARRATOR: So they dug even deeper and soon found other apparently duplicate results.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: So once you’ve got the idea in your head that, that there might be duplicate data throughout his papers, I started printing out a lot of the papers and looking at them, and low and behold very soon I found yet another example.

NARRATOR: This time the experiments were carried out on different materials at different voltages. Yet again they showed very similar results. And as the night dragged on they found more apparent errors. More matching data from totally different experiments. Every time they found new duplicate results they contacted each other.

Prof LYDIA SOHN: The email messages had progressed to the point that he started calling me Scully and he was signing his emails as Mulder because he just felt that this was like an Exfile.

NARRATOR: Other colleagues soon joined in and by the end of their investigation the scale of the number of errors in Schön’s papers was clear for all to see.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: I was just kind of in shock because here was this person that was the golden boy of condensed matter physics and it appeared that a large fraction of what he’d done looked fraudulent.

NARRATOR: The news hit Nature like a thunderbolt.

KARL ZIEMELIS: Frankly putting these images side by side it was shocking. We were quite taken aback by the magnitude of what the problem now seemed to be. Whereas before a simple mistake seemed to have been made and that seemed understandable, now we had something that seemed to go way beyond that and several nature papers were implicated. And in the following hours we were agonising, discussing, debating what on earth we should actually do now that this problem had been brought to our attention.

NARRATOR: Word also got back to Schön’s employers, Bell. They launched an independent investigation to look in to these allegations. They contacted his co-workers and even interviewed the man himself.

Prof DAVID MULLER (Former colleague of Schön’s): Hendrik really looked devastated. He, he just looked very drained, very white, he would go down, when he went down to lunch he wouldn’t speak to anyone, he wouldn’t say a word.

NARRATOR: And then after four months the investigation revealed the truth. The investigation established that Schön had behaved recklessly and that he had deliberately fabricated some data. When the committee cross-examined his colleagues they found that no one had actually witnessed any of his most significant results. When they asked to see the raw data that allowed him to come to his remarkable conclusion they discovered that he had deleted virtually all of it, apparently because his computer lacked sufficient memory. Suddenly the reason why he had seemed so far in advance of anyone else began to make sense.

Prof PAUL McEUEN The amazing thing about Hendrik was that everything he touched seemed to work.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: It was like competing against a god really. And everybody knew they couldn’t meet.

Prof DAVID MULLER: What was wrong with us, you know we thought we were pretty good and we just couldn’t touch this guy.

Prof JEREMY BAUMBERG: Because he was producing so much phenomenal work so fast. So if you like this was the new level of science that you had to match yourself up against.

Prof PAUL McEUEN: We all have ideas about experiments and unfortunately they never work out as planned but in his case they always seemed to work out just as planned.

Prof DAVID MULLER: We would, we would use to joke that this guy is either going to Stockholm or he’s going to jail.

NARRATOR: It seemed that Hendrik Schön had been so far ahead of his rivals for a very simple reason, many of his greatest triumphs had been based on fabricated data. It was a shocking revelation. Those around the world who knew him were left asking themselves the same question.

Prof DAVID MULLER: Why did he do it? I don’t know, maybe it was he started out with something very small and it kind of grew out of control, or, or maybe it was psychological, maybe on planet Hendrik this, this made perfect sense. But in the end I, I don't know, and nobody knows probably I guess not even Hendrik.

NARRATOR: The same day they received the report Bell fired Schön.

Prof DAVID MULLER: Hendrik’s boss tells me that after he’d been told that he was fired he sort of turned to his bosses and said something to the effect of it’s been a privilege and an honour to work here and I have really enjoyed my time here, thank you. And then he turned around and was marched out of the building by the two security guards.

NARRATOR: Today Schön still stands by his findings and believes that one day he will be vindicated. But there is still unfinished business. The use of fake data by Schön means more than just the shock waves he created in the scientific community. What people had hoped could deliver a solution to Moore’s Law ultimately proved futile. An alternative to the silicon chip is still to be found and until it is the threat of economic disaster will remain. But there is some good news. One route to the world of grey goo has faded. That future is as far off as it is ever been. It means we can now all rest a little more securely.

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