David E.H. Jones, Scientist Whose Alter Ego Challenged Conventions, Dies at 79

Dr. Jones’s ideas for a nuclear-powered pogo stick and a black-hole garbage disposal appliance probably struck most of his readers as far-fetched. But he actually produced several incarnations of physics-defying perpetual motion machines that baffled scientists. Moreover, some of the early innovations he proposed proved him prescient.

In 1966, for example, he suggested that scientists could stimulate the latticelike bonds of carbon atoms in graphite to form hollow balls. In 1985, scientists actually synthesized something like them as buckminsterfullerene molecules (a name inspired by the architect Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes). Their work earned them the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

In the 1960s, Dr. Jones envisioned a chemically powered laser that two decades later would become a crucial component of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as Star Wars.

Ever curious, Dr. Jones also performed an X-ray analysis that led to the conclusion that arsenic discovered in Napoleon Bonaparte’s hair was not the residue of a deliberate poisoning while he was imprisoned on St. Helena in 1821.

Rather, it appeared to have been absorbed from fumes given off by the arsenic-based green pigment in the wallpaper of his bedroom (giving a whole new dimension to Oscar Wilde’s purported dying words, to paraphrase: Either that wallpaper goes, or I go).

Dr. Jones also experimented with whether plantlike forms could grow without gravity, putting them in a liquid solution of metal salt crystals and sodium silicate, known as a chemical garden. A prototype of it was rocketed into outer space, and complex forms did in fact develop.

“Daedalus never flagrantly posits impossibilities,” Dr. Jones was quoted as saying in The Telegraph. “Ideally, his fancies are ingenious, novel and even crazy, but they mustn’t break natural laws.

“On the other hand,” he added, “somewhere along the line, they do run off the rails.”

Still, he wrote in “The Aha! Moment: A Scientist’s Take on Creativity” (2011), “Despite my best endeavors, these mad Daedalian schemes kept coming true on me.”

Dr. Jones estimated that as many as 20 percent of his “fancies” turned out to be valid, “one way or the other.”

The musings of his alter ego could be tantalizing. Why, Daedalus wondered, are the world’s cities bestrewed with graffiti even though scientists, years ago, had perfected the porcelain…

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