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Ranga P. Dias Faces Potential Third Retraction in a Year Amidst Concerns Over Data Integrity
In March 2023, a study published in the journal Nature reported that a compound called lutetium hydride has the potential to become a superconductor when combined with a small amount of nitrogen atoms under high pressure. However, now the co-authors of this study have requested a retraction of the paper due to concerns over the integrity of its data. If this retraction takes place, it will mark the third retraction of a paper related to Dr. Ranga P. Dias’s work on room-temperature superconductors within a year.
Most of the co-authors of the study were graduate students at the time the research was conducted. They recently wrote a letter to Tobias Rödel, a senior editor at Nature, urging the journal to retract the paper. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, the letter stated that the paper had misrepresented measurements of electrical resistance and heat capacity, which are used to determine if a material is superconducting. The co-authors also claimed that they had raised these concerns with Dr. Dias, but he had dismissed them and even instructed some of them not to further investigate the issues or worry about the concerns raised.
Dr. Dias firmly denied any wrongdoing and stated, “I have never engaged in the fabrication, manipulation, or misrepresentation of data in any of my research endeavors.” However, according to The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Dias sent an email to at least six of the co-authors threatening them with a defamation lawsuit if they continued corresponding with the editors at Nature.
Critiques from Other Physicists Raise Further Doubts
Additional criticisms of the research were submitted by two physicists, James Hamlin from the University of Florida and Brad Ramshaw from Cornell University, on May 2. An article by Science reported that these physicists raised concerns about the electrical resistance plot described in the published paper. Drs. Hamlin and Ramshaw alleged that the subtraction of noise from the resistance measurements removed more than just noise, resulting in an anomalous signal.
Attempts to replicate the findings of the lutetium hydride paper have also faced scrutiny. Russell Hemley from the University of Illinois Chicago claimed to have found evidence supporting the paper’s conclusions. However, independent experts have expressed concerns about the accuracy of Hemley’s resistance measurements, as reported by Science. Despite the controversy, Hemley has stood by his findings.
Previous Retractions and Implications for Unearthly Materials
This potential retraction is not the first issue concerning Dr. Dias’s research. In 2022, Nature retracted another paper led by Dr. Dias, which claimed that a compound of carbon, sulfur, and hydrogen became a superconductor. Concerns were raised about the data related to the material’s magnetic susceptibility. Additionally, a paper led by Dr. Dias and published in Physical Review Letters in August 2023, reporting superconductivity in manganese sulfide, was retracted due to concerns with the electrical resistance measurement.
Dr. Dias has founded a company called Unearthly Materials with the aim of commercializing his findings on room-temperature superconductors. The potential impact of a superconductor that can work in ambient conditions is significant, as it could revolutionize fields such as high-energy physics, electrical engineering, and medical diagnostics. However, the series of retractions surrounding Dr. Dias’s research is likely to raise additional scrutiny on Unearthly Materials and the $16.5 million it has secured from investors, according to The New York Times.
Questions About the Vetting Process at Nature
The controversy surrounding Dr. Dias’s papers has also drawn attention to the vetting process at Nature. Concerns have been raised about how two problematic papers were published before facing the possibility of retraction. This scrutiny highlights the importance of rigorous and thorough peer review processes in scientific publishing.