TALLAHASSEE, FL—Only months after abandoning a tenured position at Lehigh University, maverick chemist Theodore Hapner managed to disprove two of the three laws of thermodynamics and show that gold is a noxious gas, turning the world of science—defined for centuries by exhaustive research, painstaking observation, and hard-won theories—completely on its head.
The brash chemist, who conducts independent research from his houseboat, has infuriated peers by refusing to "play by the rules of Socrates, Bacon, and Galileo," calling test results as he sees them, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
"If you're looking for some button-down traditionalist who relies on so-called induction, conventional logic, and verification to arrive at what the scientific community calls 'proof,' then I'm afraid you've got the wrong guy," said the intrepid 44-year-old rebel, who last month unveiled a revolutionary new model of atomic structure that contradicted 300 years of precedent. "But if you want your results fast and with some flair, then come with me and I'll prove that the boiling point of water is actually 547 degrees Fahrenheit."
Armed with only with a Bunsen burner, a modest supply of chemical compounds, and a balance scale—the last of which Hapner has "yet to find any good reason to use"—this controversial nonconformist defies every standard definition of what a scientist should be. From his tendency to round off calculations, to his rejection of controlled experiments, Hapner is determined to avoid becoming "one of those cowardly sheep who slavishly kowtows to a tired old methodology."
"I'm sure my opponents would love to see me throw in the towel and start using empirical evidence to back every one of my theories," Hapner said. "They'd have a better chance convincing me that metals, like copper, are naturally strong conductors of electricity."
Shrugging off criticism as "self-limiting," Hapner says he plans to proceed with his study on the water-purifying properties of hydrocyanic acid.
"What my hopelessly pedantic colleagues fail to realize is that their scientific method is just that—their method," said Hapner, whose self-published 2004 thesis argued that matter exists in four states: solid, liquid, gas, and powder. "After all, would a chemist who closely observes a phenomenon, formulates a hypothesis, predicts a likely outcome, and then tests the hypothesis be capable of proving that photons, far from being subatomic particles, are actually the size of a child's fist?"
While his peers employ meticulous testing and protracted deliberation, Hapner often refuses to formulate a hypothesis until midway through an experiment. "Anyone who tells you that chemistry is an exact science is overthinking it," he said.
"Yesterday alone I solved Kauzmann's Paradox, improved Hund's Rule Of Maximum Multiplicity, and disproved what is known as the 'cage effect' of a molecule," Hapner added. "All without having to rinse out the one beaker I was using."
Had he used the outmoded scientific method, Hapner said, few of the scientific advancements he has made would have been either achieved or remotely interesting.
Despite his innumerable achievements, Hapner faces many experts who remain skeptical and have even declared his findings corrupt, irrational, irresponsible, and unscientific.
"It's true that I've been condemned and ridiculed by the world's most prominent chemists, as well as by a good number of amateur hobbyists," Hapner said as he rubbed a balloon on his head to demonstrate a basic principle of hydrodynamics. "But then, wasn't Einstein ridiculed when he unveiled his theory of relativity, or Copernicus when he posited that the Earth revolved around the sun? True, I have since proved them both wrong, but at least they took risks."
Hapner is undoubtedly taking a great risk with his latest study, but the maverick scientist is confident his work will pay off.
"Bombarding a plutonium nucleus with accelerated electrons, long believed to produce a nuclear fission reaction, has, in fact, no consequence at all," Hapner said. "I'm going to prove that if it's the last thing I ever do."