[EAS]Perpetual Motion

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Fri Jun 13 20:40:00 EDT 2003

Mail*Link¨ SMTP               Perpetual Motion

My colleague Sandra Yulke sent me this article about a splendidly
extensive online museum of perpetual motion machines
<http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/museum/unwork.htm>, and much else. PM
machines are both a challenge to one's understanding of physics (and
thus good physics teaching material) and a source of insights into
the psychology of invention. 

The US Patent Office has also been victim to unworkable devices
<http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/museum/patents.htm> as recently as
March 2003. And that doesn't even include the infamous Patent
6,024,935 on hydrinos, "hydrogen atoms in a state below the ground
state" which was later contested in court and withdrawn. E.g. see
item #2 in <http://www.aps.org/WN/WN02/wn090602.html>.


Date: 6/13/03 8:51 AM
From: sandy.yulke at yale.edu

This article from The Chronicle of Higher Education 
(http://chronicle.com) was forwarded to you from:

  sandy.yulke at yale.edu


This article is available online at this address:


              - The text of the article is below -

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  Friday, June 13, 2003

  A Professor's Online Museum Explores the Hidden History of
  Perpetual-Motion Schemes

  A wheel weighted with swinging mallets. A cylinder rotating in
  a sealed, water-filled container. A siphon that transfers
  liquid back in forth in a seemingly endless loop. These may
  sound like the contents of a mad scientist's lab, but they're
  all real devices created over the centuries by scientists
  searching for a machine that can sustain perpetual motion. 
  To most physicists, the quest for a perpetual-motion machine
  is a historical aside, an example of psuedo-science at its
  worst. But to Donald E. Simanek, an emeritus professor of
  physics at Lock Haven University, in Pennsylvania, it's a
  fascinating and rich field of study. On his Web site, the
  Museum of Unworkable Devices, Mr. Simanek traces the history
  of perpetual-motion theory through treatises, images of
  bizarre contraptions, and paradoxes physical and mathematical.
  The allure of the perpetual-motion machine is simple: If one
  could be created, it could act as its own source of constant
  energy. The idea captivated Leonardo da Vinci, who sketched
  several machine models in his famed notebooks, and it
  continues to strike a chord with optimistic inventors and
  opportunistic amateurs. Serious physicists, however, have all
  but completely discredited perpetual-motion theory, arguing
  that it ignores basic rules of kinematics, dynamics, and
  Mr. Simanek agrees that perpetual motion is, as da Vinci
  ultimately came to call it, a chimera. But he argues that
  students should nevertheless examine the history of
  perpetual-motion machines because it offers a lesson in how
  the minutiae of physics must be incorporated into theory and
  research. "Usually, textbooks discuss [perpetual motion] and
  just say, 'Well, the laws of thermodynamics say that won't
  work.' I found this didn't help students understand how the
  thermodynamics were a problem, or how they were tied
  inextricably to other laws of physics." 
  On the Web site, Mr. Simanek offers detailed debunkings of
  specific devices, from weighted wheels designed in the 12th
  and 13th centuries to a "magnetic shield" that an Australian
  high-school student recently developed as an intellectual
  exercise. In addition to its galleries of unworkable objects,
  the museum also includes essays on the most common mistakes
  inventors make, as well as details about con-men like John
  Worrell Keely, a 19th-century mechanic who claimed he could
  generate power from the "luminiferous ether" that many
  physicists thought filled space. 
  "The museum is a beautiful site," according to Hans-Peter
  Gramatke, a German expert who runs a site of his own on
  perpetual motion. "There are classical concepts and modern
  drafts, and they are all adeptly analyzed." 
  Mr. Simanek says the site was a natural outgrowth of his
  interest in "the interface between science and
  psuedo-science." It also allows him to treat physics with an
  element of whimsy -- as he does on some of his other Web
  sites. Among them are a page on which he posts links to
  pseudo-science documents and a site featuring scientific
  satire and parody.  
  Most importantly, according to Mr. Simanek, the online museum
  has helped him keep in touch with perpetual motion's modern
  practitioners -- or would-be practitioners. While some
  professors have told him that they use his Web site in class,
  he says the lion's share of the e-mail messages he receives
  come from hopeful inventors who think they have unlocked
  secrets necessary to create working buoyancy motors and
  overbalanced wheels. 
  Mr. Simanek says he tries to steer the would-be inventors
  toward mistakes in their mathematics and theory, but many
  won't take No for an answer. "I've learned a lot about the
  psychology of the inventor," he says. "It's not pretty." 


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