[EAS] Innovation and Its Context

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu Nov 16 18:21:44 EST 2006

The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Physics News
Number 801  November 16, 2006  by Phillip F. Schewe, Ben Stein,
and Davide Castelvecchi                       www.aip.org/pnu

UNWIRED ENERGY.  Recharging your laptop computer or your cell phone 
might one day be done the same convenient way many people now surf 
the Web---wirelessly. At this week's AIP Industrial Physics Forum, in 
San Francisco, Marin Soljacic (MIT) spoke about how energy could be 
transferred wirelessly by the phenomenon of induction, just as coils 
inside power transformers transmit electric currents to each other 
without touching.  The idea of wireless energy transfer is not new. 
Nikola Tesla was working on the idea more than a century ago
but failed to develop a practical method.
In the new MIT scheme, a power transmitter would fill the space 
around itself with a non-radiative electromagnetic field---meaning 
that its energy would not ripple away as electromagnetic waves. 
Energy would only be picked up by appliances specially designed to
resonate with the field; most of the energy not picked up by a 
receiver would be reabsorbed by the emitter.  Contrary to more 
traditional, radiative means of energy transmission such as
microwaves, it would not require a direct line of sight.  It would be 
innocuous to people exposed to it.  With designs proposed by Soljacic 
in a paper with Aristeidis Karalis and John Joannopoulos, an object 
the size of a laptop could be recharged within a few meters of the 
power source. Soljacic (marin at ab-initio.mit.edu) and his MIT 
colleagues are now working on demonstrating the technology in 
practice.  (soljacic at mit.edu, Tel: 617-253-2467)

This useful, though distressingly obvious, proposition is a nice 
example of one way of fostering "innovation," by dumbing down the 
environment. The simplistic can then become novel. Thus one can 
rediscover Faraday's Law of Induction, the geometry of magnetic 
fields and the role of resonance in energy transfer. Or am I getting 
it wrong, and this is novel because it applies to laptops?
Relevant here is the not unheard-of proposal to eliminate E&M 
(Electricity and Magnetism) and hands-on lab courses from EE 
curricula. This would surely accomplish much dumbing down. Ray 
Bradbury's dictum "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. 
Just get people to stop reading them" has its analogy in the 
shrinking scope of education.  --PJK

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