Friday, April 27, 2007

Breaking The Laws Of Physics?

Picture this: You live in a world with unlimited energy resources and next to no pollution. No one freezes in winter, or roasts in summer anymore. No one starves either, because food production, transportation and storage have become almost universally affordable, due to those previously-mentioned unlimited energy resources. Cars not only cost less to make and drive, they run forever without needing the tank filled. In fact, there is no tank, because there is no gas, because the cars don't need it anymore. How's it sounding so far? It gets better. International relations are changed forever. There's no more kowtowing to tinpot dictators because their country happens to sit on top of abundant oil reserves. (There aren't even any more "evil" oil companies, because, as I mentioned earlier, there's no more need for oil and gas.) Space travel becomes commonplace with all that unlimited energy to lift us out of the gravity well. Humans settle colonies from the Moon to 581c, and unite to create a Federation of Planets that bring abundance and prosperity to far-flung alien worlds. Universal peace and brotherhood overcome all the conflicts of mankind, worlds without end. Well, okay, that last bit is just plain ridiculous; people will always find things to fight about, unless the whole sin thing goes bye-bye.

Does all this sound like some ultra-sappy massively idealistic science fiction plot? Of course it does. Everybody knows there's no such thing as unlimited energy. Or is there? What if some people have actually pulled off the impossible, and created a perpetual motion machine, that not only puts out more energy than is put into it, but actually puts out 400% more energy? Wouldn't that transform the world almost as completely as any massively idealistic science fiction plot could envision? (Let's put aside for now all the inevitable sci fi counter-plots that are sure to spring up, in which evil oil empires do everything in their petroleum-enhanced power to destroy the new technology and everyone who ever saw the plans for it. Let's just take it as a given that the oil people either aren't as evil as conspiracy theorists paint them, or that they are too incompetent to pull off the destruction of the future hope of all mankind. Anything else takes us too far down rabbit trails which don't fit into my desired scenario, and it's my blog, so I get to write what I want. You can complain and pose alternate options in the comments if you like.)

Okay, now that we've determined the outcome of the invention of the perpetual motion machine, let's talk about who would be loopy enough to announce to the world that they've accomplished something that flies in the face of physics as currently understood by the people who understand such things. The company making the claim of this breakthrough is an Irish enterprise called Steorn, headed by CEO Sean McCarthy. According to their website, "Steorn is a leading Intellectual Property development company. Our latest development is Orbo, our magnetic energy generation technology." It is this magnetic energy generation technology that Steorn claims, " a technology that produces free, clean and constant energy. It can be applied to power products ranging from portable music players to cars." The company says they will make it available, after scientific validation in July, for free, allowing developers to design products built around their promised physics-defying breakthrough. Is this a sci fi kind of scenario, or what? Not only does it seem that these people have developed the answer to many of mankind's problems, but they want to give it away. It's really not possible at this point not to ask, "What's the catch?"

The catch is that Steorn is claiming they have done something that most scientists insist absolutely cannot be done. Gizmag explains it like this:

In science, the term efficiency is used to describe the discrepancy between the energy that goes into a system and the useful energy output of the system. The first law of thermodynamics states that, because energy cannot be created or destroyed, efficiency cannot exceed 100%. The second law states that, since matter and energy are constantly progressing towards a state of equilibrium with the environment, the efficiency of a system will inevitably deteriorate. Steorn, however, asserts that the “meticulous” placement of magnets can allow a magnetic object to progress indefinitely along a path in such a way that when it returns to its starting position, it has gained energy. McCarthy claims that such an arrangement can result in up to 400% efficiency. This system breaks the laws of thermodynamics with such blatant contempt that, in a Newtonian universe, all Steorn members would be thrown in physics prison. Indeed the devil-may-care attitude Steorn’s prototype has towards the universal constants is part of the reason the company had such trouble in their initial attempts to persuade scientists to test it. McCarthy claims that 90% of scientists they approached refused to even acknowledge the possibility. As for the 10% dared to witness it in action, McCarthy states that all were convinced.

The consequences for the world, if McCarthy and the still anonymous 10% are correct, will be nothing short of epic. Not only would it be a falsification of the laws of physics, it would provide infinite, free, clean energy for the entire global population. It would almost eliminate pollution, provide power to the hundreds of millions of people who currently live without it and could feasibly construct a society where the essential needs of the people are automatically taken care of.

Wouldn't that pop the lid right off the popper? Many think this is a hoax or a scam, but Gizmag makes a good case for Steorn having little incentive to fool the public, and an established business to lose if they sacrifice their reputation for fifteen minutes of infamy. This one is worth reading for yourself, folks, so head over to catch the rest of the Gizmag article. Then we wait till July for the "public unveiling." Will July plant the seeds for a massively idealistic science fiction future, or will the laws of physics prevail? Tune in this summer for further developments.