We are assailed on a daily basis with inventions that will break the laws of Physics. Some are hard to disprove although eventually they are generally discredited. One only needs to think of the devices that were invented to provide perpetual motion. All stuff, nonsense and quackery.

However, there is a new kid on the block with a claim to overturn the Laws of Physics. A rocket drive.


Dear Colleagues

EIT Stock ImageWe are assailed on a daily basis with inventions that will break the laws of Physics. Some are hard to disprove although eventually they are generally discredited. One only needs to think of the devices that were invented to provide perpetual motion. All stuff, nonsense and quackery.

However, there is a new kid on the block with a claim to overturn the Laws of Physics. A rocket drive.

The Third Law of Physics – Action and Reaction
As you will remember from high school physics: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Rockets are a great example of this law in action. Gas pouring out of the rocket at high speed from combustion of the propellants results in the rocket being flung through space at a high speed in the opposite direction. Action and reaction at work and relatively easy to explain.

The propellants for the rocket are a huge disadvantage as they often require to be lifted up against the earth’s gravity with the payload being often a tiny 10% of the overall mass at lift off. So the question is thus: How can we dispense with the propellant and thus allow us to travel to the stars with panache?

Dr Roger Shawyer, in addressing this issue, has invented the EMDRive rocket which converts electrical energy into thrust with no need for a reaction mass. Microwaves are fed into the conically shaped EMDRive and bounce around giving a small net thrust.

NASA (through their Eagleworks lab) have recently verified thrust is being generated in contradiction to the laws of physics.

The laws of physics show that as nothing is actually emitted from the EMDrive, it surely cannot generate thrust.

So what gives?
My take on this is that it is likely to be experimental error as the thrusts that are being measured are extraordinarily tiny for the prototype. But at the present – it has been impossible to demonstrate anything other than something very strange happening.

Breaking the Laws of Physics
There have been many attempts at breaking the laws of physics. One of the most recent ones that had me surprised was a respected physics lab in Italy who reported subatomic particles were able to travel faster than the speed of light. However, after a lot of shouting and screaming, this was traced to some defective wiring in the test equipment (I think it was the fiber optics connectors at fault).

Another attempt at breaking the laws of physics was a space probe whose trajectory was unusual with some force pushing against it (thus changing its trajectory ever so slightly). It turned out that radiation pressure was the cause.

And indeed sometimes – very rarely – we do get something that breaks the Laws of Physics and results in a new theory. One only needs to think of the big conundrum of the orbit of Mercury which couldn’t quite be explained by classical physics of the time in late 1800s. It turned out that we needed Albert Einstein and the Theory of Relavity to explain the orbit. Certainly, the laws of Physics were overturned at this point. But this was an unprecedented event.

Perhaps the theory of Cold Fusion is another one – but this still has a long way to go.

A Universal Test
When assessing any idea (business, engineering or otherwise), I love to quote Robert De Niro’s aphorism: When there is any doubt, there is no doubt. An alternative piece of advice which is also very useful is: If appears to be too good to be true, then it is definitely too good to be true.

(And this quotation, I might add, can be applied to a company’s stock price as well).

Thanks to the Economist for an interesting discussion on this potential triumph in Modern Physics.

Yours in engineering learning

Steve

Mackay’s Musings – 1st Nov’16 #624
780, 293 readers – www.idc-online.com/blogs/stevemackay

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