Friday, 6 July 2007

Steorn have already given up

Well that was quick! It looks like Steorn have given up on the idea of a public demonstration. Here's their press release:

Steorn announcement: Kinetica Demonstration

Further to Steorn’s announcement yesterday (5th July) regarding the technical difficulties experienced during the installation of its “Orbo” technology at the Kinentica Museum in London, Steorn has decided to postpone the demonstration until further notice.

Sean McCarthy CEO stated that “technical problems arose during the installation of the demonstration unit in the display case on Wednesday evening. These problems were primarily due to excessive heat from the lighting in the main display area. Attempts to replace those parts affected by the heat led to further failures and as a result we have to postpone the public demonstration until a future date.”

He continued that “we apologise for the inconvenience caused to all the people who had made arrangements to visit the demonstration or were planning on viewing the demonstration online.”

Over the next few weeks the company will explore alternative dates for the public demonstration.

Steorn have rearranged their site to hide any mentions of their ill-fated attempt at demonstrating that the laws of physics don't apply to them. Before and after shots below - the demonstration link is gone...

Amusingly though, it looks like they forgot to switch the cameras off. I've seen a couple of people wandering around - probably museum curators. If I were them, I don't know whether I'd be more angry or embarrassed. To their credit though, they're a gallery, not a scientific exhibition, so I think it's well within their remit to show controversial things irrespective of scientific merit. As for Steorn, I'm not feeling as forgiving...

How to build a real perpetual motion machine :-)

It's now the start of day 2 of Steorn's 10 day demonstration, and no sign of the promised Steorn perpetual motion machine demonstration. The museum is empty, there's just an empty(?) perspex box. The lights are out, and nobody's home. Given that Steorn were (last anyone heard) blaming the heat of the lights, I thought I would contribute a quick guide to how to build a real 'perpetual motion machine'.

You start with a Crookes radiometer. It's a very cool demonstration of some very complicated physics, but essentially a weather vane type arrangement will rotate in a near vacuum, if one side of the vanes are made much darker than the other side.

Though the physics is quite complicated, it's entirely real. It's covered quite well by Wikipedia I like the fact that some heavyweight physicists (including Maxwell and Einstein) were needed to finally explain it.

The energy that makes the vane rotate actually comes from the energy carried by light. There's a certain irony to the idea that the lights which Steorn are blaming for their failure would actually cause the success of this little prank!

So you take one of these, dress it up in a fancy box, add some complicated looking apparatus with plenty of high-tech monitoring equipment, and you're bound to fool a few people. Maybe put some heavy objects around it and claim it's due to gravity waves - they're still pretty poorly understood (comparatively), so that's bound to cause some attention-boosting controversy. Make sure there's nothing radioactive or anything else that wears out over time (like - say - a magnet), or people will be sure to pick on that.

Wikipedia points out that infa-red works as well, so you could even have a fantastic demonstration - point your powerful lights at it, wait until someone calls you on it and says 'but the energy's coming from the light, isn't it?', then kill the lights and switch on an infa-red light at the same time :-)

Skeptical about Steorn: Quick introduction

A quick introduction: in August of last year, Steorn burst onto the stage by placing a full-page color ad in The Economist, claiming essentially to have invented a machine that provides unlimited free energy. This obviously violates the principle of the conservation of energy, a fairly fundamental part of physics, so it's a bold claim. Moreover, every time the claim has been made in the past (and it's happened many times), it's always been disproved, and usually revealed to be a fraud.

A full page ad in the Economist doesn't come cheap, so it was certainly an odd thing to do. However, they claimed to be putting their invention through rigorous (though confidential) scientific testing. I guessed it was a scam of some sort and they were looking for (gullible?) investors, though I was mystified as to why they would choose something so incredible - after all, if you're going to make it up, why not keep it within the bounds of science?

But now, the Steorn folk are promising a public demonstration. Strictly, they promised it yesterday (the 5th July), but they're having technical difficulties (due to the heat of the lights, they say). As the site of the demonstration is at the Kinetica museum, right round the corner from me, I decided I would go have a look for myself, just as soon as they sort out their difficulties... and - of course - blog about it here.

So, if you follow this blog, you'll either soon hear about a world-changing, physics-rewriting invention that will free us from global warming, foreign oil dependency, the need to work etc etc. Or you might hear about ongoing technical difficulties.... We'll have to see!