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Perpetual Motion, the Folly of the Ages


By H. Winfield Secor, E.E.




Untold Numbers of Inventors and Even Scientists Have in Years Past, and at the Present Time, Devoted a Vast Amount of Study to the Perfection of a Perpetual Motion Machine - The Problem Remains Unsolved, However, to This Day

Perpetual motion is the will-o'-the wisp that has occupied many brilliant minds in the centuries past, as well as at the present time, and, while we of this age are not entitled, perhaps, to say definitely that all such ideas are absolute folly and baseless from a strictly scientific and physical standpoint, it is pretty thoroughly understood by all well schooled engineers and inventors of today that there is practically no such thing as perpetual motion, in the general sense of the word.

Perpetual motion is a very misleading term as applied in various senses, and in treating such a subject as this the confining limits of the points involved should be thoroughly understood.

Some theorists and would-be scientists will propose such ideas or phenomena as the light of the sun, ocean waves, rotation of the earth, and what not, as the embodiment of perpetual motion. However, the hundreds, and undoubtedly thousands, of more or less well - trained minds that have endeavored to solve this much-talked-of problem of perpetual motions have invariably, had in mind some mechanical, electrical or other machine which, when once started in motion, would continue producing this motion indefinitely, or to the end of time. So far no machine or allied device of any description has been perfected or produced, but several quite remarkable phenomena taking place in nature will be mentioned herein which approach this much desired goal of inventors past and present.

Many extremely amusing situations occurred between scientists and would-be inventors of perpetual motion machines, and a few of these instances are here cited which may be of more than passing interest to those who have been or who are now thinking along this line.

One of these stories is related of how an inventor of a certain machine betook himself to a mechanical engineer for advice on same. The machine in question was supposed to" multiply power and the inventor of this device maintained that if one horsepower of energy was applied to a pulley on one end of the mechanism, then 20 horsepower could be taken from a second pulley placed on the other end of the combination. The engineer asked the inventor if he believed in perpetual motion, and be re plied, "Certainly not." "Well," said the engineer, "if you use one of the 20 horsepower you claim to produce, you will have 19 horsepower left for other work, will you not?" "Yes," replied the inventor.

"Then take one horsepower from the pulley which will deliver 20 horsepower and drive the other end of the machine requiring but one horsepower, as you mention, and you will then have perpetual motion!" It is said that the inventor departed forthwith without even unrolling his drawings. Again, there is nothing wrong with trying to tap any of nature's reservoirs, but what is wrong is when we try to make 2 plus 2 equal 5 mechanically. It is a consoling fact, indeed, that we should know, as we do know, that an accountant's balance sheet is always possible for any mechanical operation.

On the one side we have the money paid in, that is the horsepower available while on the other side we have the money paid out; that is the work done and the energy wasted; the two sides must balance one with the other eventually. For a given horsepower put into a certain device or machine we are entitled to look for a strict accounting" of energy expended by this machine.

The final results must show so much work done plus so much wasted, avoidably or unavoidably, and the work done plus the work wasted must in every case equal the work originally put in. Also there must be no pretense made or assumed that any amount of the energy has mysteriously disappeared - in other words, there must be no allegation that the books will not balance.

The inventors of so - called perpetual motion machines have, from time im-memorial, evinced a partial or total disregard of the basic laws of physics and mechanics. The term "friction," for one thing, seems to have found no place at all in their vocabulary or knowledge of science.

If it had, indeed there would never have been patents issued and whole volumes written covering their early research work or, for that matter, the present-day research on such impossible appliances or machines as we feel called upon to name them in the light of our present-day knowledge of the aforementioned branches of science.

When one of these perpetual motion inventors can show us a machine that will operate absolutely without friction and in direct defiance of the laws of gravity, and, considering these terms in all their multifarious and multitudinous phases, in which we are compelled to apply them to all man made devices and apparatus, then you will probably see such a machine, which will keep in operation forever.

It will probably bring out the point at issue more clearly if we consider a number of the ingenious ways and methods called into play by the various investigators of this phenomena and consider carefully the deficiencies in same and the reasons therefor.

Referring to Fig. 1, there is observed a hydrostatic device which is supposed to keep on operating forever, and this was invented at an early date. It has been promulgated and adopted over and over again by many sanguine inventors, and it was proposed at one time by the Abbe de la Roque, of France, in 1686. The device comprises a glass vessel of the form shown in the illustration, and, as perceived, the section B is made much smaller than the portion A. When water is placed in the larger chamber A it is, on account of its greater volume and weight, supposed to easily counterbalance the small column of water in the portion B, and hence the liquid would be forced up through the restricted tube section beyond B, and thus discharged back into the bowl A. This is supposed to keep up until the water is evaporated. Needless to say, the inventor, or rather inventors of this apparently remarkable device were confounded when an actual trial demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that the device would not, under any conditions, operate on account of the fact that the liquid maintained an equal level in the chambers A and B in accordance with the well known laws of hydrostatics. Simply explained, the air pressure per unit surface area remains the same, or, roughly, 15 pounds per square inch. Gravity aids in establishing equal levels in the two chambers or tubes. Reference to any book on physics will serve to clear up this matter thoroughly.

In this direction there was another form of hydrostatic perpetual motion device, known as Hero's Fountain. The sketch at Fig. 2 shows the arrangement of this device, which comprises an upper chamber, A, open to the atmosphere, which chamber is filled with water. The water also passed from this chamber down through a tube or pipe into a lower receptacle D. The pressure was supposed to be transmitted from the water in this way so as to compress the air in chamber B, and thus react on a second water basin C, and thus the liquid was supposed to be forced out of the nozzle at the top of the fountain, as the illustration shows. If such a device would work, needless to say the problem of perpetual motion would have been solved long ago, for this idea date back hundreds of years. (If the upper basin is larger than the inner one, then the device will operate for a while.)

Electricity, owing to the fact that it has always been but very vaguely understood, even by some of those skilled to a high degree in the art, has caused a great many students of this branch of science to burn a vast amount of midnight oil in trying to perfect a device employing electricity in some form or other that would keep on the "go" forever.

Among amateur electricians undoubtedly one of the standard forms of this "pipe dream" is that shown at Fig. 3. This necessitates the use of a motor and dynamo connected together in some way or other so that after once starting same from some external source of energy the dynamo will generate the current for driving the motor, and, considering that they are finally interconnected, the motor will in turn drive the dynamo. Thus they will keep on working forever, ad infinitum. To the thorough electrical student this proposed scheme is, of course, absolutely fallacious and ridiculous.

In accordance with the well-known law covering the conservation of energy, which states that matter or energy can never be made or destroyed, and also that it is manifestly impossible, at least in our age, to construct a machine that will operate at 100 per cent, efficiency, without any waste of energy whatsoever, it will be seen that it is utterly hopeless to think for one moment that such a combination can be made to operate for even a few seconds, let alone months and years, as some inventors fondly think.

As a matter of fact, and to thoroughly bring out the defaults of this arrangement, authentic data is here cited covering the actual performance of such a motor-generator set.

Let us consider that the motor used to drive the dynamo by direct coupling, which is the most efficient method of mechanically connecting the machine, is rated at five horsepower. This considers the five horsepower rating of the motor mechanically at the driving pulley or shaft. From careful tests made on such machines the relation of the input of the electrical energy to the output of mechanical energy is practically 80 per cent, for this size unit. Hence, if the motor is rated at live mechanical horsepower ( in accordance with the rated efficiency), then the electrical input on the motor must be 6% horsepower. Considering the aforementioned efficiency loss, the one horsepower is consumed in bearings, windage, copper and iron losses in the motor.

There is also some over-all coupling loss in such motor generator sets, and the dynamos are never rated, in properly designed outfits, to correspond with the horsepower output of the motor. If we allow 10 per cent, difference between the mechanical horsepower developed by the motor and the dynamo input, we will then have allowable for this latter value 4.5 mechanical horsepower.

Considering, now, that the dynamo has an efficiency of 80 per cent. ( for the conversion of mechanical into electrical energy), then it will have an output of 4.5 horsepower times 80 per cent , or 3.6 horsepower. Recapitulating, it is now evident that the gross over-all efficiency of the motor generator set is 3.0 divided by 6.25, or 57.6 per cent.

If the dream of this perpetual motion scheme is to be realized, it will have to be under conditions that will allow of no loss whatsoever, even to the smallest degree; and, of course, as every well-informed electrician knows, this is out of the question.

Some of the inventors and re-inventors of this scheme have even claimed that lamps can be lighted from the dynamo., as well as driving the motor from the same source of energy, and our sketch, Fig. 3, shows this proposed innovation.

There have been thousands of mechanical devices devised to realize the perpetual motion goal, but none of them have proved successful in actual tests. It may be of interest to state that the United States Patent Office experienced no end of trouble with this class of patents and proposed patents some years back, but the annoyance became so pronounced that finally a rule was passed that a "model" of such proposed patents would have to be submitted. Needless to say that this has put a quietus on the perpetual motion dreamer, as there has never yet been submitted to the Patent Office a machine which would keep moving for any appreciable length of time, for the several mechanical and physical reasons well known to any student of the science.

For the benefit of those who have not studied the problem from a mechanical viewpoint it may be worth while to look into the cold facts of "friction." In practically all, or nearly all, of the devices of various types intended to operate forever, there has always been a very appreciable amount of friction to be overcome and which fact was apparently totally ignored in designing the machine. The friction might be very small indeed in the machine, but it is there invariably, and cannot be gotten rid of by any method known to us.

Some have tried to realize the long-sought-for goal of 100 per cent, efficiency by utilizing devices employing a number of gears —from two to three, and sometimes a dozen or more. As machine designers well know, there is not, nor never has been, a gear train of no matter how few gears that would transmit mechanical energy in a reduced or intensified form (as regards velocity) without some loss of energy in friction and tooth slippage in the gear action.

The efficiency of a small gear train may vary from 80 to 86 per cent, or more for medium velocities at the pitch line of the gear. Any machine design or mechanical engineer's handbook will give this data in lucid form, and it has been compiled from many observations and extremely careful tests conducted in laboratories of the leading universities and colleges, which are thoroughly equipped for this work.

Any moving - objects or parts of a machine must of necessity be supported on spindles or shafts resting in bearings. These bearings are bound to exert some frictional effect, and the following formula gives the loss in foot-pounds per minute for such horizontal bearings. This rule states that the loss in foot-pounds per minute is equivalent to .2618 times the coefficient of friction, times the weight on the journal in pounds, times the diameter of the shaft in inches, multiplied by the revolutions per minute at which the shaft rotates. The value of the coefficient of friction varies, of course, but it has a value of approximately .008 for a cast-iron shaft running in a steel box or sleeve when the pressure is 100 pounds per square inch, and, considering that sperm oil is used as the lubricant.

Many people who have a slight knowledge of physics have promulgated designs for perpetual motion employing liquids, somewhat after the fashion shown in Figs. 2 and 3, and some of these machines have appeared to be very ingenious on first inspection. However, friction is also present here, as liquid cannot flow through a pipe or nozzle without encountering a reactional or frictional effect.

A number of electrical machines intended to produce perpetual motion have been devised from time to time, and Fig. 4 depicts a design which might appeal to the amateur electrician or inventor. This instrument is of the electromagnetic type, and A represents a frictional electrical machine. At B there is a crank connected to a pivoted armature situated in front of the electromagnet C. The frictional electric machine is started and so magnetizes the ( temporary ) magnet, which pulls the armature G toward C; the circuit is broken at E. and thus the magnet loses its power, temporarily.

The spring J now pulls the armature back against the contact screw E, and thus the magnet is energized once more. Thus the action is supposed to keep up forever. The explanation previously given in connection with the motor-generator set illustrated in Fig. 3 will help to elucidate the fallacy here involved. Besides a static machine cannot operate an electromagnet. Another inventor devised a magnetic wheel machine, pictured at Fig. 5. This wonderful machine constituted a rotating wheel having oppositely disposed magnetic segments, such as those made of iron (A), while a powerful steel magnet acted on these wheel segments in turn. Attached to the wheel shaft was a crank motion which alternately and in proper sequence raised and lowered a magnetic shield (B) in front of the permanent magnet poles, so that as soon as the iron segment approached the magnet the shield would be interposed between them, and the momentum of the wheel would carry it past this point, etc.

This action was repeated ad infinitum, as will be apparent. The most remarkable claim made by the inventor of this particular device was that the magnetic shield was to be composed of brass, coated with a "chemical and mineral substance" which would make it an insulator of magnetism. ( As a matter of fact there has never been found a substance to insulate magnetism, except iron.) Again, the wheel C attached to the shaft of the device turns in a trough of water, as perceived, and it is supposed to serve in equalizing the motion, thus keeping the machine from running away with itself and committing self-destruction!

One of the "simplest," apparently, solutions of the perpetual motion problem and devised at an early date involved the use of some form of revolving wheel made up with spiral paths in same, in which paths a number of metal weights or halls could travel hack and forth as the wheel rotated, and thus change their center of gravity. This would eventually overbalance the wheel proper, it was claimed, so that they would produce a greater force on one side of the wheel (in a descending sense) than that offered by the balls being raised on the other side of the wheel. This is shown very clearly in Fig. 6. Moreover, the friction and windage of the rotating member proper, with respect to the bearings, etc., have to be taken into account, even though it is placed in a vacuum, as gravity will cause the wheel to exert weight on the points of suspension which would, of course, be the bearings. Disregarding these facts altogether, it can be seen that although it looks quite certain that the balls falling out along the spiral grooves of the wheel at the right will surely tend to, exert a greater force "downward" in a turning effort on the wheel than the counteracting "lift" force required to raise the balls as they move backward to the center of the wheel] such is not true.

It will be found upon critical inspection of all such wheels that, although some of the weights or balls are more distant from the center of the wheel than others, yet there will always he a proportionately smaller number of them at that part of the wheel on which they exert the greatest power, so that these exactly counterbalance each other and hence the wheel will stand still. Hundreds of similar designs employing liquids, such as water, mercury, etc., bellows, weighted collapsible leaves and what not, have been devised and thought out to bring about the much-desired function of "perpetual motion," but without avail.

Of later years and in view of the marvelous characteristics of radium, for instance, which was supposed at one time to give off energy forever, there have been many pseudo-scientists who in speaking of perpetual motion, simply mention the word, Radium! as if they had solved the whole question finally and completely. The latest research work on radium has brought out the fact that it eventually loses its power to give forth energy in the form of electrons at the end of about 2,500 years. To some of us no doubt this would seem near enough to the goal of the perpetual motion dreamer, and a radium clock would seem to put any of the devices of this ilk invented in past years away in the shade. A radium clock that undoubtedly will work all right has been devised by Prof. Struts. This may be said, without a doubt, to he one of the nearest approaches to a practical perpetual motion device ever invented. It comprises a glass bulb, as perceived in Fig. 7, inclosing a gold leaf electroscope, some radium salts and a metal wire which has one end connected to the earth.

The action is as follows: The emanation of the radium in the form of electrons shot forth at high velocity, charges the leaves, which diverge slightly, until one of them touches the wire at A. As this terminal is connected with the ground, it carries off the electrical charge, leaving the gold leaf discharged, but which are then recharged from the electrons continuously given off by the radium. This charge is again carried off to earth, and so on, ad lib. No doubt a suitable electrical contact of delicate mechanical construction could be arranged so that every time the leaf touched the wire A it would cause a secondary electrical circuit to operate some electromagnetic device connected to a standard clock mechanism.

Also it might be possible to construct a sufficiently sensitive mechanical arrangement inside the bulb, which would be actuated by the movement of the gold leaves as aforementioned.

The life of such a clock would be 2.500 years, if our present knowledge of radium and its characteristics are correct. Thus we see that, in so far as practical results, or in fact any results worth mentioning arc concerned, the problem of perpetual motion is practically as far from solution as it ever was since the dawn of creation.

Wherever you find practical engineers and scientists at work in the laboratory or in the field, you will always find some practical form of energy being utilized, either from waterfalls, some form of gas or coal, mineral oils or windmills, etc. There are a number of mighty forces as yet unharnessed in nature, which so far have baffled the many master minds trying to solve their mysteries; notable among these there is the almost unbelievable force available in the ocean waves, which perpetually wash our shores; the energy in the sun's rays, which has been used practically in some apparatus devised in the past few years, but not to any extent worth mentioning; the efficient use of wind energy, and the direct generation of power from coal, which at present entails 90 to 98 per cent, loss in boilers, engines and piping. But let the perpetual motion specialists dream on, for he who never dreams never accomplishes, someone has said.



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