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Experiments In Physics, 1-- Perpetual Motion


By John J, Furia


Department of Physics, N. Y. University




It is a well known fact that more Time, Energy and Money have been spent and wasted in searches for a machine capable of producing Perpetual Motion than for all other scientific pursuits combined. The impossibility of perpetual motion can be demonstrated by the simple elementary laws of Mathematics and Mechanics, and consequently the truly scientific mind wastes no time in such a search. Perpetual motion is a direct violation of that fundamental law of Physics, the law of conservation of energy; hence in order not to waste time in argument with a perpetual motion inventor, to show him the fallacy in his reasoning (?) one has but to say "it contradicts the law of conservation of energy." The U. S. Patent Office has a sure-fire means of disposing of these would-be inventors—it asks them to produce a working model! That settles it, for if the inventor cannot make the proposed scheme work, who can?

Perpetual motion and perpetual motion machines are defined in many ways, all the definitions conveying the idea of getting something for nothing, indefinitely. The getting something for nothing idea, of course, will appeal to the general public ignorant of science, and the natural consequence is "swindling schemes." One definition is—a perpetual motion machine is one which will go on moving without assistance from any external force, except possibly gravity, until the parts of which it is made wear out!

The inventor usually adds that his machine will evolve more power than is required to run it. The efficiency of such a machine would therefore be greater than 100 per cent! Perpetual motion machines fall naturally into two classes—the absurd class and the frauds. The second of these classes hold no interest for us scientifically. In general a perpetual motion machine would be invented (the inventor being backed up by publicity specialists).

A glowing account of the operation of the machine before a distinguished audience from "Podunk" would appear, together with front page photographs of the machine and of the handsome and distinguished looking inventor—who always spent a life-time and several fortunes in perfecting the ninth wonder. The inventor having spent all his money and all he could borrow would therefore be willing to sacrifice a major share in his invention for a few thousand dollars, and some fortunate young heir or widow would perchance acquire an expensive education.

Nowadays, if an account of a perpetual motion machine should appear in the papers, some secret service men would keep in touch with the "benefactor to mankind" and in a short time, or as soon as his "gilt edge stock" began to sell, said benefactor would shortly rest behind prison bars.

The first class of machines is of considerable interest. Most of us have at some time or other spent much time in thinking up perpetual motion machines and still more time in trying to fathom the reason why our schemes would not work. Which one of us has not at some time or other hooked up a small toy dynamo and motor with the intention of causing the dynamo to supply current to run the motor and some lights, bells, trains, etc.—while the motor in turn, belted to the dynamo, drives the latter machine.

See Fig. 5. What a great disappointment it was to find that the scheme wouldn't work. To be sure, on connecting the hand drive to the dynamo, we get enough "juice" from it to run our motor and our lights and other things.

Also we can run our motor from some cells and by belting cause the dynamo to run. Why then does our perpetual motion machine fail us? The answer is simple—the law of conservation of energy. Let us assume that our motor and dynamo were identically made and practically frictionless.

The machines of Fig. 5 are of this type. A current of 1/10 ampere is used by each when acting as a motor, at a potential of 10 volts; therefore, 1 watt of power is consumed. Since the efficiency would have to be less than 100 per cent., due to friction and eddy current losses, etc., then when acting as a dynamo less than one watt power is given off. Hence one of the machines can never be made to run the other, let alone do other work besides!

Another electrical type of perpetual motion machine familiar to most of us depends for its operation (or rather for its failure to operate) on the action of points. See Fig. 6. In Electrostatics we learn that the sharper the point of a conductor, the greater the density of the charge present.

Because of the great density, the charge leaves the conductor at the sharp points. If by some means we continually charge a conductor having a shape like that in Fig. 1, then the reaction will cause it to move as indicated by the arrows. The source of the charging can be a static machine (Whimshurst or other type). Why not belt the conductor so as to run our static machine; and sidetrack some of the electricity from the machine to be used for other purposes? One has but to look at the small weight of the conductor and the slow speed at which it runs and compare it with the large heavy static machine and the large force required co cause it to give a spark, in order to perceive at once the folly of such an absurd scheme.

Another idea along somewhat similar lines is the following: A screw fits tightly in a cylinder at the top of which is an ordinary rotary lawn sprinkler. As the screw is turned the right way, the water rises in the cylinder. When the water reaches the level of the sprinkler, it comes out from the nozzles and the reaction causes the sprinkler to turn. Once this machine is started it should operate forever, for as it turns, water rises to the sprinkler—while as the sprinkler operates, it turns and causes water to rise in the cylinder. It takes considerable force to cause the sprinkler to rotate due to the reaction; it would require still more force if the sprinkler had to in addition do the work of lifting the water up the cylinder. The reaction due to the water coming out from the level of the sprinkler with no force behind it is very small, and not ever sufficient to cause the sprinkler to budge. See Fig. 2.

Fig. 3 represents the cross-section of a cylinder containing grooved curved spokes. Marbles or lead balls rest in the grooves.

It will be seen that the marbles at the left are further from the center than those at the right. Consequently because the rotational moment on the left is greater than that on the right (the marble being of the same size and weight) not only will the machine move perpetually and do work, but it will even start itself? By putting a belt around the cylinder, machinery can be driven continually, perhaps ?!X! It is true that the moment on the left is greater than that on the right and therefore there is apparently a tendency to cause rotation opposite to the rotation of the hands of a clock, but if rotation is to take place the top marbles near the center vertical axis will have to be raised over the bend in the spoke, and the machine having no means of doing this, the scheme fails miserably.

The following is a good example of perpetual motion proposed by one ignorant of the simplest fundamentals of hydrostatics. If a pipe having a very large bowl is connected to a piece of tubing of small diameter, and curled in the shape shown in Fig. 4, when water is placed in the bowl, it should come out from the end of the tubing, thus filling the pipe bowl again and the passage of water from the pipe bowl out thru the stem and tubing back to the pipe again will be continuous? This will operate as long as the amount of water in the bowl is large compared with that in the stem and tubing, for then the weight in the bowl will be greater than that in the stem and tubing, and the weight in the bowl will force the water thru the stem and tubing, said early philosophers.

This explanation, of course, ignores the fact that it is the pressure in the liquid that counts and not its weight, and since both ends (the bowl and the tubing) are exposed to the atmosphere, they are at atmospheric pressure and hence the liquid will stay at the same level in both.



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