Producing rotational energy out of nothing..

I wasn’t going to mention Steorn or their, literally, incredible claim of having invented a perpetual motion machine. They have, after all, had plenty of expensive publicity already, I saw the first report back on 18th August on RTÉ. But their continued appearances in the media have forced the issue, not least the less that sufficiently critical report in the Guardian [wasn’t Ben Goldacre available? – Ed] Thankfully someone who has seen others try similar stunts before has an article about Steorn’s Amazing Nonsense online at ZDNet.. and he’s highlighted some of the points that, frankly, piss me off about the whole thing.In fairness to the Guardian’s Steve Boggan he does highlight his doubts

But then that Christmas Day feeling kicks in; doubts about the power source. According to McCarthy and Walshe, the marketing manager, there have been no fewer than eight independent validations of their work conducted by electrical engineers and academics “with multiple PhDs” from world-class universities. But none of them will talk to me, even off the record. I am promised a diagram explaining how the system works, but then Steorn holds it back, saying its lawyers are concerned about intellectual property rights. And that European partner, the one with the moving, almost perpetual, prototypes? It won’t talk to me either and Steorn has undertaken not to name it.

And gets a quote from Martin Fleischmann, the cold-fusion scientist..

“I am actually a conventional scientist,” he says, “but I do accept that the existing [quantum electro-dynamic] paradigm is not adequate. If what these men are saying turns out to be true, that would be proof that the paradigm was inadequate and we would have to come up with some new theory. But I don’t think their claims are credible. No, I cannot see how the position of magnetic fields allows one to create energy.”

However his final ‘just maybe’ line is more than irritating…

And if their “free” energy can light up a developing-world village or the eyes of a child with a toy, then perhaps we all should.


Anyway.. From Rupert Goodwin

It is also pseudoscience of the highest order. The general idea has been around for a while and has spawned many impassioned claims: you spin magnets around in a clever way and get more energy out from a system than you put in. This is generally agreed as impossible: it’s perpetual motion, it breaks the laws of thermodynamics, and in the long and gaudy history of pseudoscience it ain’t never worked yet. Which is not to say it never will: science is full of astounding discoveries that turn the accepted truths on their head. History is also full of total balderdash masquerading as science.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to tell pseudoscience: grand claims with no way to verify them, important facts that are alluded to and not presented, claims of conspiracy or closed-mindedness by the scientific community, production of claims by press release rather than scientific papers. Steorn more than fulfils all of these: it is, by any objective test, pseudoscience.[added emphasis]

and he pulls it all together neatly at the end..

Whatever Steorn is doing — and in the utter absence of any testable data, the chances of it being a significant scientific achievement are closer to absolute zero than the contents of Lord Kelvin’s freezer compartment — it’s an expensive experiment. For the price of that Economist advert and whatever they’re paying their PR company, they could have built 10 apparatuses that actually demonstrated their effect and Fedex’d them to the major centres of scientific excellence on the planet.

It wouldn’t even cost them that much. If they’ll send me the plans, I’ll build one. Having built it, I’ll convince myself that it does produce more energy than it takes in — which will take a glass of water, a resistor, a thermometer, a couple of test meters and some basic mathematics, all of which I already have. I shall then get on the train to Cambridge and refuse to leave until the nice people at the Cavendish take a look at it.

I shall do all this at no charge to Steorn, because it will make me very famous if it turns out to be true and I’ll get a great article out of it if it isn’t. Furthermore, I don’t think it will happen.

Neither will Steorn’s amazing machine. Whether it’s being driven by madness, genuine misapprehension or some ulterior motive yet to be revealed, it’s not being driven by science. Producing rotational energy out of nothing is a great trick and one that its PR company is clearly very good at, but once the silly season’s over the spin will die down.[added emphasis]


More links and info here

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  • Harry

    From my partial knowledge of these things I think that the relationships between spin, string theory, circular motion, waves, magnetism and inertia are probably the right ballpark where new energy sources will be found, and quite possibly in the near future. However from Steorns presentation so far I get the impression of more horseshit than paradigm shift.

  • Pete Baker


    Cold fusion probably has a better chance of being a successful source of new energy than what Steorn claim to have on their hands.

  • spin, string theory, circular motion, waves, magnetism and inertia I with pete on this one.

  • sci

    Sure perpeptual motion has already been discovered in Ulster. Orangemen can never stop marching.


    Ye cannae change the laws ae physics!

  • Pete Baker

    Anything to add on the topic, gentlemen?

    Just asking…

  • Crataegus


    But remember Newton’s Third Law of Motion:

  • Frustrated Democrat

    For those of you interested in such things see the web page below (I have forgotten the code to make it a link so it will be a cut and paste)

    I have seen the engine working in ‘minature’ at apparently better than 100% (the circuits are freely available) but have no idea if he is a crackpot or a genius.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    sorry apparently no code is needed for links……..

  • Ciaran Irvine

    The consensus in the techie community is that this is a “proof of concept” viral marketing project.

    Steorn were one of the dotcom bubble companies that have barely survived the crash by turning themselves into a web marketing/PR agency (read: they’re a bunch of marketdroids with shiny suits and make their money by being full of s***)

    What this is, is a demonstration of their marketing *cough* prowess. They have taken an utter nonsense story that is basically on the level of “Santa Kidnapped By Elves!” and managed to get half the world’s media talking about it. Steorn drones have been popping up on discussion fora all over the internet for the last months babbling on about it then running away.

    It’s all just empty meaningless spin – but they do it very well (if you like that kind of thing).

    So now they can pitch for major advertising accounts, with the “success” of this nonsense to point to to demonstrate their “expertise” in the dark Golgafrinchan arts.

    Personally I think the entire “marketing” industry will be the destruction of us all and we should re-introduce the death penalty for PR executives.

  • “Steorn or their, literally, incredible”


    Sean & Dickie: So show me, yuppy.

    Get Dorthy to make it work in Kansas.

  • Occasional Commentator

    If I know my Mum she, like thousands of others, will be delighted at this news. She’ll refuse to countenance any doubts about this wonderful achievement for Ireland. Just like Michelle Smith and those folks a couple of years ago who claimed to have made the web ten times faster. In each case my initial scepticism was proven correct.

    What are RTE making of this – is it on the telly? Are they being all enthusiastic and whipping up some of the population into a nationalistic frenzy, or are they slightly embarassed about it all?

  • Comrade Stalin

    You don’t have to be a scientist to realize that the offer of something for nothing is complete and total nonsense.

    Pete and Ciaran have summed it up best. It’s most likely some kind of marketing test exercise. But the uncritical analysis of the company and it’s non-existent invention by the media is the real problem here.

  • tom strong

    Happy to seethat both sides in NI can recognize scientific spurious nonsense.

  • Pete Baker

    Wikipedia has a page on this which is probably worth looking at.. seems to be doing a reasonable job of collating info on the company and this particular story

    Seems they’ve been a bit tardy recently in filing their accounts with the Irish Companies Registration Office.

  • Green Ink

    Occasional Commentator, RTE gave this legs enough with TV and radio coverage after The Economist ad:

    If it’s true bags I a lightsaber!

  • Pete Baker

    Green Ink

    The RTÉ report, from the 18th, is in the original post.. although there is also a report of an RTÉ interview, which I don’t have a link to, but relevant quotes are here

    In fairness to RTÉ, though, they weren’t the first to report on this – Reuters ran it on the 17th… RTÉ was just the first report I noticed.

  • abucs

    Since we are all here, we know power from nothing is possible – somehow. :o)

  • Occasional Commentator

    I saw it on slashdot on Monday (I rarely check it these days but I was curious what they thought of the whole Pluto thing). I considered mentioned it on Slugger but decided against it.

    I don’t really mind RTE reporting it. It is newsworthy – my only worry is RTE taking it too seriously and failing to give its gullible viewers the opinions of the scientific mainstream. They could have given some examples of similar ‘breakthroughs’ that have sunk without trace.

    Anyway, even though I don’t place any credence in this idea, I’m certain we don’t really have a clue about physics at the end of the day. Converting matter directly into energy seemed pretty mad at first, but that’s what nuclear reactors do. Wierd physics will be found in future.

  • abucs

    I guess it all depends how we look at it OC.

    If we think about our bodies needing energy and we eat (matter) to produce this energy i guess it was staring us in the face ( or gut ) all the time. :o)

    I agree with what you are saying though.

    Do you have any thoughts about the best area of physics where abundant (or even free) energy might emerge ?

    Do you know much about the matter / anti matter discussion ?

    I have to admit that i’m ignorant about that but if true i imagine the theory might allow the free lunch.

  • Occasional Commentator

    I haven’t a clue where to start. It’s not so much ‘what area of physics?’, but whether our understanding of the basics is the ultimate truth. For example, I don’t think most physics believe the Standard Model is the be all and end all. Newton’s laws, Einstein’s laws and the Standard Model are just attempts to predict the behaviour of the world, they don’t tell us why it behaves that way. We can’t be sure the fundamental particles really are that fundamental. I think/hope that ‘particles’ will turn out to be nothing more than the arrangement of a knot in space-time or something, i.e. they don’t really exist. A knot is a shoelace doesn’t contain any more ‘stuff’ than a straight shoelace, I suspect a particle will be similar.

    So hopefully we will some day have a better understanding of the basics (including why does ‘energy’ seem to be conserved?). When we do, every area of physics will be touched. Just as Newton’s ideas come out as a special case (a low speed approximation) of Einstein’s, all our ideas today will turn out to just be not very fundamental after all.

  • abucs

    Hi OC,

    i guess you know that Quantum theory has been the latest orthodox form of science of HOW everything works for nearly 100 years? (Rather than why).

    You’ll be happy to hear then that many quantum physicists are following Neils Bohr idea that the ‘idea of a physical universe’ is in question. There are many repeatable experiments where particles jump in and out of existance and follow laws of probabilities instead of ‘classical’ cause and effect science. In fact all of our computers work with the quantum design in the circuits regulation of electricity which depend on electrons jumping in and out of existance.

    There is also evidence of ‘action at a distance’ that happens faster than the speed of light.
    Also it is orthodox science now to say that a quantum particle cannot have both a definite position and acceleration (movement) at the same time but only a probability. This is more evidence of a non physical base to reality.

    Does this sit well with the view of a knot in space-time ? What exactly do you mean by that ? Is it similar to string/M theory acting in other dimensions ? I am interested in those types of theories although sometimes it looks to just be an educated guess (faith).

    i guess science can really only prove what is false, and all other possibilities are ‘in the mix’ until proven false, such as Newtonian physics. Although it stood for several hundred years as orthodox science, until superceeded and proved false.

  • Occasional Commentator

    The knot in space-time theory might seem superficially similar to string theory, but the version I recently read about in New Scientist (the leading story in the 12 August issue) was intended to be a replacement for string theory, which is looking a bit busted after a few decades of failure.

    I can’t really think of a good description of the theory, but in the unlikely event that you know some topology (I’m studying it at the moment myself) you could think of twisted shapes such as Klein bottles. We shouldn’t think of spacetime as being all nice and flat when viewed on the small scales. It could be knotted up. Just like a long shoelace might seem straight at first, when you move in close you might come across a knot in it. You could loosen the knot slightly and move it along the shoelace, but you can never really get rid of it unless you are able to move it right off the end of the shoelace. You could move two knots together and merge them, possibly even resulting in a simpler knot than the original pair (as a diversion, there’s an interesting theorem in knot theory that it’s impossible to construct an anti-knot for a given knot with which it will merge to form a straight line). Now imagine this on many more dimensions and involving ‘knotted’ sheets, not just lines, like the Klein bottle and so on and I think you’ll see what I mean. (Assuming that is, that I’ve understood it correctly in the first place!)

  • abucs

    Thanks OC.

    i actually studied topology in my Pure Mathematics course as one of my Science majors at Uni.

    With the Knot link you’ve again given me something else to read up on. :o)

  • abucs

    Thanks for your link to NewScientist OC.

    i have to say that it has lots of ideas that i agree with and it’s always interesting in hearing from scientists rationally making the case for where we all come from. Life, matter, laws etc.

    i was particularly interested in the ideas that :

    In Markopoulou and Kribs’s version of loop quantum gravity, they considered the universe as a giant quantum computer, where each quantum of space is replaced by a bit of quantum information.

    and then

    Meanwhile, Markopoulou’s vision of the universe as a giant quantum computer might be more than a useful analogy: it might be true, according to some theorists. If so, there is one startling consequence: space itself might not exist. By replacing loop quantum gravity’s chunks of space with qubits, what used to be a frame of reference – space itself – becomes just a web of information. If the notion of space ceases to have meaning at the smallest scale, Markopoulou says, some of the consequences of that could have been magnified by the expansion that followed the big bang. “My guess is that the non-existence of space has effects that are measurable, if you can only see it right.” Because it’s pretty hard to wrap your mind around what it means for there to be no space

    and finally ;

    The origins of loop quantum gravity can be traced back to the 1980s, when Abhay Ashtekar, now at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, rewrote Einstein’s equations of general relativity in a quantum framework. Smolin and Carlo Rovelli of the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France, later developed Ashtekar’s ideas and discovered that in the new framework, space is not smooth and continuous but instead comprises indivisible chunks just 10-35 metres in diameter. Loop quantum gravity then defines space-time as a network of abstract links that connect these volumes of space, rather like nodes linked on an airline route map.

    Myself, looking at physics (and being from a mathematical / computing background) i agree with much of the theory / article above and there are lots of parallels with our space-time being like pixels on the computer screen being programmed by something conected but removed from our perceptual reality (the program running in the CPU).

    Of course the pixel is only a crude simile but the practical process of our universe may well be much the same. If this is true then the obvious questions are ‘where did the computer come from ?’ and ‘who programmed it ?’ and ‘why ?’.

    Thanks for the homework OC.

    P.S. have sent through another email regarding the ‘origin of life’ discussion.

  • GrassyNoel

    I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss this until results – whatever they may be – are announced. One of those ‘famous quotes from history’ I believe is that ‘everything that can be invented has been invented’ and having read Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Almost Everything’ I know that theere have been severeal times int eh last few centuries when people thought that the last ever great scientific discovery had been made. What is this clown’s opinion of quantum physics? String theory, anyone? Sounds fanciful to a lot of people, yes, but assuming we already know everything there is to know about physics or for that matter any type of science is the real nonsense.

    As one of the posters on his Blog says…Psuedojournalism indeed.

  • Crataegus

    Faster than light travel is one I would like to see.

  • abucs

    Sure Crataegus, if you keep the light switch off you can beat light hands down every time. :o)