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Perpetual Motion Machine Stumps MIT Professor

Inventor Thane Heins was a college dropout who worked on his invention so obsessively that his wife kicked him out and he lost custody of his children. If that's not bad enough, he had difficulty getting scientists to take his idea seriously. His invention is a perpetual motion machine, which is viewed by the scientific community as squarely belonging in the realm of the batty.

Until, that is, he managed to convince Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Markus Zahn (previously on Neatorama: Zahn's work with ferrofluid), an expert in electromagnetic and electronic systems, to take a quick look:

Heins has modified his test so the effects observed are difficult to deny. He holds a permanent magnet a few centimetres away from the driveshaft of an electric motor, and the magnetic field it creates causes the motor to accelerate. It went well.

Contacted by phone a few hours after the test, Zahn is genuinely stumped – and surprised. He said the magnet shouldn't cause acceleration. "It's an unusual phenomena I wouldn't have predicted in advance. But I saw it. It's real. Now I'm just trying to figure it out."

There's no talk of perpetual motion. No whisper of broken scientific laws or free energy. Zahn would never go there – at least not yet. But he does see the potential for making electric motors more efficient, and this itself is no small feat.

"To my mind this is unexpected and new, and it's worth exploring all the possible advantages once you're convinced it's a real effect," he added. "There are an infinite number of induction machines in people's homes and everywhere around the world. If you could make them more efficient, cumulatively, it could make a big difference."

Link | Video clips of Thane's invention, the Perepiteia Generator, in action - via Boing Boing and reddit

//Now, before you all scream "hoax!" and pillory the MIT professor for falling for the trick (and me for posting it), please consider that many of today's scientific dogmas were once crazy ideas that were initially dismissed out of hand by the majority of scientists at the time.

For example: Einstein's work on the quantization of light, theory of special relativity, and equivalence of matter and energy; Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, and (this one I'm more familiar with) Stanley Prusiner's work on prions.

"//Now, before you all scream "hoax!" and pillory the MIT professor for falling for the trick (and me for posting it), please consider that many of today’s scientific dogmas were once crazy ideas that were initially dismissed out of hand by the majority of scientists at the time."

Every nutter says "They laughed at Einstein too."

No, 'they' didn't. And even if 'they' did than that would still not mean that being laughed at is a sign of being right.

I'm going to pillory you for raising the nutter laugh argument. Do you know how many perpetual motion hoaxes there have been and that their inventors have always compared themselves to the 'misunderstood' geniuses of the past?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.

Einstein created a sophisticated mathematical explanation which gradually won over doubters when experimentally validated (the experimental results were actually fiddled with but that's a different story). He didn't whack together his theories in his garage with a hammer and pliers.

Oh and nobody laughed at Heisenberg either.

As far as Stanley Prusiner goes, if its your field than you should know about Tikvah Alper, John Stanley Griffith and Francis Crick. Prusiner did not pull prions out of thin air.

There is another major difference between these outstanding scientists and a garage inventor - the scientists created theories to explain nature, they didn't build impossible machines. An inventor is not necessarily a scientist.
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Both thegiantsnail and Dus make excellent points.

Magnets do decay. So this is most certainly NOT perpetual, a fact which any good scientist would be able to confirm for you using really cool graphs and charts. The thing that has the MIT prof stunned, (according the article you yourself have linked to...) is the acceleration.

Another Gem from the article: "There's no talk of perpetual motion. No whisper of broken scientific laws or free energy. Zahn would never go there -– at least not yet. But he does see the potential for making electric motors more efficient, and this itself is no small feat."

As for what Dus said:

Yes, Alex, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You have pulled out the poorest argument for giving intant scientific merit to untested ideas and have tried to give it some sort of authority because you're stunned into stupidity by a spinning motor.

If you want to hype this, by all means do so. Just leave the supposition on it's scientific veracity to actual scientists, please. You know, the kind that don't go around spouting off about how "They laughed at Einstein"... The kind that don't use sensational language and make inflammatory statements in a poor effort at squashing free discussion. You know... real scientists. The kind concerned with truth.
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Dus and Kate: Yes, nutters use the argument of misunderstood genius to back their nutty claim. Just because they laughed at them and Einstein at first didn't mean that both are right.

But it is also not right to dismiss ideas out of hand (unless, of course, you're talking about educating stupid - there is a difference between nutter and completely nutter) because current scientific thinking is otherwise.

Your thinking that it HAS to be wrong because it doesn't fit our CURRENT scientific view is exactly what science is not. Science is NEVER about outright dismissal of an idea.

I agree with you that extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof. But isn't THAT what the guy is doing by asking an MIT professor to look over his invention? To find the scientific reasoning behind the acceleration that he saw?

I have complete faith that if the phenomenon is real, then someone smart will find the scientific explanation for it.

Oh, and garage inventors Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, as well as a lowly patent clerk named Einstein would disagree with your classification of "real" scientists.
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Re: permanent magnet decay. The reason they're called "permanent" is because they're pretty darned well near permanent - they don't decay anywhere close in the timescale that would explain the acceleration.

Re: Prusiner. My point was that he endured years of ridicule when other scientists dismissed the idea that an infectious protein causes prion proteins out of hand.

Re: acceleration. Yes that's what they see, but what causes the wheel to accelerate? Where is that energy coming from? It's not from the decay of the permanent magnet (too short of a timescale for magnets to decay). What they were all thinking privately is "free energy" but that term is taboo in science.

Look, I'm not claiming that this is the real deal - there's been too many wacky perpetual motion inventions for eager acceptance. But let the guys prove/disprove it the scientific way: by experiments, not by outright dismissal.
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I'm not dismissing it. Nowhere did I say it was bunk.

I objected to your choice of words and I objected to the tone of your piece.

I pointed out that the particular point you wanted to make was severely damaged by your confrontational stance, a stance taken all too often by the woo-meisters.

I pointed out that you did not mention what it was that had the MIT prof so interested: Acceleration, not perpetual motion. The title of your entry is misleading, and should someone not link through to the other articles, they would not have a true understanding of the issue.

These are not the acts of a scientist, Alex. They are the acts of a sensationalist.

If you are genuinely interested in this invention and it's implications for science then please edit or append your entry to reflect the truth of the matter and remove the inflammatory language at the end of the piece. It adds no value to you writing, and only serves to make it appear that you are attempting to quash any discussion of the veracity of the inventor's claim.
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Yes, Alex, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You have pulled out the poorest argument for giving intant scientific merit to untested ideas and have tried to give it some sort of authority because you’re stunned into stupidity by a spinning motor.

Isn't that confrontational? I'm stunned by many things, true, but I'm rarely stunned into stupidity.

I'll say it again: decay of magnetic material is not in the timescale of the experiment. If indeed the wheel accelerates, where is the source of energy being inputed into the system? Let's cut to the chase - we're talking about perpetual motion machine, regardless of what you want to call it.

I stand by what I said at the end of the article, which simply reads: before you dismiss this idea as completely bunk, please consider other accepted scientific principles that - before they became accepted - began as crazy ideas.

Re: only serves to make it appear that you are attempting to quash any discussion of the veracity of the inventor’s claim.

No, actually that's the opposite effect of what I wanted - I'm trying to prevent attempts to quash discussion of the phenomenon described by outright dismissal like the one by Dus.
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Is it more likely that well supported laws of thermodynamics need to be rewritten in the light of this observation or that there is an energy source contributing to the acceleration of the apparatus? The former is damn unlikely.

So, there's contributing energy coming in from somewhere. There's again two possibilities - one is it's trickery, the other is that it is a phenomena which truly has an MIT professor baffled.

Without knowing much about it, this is the furtherest anybody can speculate. However, I will say (as an ex-scientist) that scientists aren't used to being tricked by what they study. They aren't in the business of being fooled. Having a scientist admit they are baffled, especially when sensationalists love to play the 'phenomena baffles scientist' card, isn't quite enough yet to make me sit up and notice.

If it's really something special, we'll hear more about it. I'm not holding my breath though.
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Please remember to follow up a month from now, when wither the inventor disappears with the venture capital, or the professor explanis exactly where the energy comes from.

Usually when a knee-jerk story like this is published, it's given too much creedence (check), and then never head of again.
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There is a very clear difference between permanent, and
"pretty darned well near permanent."

Perpetual motion must be maintained forever. There are no varying degrees of permanency.

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Thank you Alex for posting this piece. I find it very interesting and can't wait to see where this goes. You've ruffled a few feathers, but I don't mind.

You've done what you've been doing all along, bringing information to us that we might not have come across. I appreciate your hard work on your site! Keep it up!
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Perpetual motion must be maintained forever. There are no varying degrees of permanency.

OK, so perpetual motion is impossible because of the upcoming Big Crunch. Everything breaks down over time.

But that's not the point. The point is, there is a machine which appears to create energy, which in a perfect universe -- where magnets don't decay, parts don't wear down, Big Crunches don't happen, etc. -- could be used to sustain motion indefinitely.

The essence of "perpetual motion" is not that we could really build a machine that keeps moving despite anything that might happen. Rather it is that the physical law of conservation of energy is being broken.
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Nice video link. I watched the first part only. He really needs to clean up the workspace, since it is unclear what all of those wires lead to.

A nice diagram or animation that explains what's happening would also be nice, but that's not everyone's forte'.

As far as I can tell, he's saying that the approaching magnets induce an opposing field in the coil. Is this generating a current that feeds back to the motor, letting the wheel with the magnets spin faster? Most perpetual-motion ideas use the concept of feeding back energy to keep the system running, while siphoning off any excess to make us rich. Not having viewed the rest of the videos, I cannot say if he is ultimately convincing.

To reiterate: A cleaner workspace with more obvious purposes for all of those dangling wires would go a long way towards relieving suspicion.

They laughed at me in Vienna! They said I was mad! Mad! Bwahahahahah!

Fools! I'll destroy them all!
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You have to read the article to understand what is really going on. There is an electric motor that goes faster when a magnet is moved near it. No one knows why. The only people mentioning "perpetual motion" are the journalists trying ot attract attention to their writing. The inventor makes no such claims. The commercial applications are for more efficient electric motors. Neatorama is not helping clarify the issue by its article or its title, although the link is appreciated. My guess is that the magnet cancels an induced field that limits the electric motor.
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This proves nothing. So the motor goes faster? Did anyone trouble to measure whether it drew more current as well?

About the third thing you learn on an electrical engineering course is that if you weaken the field of an electric motor, say by bring another magnet near it to interfere with the field, it will go faster. It has to, in order to generate enough back-EMF from the weaker field to get back into balance. The fourth thing you learn is that it draws more power from the supply when this happens, showing that you don't get anything for nothing.

How strange that the Professor wouldn't immediately think of this. He must have been teaching the "Electricity for Jocks" course to long.
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If "There's no talk of perpetual motion", then why on earth did you say "perpetual motion", Alex? That's quite dishonest of you.

Why not throw "Free Beer" in there while you're at it?

No one will take you seriously if you lie.
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Why is Neatorama so full of paradigm-constipated prigs these days? It's NEATorama. These things are NEAT. They'll probably be less neat when they've been explained away by people who don't want to accept anything that threatens their cozy little belief systems. But until then, what's wrong with saying, "Hmmm... that's interesting," and then moving on without throwing Alex to the wolves? You don't have to prove how smart you are or how many engineering degrees you have. If you feel like you do, go visit an appropriate forum and stop attacking people here for seeing the world for the surprising and mysterious place it is.
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It should be neatorama, not junkorama. But sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

Remember, a fool can create questions that a wise man cannot answer. Just because a wise man (scientist) is stumped does not lend credence to the fool. Of course, if Zahn didn't measure the power consumed by the motor, well ...
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Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I don't think it's unfair at all to dismiss this device as a probable hoax or at best a device that has misleading operation that has nothing to do with rewriting physics. If something amazing proves out of this story (still waiting on cold fusion fans to deliver the goods) then I'd love to see it.

I can fake all sorts of things that may appear to be "neat", but that doesn't make them deserving of attention. There's nothing wrong with approaching this stuff with skepticism, and factual explanations aren't any less surprising nor do they make the universe any less mysterious and amazing. Don't pretend to be open-minded and then ask others to get lost.
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I think it's really sad that everyone immediately jumped on Alex, the journalists, the inventor and the MIT professor without considering what this invention could mean or what positive effects it could have.

I'm not talking about perpetual motion, here. I'm simply saying that if a magnet could make engines more efficient or use less gas or do something positive for our everyday life, that would be really great. I know nothing about science - my study lies mainly in the fields of dead languages and painting. My point is that when explained this invention could have good, positive and helpful effects and people jump immediately into arguing semantics! Think about what that says about yourselves!
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Blah, blah, blah....

Alex brings you information and you attack him for it. Get off your rear and go to another Blog, maybe there's a Bore-0-Rama or something.

I get it, I see that it has a logical explanation. Stop getting on Alex about it. He could simply stop blogging and leave you to your lives. He brings new entertaining possibilities to us... stop smacking him around.
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All these knee-jerk reactions, crikey!

OK so the laws of science say it's not possible, and yes, we've all seen that an electric motor speeds up when you bring another magnet near it, and yes, it draws more current.

Trouble is, we're all human beings, which means we also have hope.

OK, so it can't possibly be true. Except...

What if it is?
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I remember when these videos first hit YouTube weeks ago. Within hours, pretty much everyone -- both on YouTube and off -- went around the barn on this, including me. Many of the same reactions expressed by commentators on this unassuming blog were reflected on other sites...

...only about 100x more often and with 1000x more vitriol. That general civility alone is worth celebrating, you members of the Neatorama community. Always endeavor to preserve that.

Having looked over some of this guy's other work, I don't think this device's fabricator trying to pull a fast one. I believe his intentions are innocent, if not honorable. That doesn't mean he's built anything particularly compelling, mind you. Hell, the fabber probably doesn't entirely comprehend what exactly his device is doing or how. He's just a "magneto-gearhead," if you will, who made a neat toy and thought others would dig it.

It does seem to be the community of scientific hobbyists whom have been addressing his flywheel construction as a perpetuum mobile, not the fabber himself. It's another demographic of those same hobbyists -- along with some semi-professional and entirely professional scientists and engineers -- whom are dismissing this as a hoax. I suspect the truth lies in between.

As a professional engineer trained well outside the realm of thermal dynamics, I would guess that this device utilizes a mechanical analog to an EM-driven monorail or railgun. The acceleration is produced by a series of precisely controlled magnetic fields, flip-flopping their polarity as the permanent magnets that are driving the payload pass. But instead of using digitally-controlled EM coils, this device uses very powerful permanent magnets. This designer clearly reduced friction on the various axles as much as possible, allowing both the flywheel and the peripheral magnets to spin relatively freely. From there, he just used trigonometry and basic magnetic field theory to produce a matrix of circulating polarities through which the flywheel is driven. An impressive trial-by-error application of angular maglev technology, but I suspect that's all it is.

There will always be a human desire to evolve through experimentation. Someone will always want to build the "better mousetrap," the "better light bulb," or the "next big thing." These days, we all seem to share an interest in letting human engineering break our total dependence on consumable energy sources. But we cannot let our hopes cloud our vision or erode our understanding. Regrettably, I fear much of the passion expressed towards this device does precisely that.

I'm willing to call this an educational little toy and give its designer the benefit of doubt. Keep in mind, however, I'd wholeheartedly stop trusting this guy should he ever ask around for investors.
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He's formed a company, meaning he's already thought about how to merchandise the "device." That doesn't inspire me with confidence...
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Nobody is bagging the story, as such, but rather the presentation of it potentially being of a perpetual motion machine (when nothing insinuates anything of the sort).

By all means, bring on the interesting stories. Ask 'what is happening?' It seems we've already got some good answers - why wouldn't the fact putting a permanent magnet near a DC electrical motor account for it? Not the first time an academic has been stumped by something so simple (Uri Gellar has done it with cheap parlour tricks for years).

I use Neatorama as a net to catch some interesting stories I can pass on. This story subscribes to that, even for discussion value. But selling it with such a sensationalist slant makes for dishonest or just plain naive reporting.
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Don't be so overly pessimistic TheSCSIBug. Edison didn't have much of a formal education(he was probably a "magneto gearhead" too)and spent a huge amount of time with overly complicate experiments with exotic metals and book theories and such trying to invent the lightbulb. And at the end of his sanity he decided to try a simple piece of cotton string and... presto.
The rest is history. Thank God Edison wasn't a formally educated pessimist.

Many highly complex problems have simple but artistic solutions.
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Oomi: "Nerds" invented most everything that you use in most every part of every day of your life.

I think it's really cool. Even if it's not perpetual, it's still potentially ground breaking and thusly life altering. Even for nerds.

Short and simple.
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It's hard to take one video shot of some garage workshop experiment at face value. From the possibility of complete hoax to "flaw in reasoning", not to mention honest mistake, there's so much in this that does not pass scientific evaluation.

- Big snake nest of wire
- No diagram
- No clear view where those ampmeters/voltmeters are in the circuits
- Not enough information to reproduce the experiment

And as an explanation, we have an MIT professor 'stumped' by it. There were many comments from people closer to nuts and bolts that offered much simpler explanation. I don't have a huge background in electrical engineering, so I can only second the explanation that appear sound.

And as a last comment, wouldn't it be a more proper way to "create load" by inserting a resistance, something that "consumes" power, instead of shorting the circuit (which is like 0 ohm resistance, save the internal resistance of the wires, which, clearly is not much)?
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Can anyone give me any indication whether perpetual motion has ever been done with any amount of power or even at all? It would be useless to have perpetual motion unless it had sufficient power .
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I'm a skeptic. I watched part of one of the videos where he's explaining it, and right before the crucial acceleration, he completely obscures the device from view. This seems pretty conservation-of-energy-non-complient to me.

I can't believe this is legitimate without a walkthrough of all the electronics behind it. Anyone can make a youtube video, and anyone can make claims. He may have had a friend turn on a supplementary motor or something.

We just don't know.
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please consider that many of today’s scientific dogmas were once crazy ideas that were initially dismissed out of hand by the majority of scientists at the time.
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Perpetual motion has yet to be PROVEN possible. It goes against the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Although if you think about it, all the laws were thought of and "proven" true by we humans. It's highly unlikely that those who established the definitions of the laws of science had a perfect understanding of everything pertaining to science. Therefore exceptions to the scientific laws could exist in what is still unknown.

So... I sincerely hope to see this experiment a become a success. If not, well... we're one step closer towards that perfect understanding.

"I did not fail to make the light bulb ~2,000 times, I simply found ~2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb." -Thomas Edison (wording is off, my apologies :)
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Whether or not you want to call this guy's work perpetual motion, it pisses off a lot of scientist whom despite their overpriced educations did not have enough intelligence to figure this out for themselves. There could also be a slight hint of ego similar to that of religious zealots who get their feelings hurt at the prospect of finding that their god is but a myth. Scientist too, dislike finding out what they thought was the true law may have been wrong. As for me, I quite enjoy my AC generator that I built using DC powered magnet to drive the fly-wheel. I'll put it in 1st grade terms that you physics zealots can understand. The large fly-wheel turns a large shaft thingy which on one end powers the AC genterator putting out 72k watts (more than enough to power my 1,420 sq. ft. home) and on the other end powers a low amperage DC generator that powers the magnets turning the fly-wheel in between. So as not to hurt anyone's feelings, we won't call it perpetual motion, we'll call it "recycled motion". I got a visit last year from the city codes inspector telling me I had to remove it and re-hook my house to the grid, but he was sorely disappointed to find that my house is 200ft. outside of the city limits and not governed by city codes. The county codes as of yet do not favor the energy industry, so for now I enjoy not paying electric or gas bills thanks to my generator that is supposedly impossible to build because scientists can let go of their egos and realize that maybe everything they've been taught is wrong. Any scientist who wants to look at it is more than welcome to do so. Just don't interupt my TV shows.
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hay, chang--china-you don't know what perpetual motion is? I'll bet you 50 bucks you don't know how to pronounce it, you imbicile. I think I might have come up with a perpetual motion machine-at least a prototype, blockheads. ;)
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