The prototype has been assembled in 1950 and consists of two series-connected electric piles moving a small galvanometric motor. The motor moves a blade that is connected to a switch. With every half rotation, the blade opens the circuit and closes it at the the start of the second half. The blade's rotation time had been calculated so that the piles have time to recharge and that they can rebuild their polarity during the time that the circuit is open.
The purpose of the motor and the blades was to show that the piles actually generate electricity, but they're not needed anymore, since current technology allows us to measure all the parameters and outline all of them in a more proper way.
The science behind it (assuming that it's not an elaborate hoax) challenges conventional physics:
According to some who studied Karpen's theoretical work, the pile he invented defies the second principle of thermodynamics (referring to the transformation of thermal energy into mechanical work), and this makes it a second-degree perpetual motion machine. Others say it doesn't, being merely a generalization to the law, and an application of zero point energy.
If Karpen was right, and the principle is 100% correct, it would revolutionize all of the physics theories from the bottom up, with hard to imagine consequences. Though I guess this isn't going to happen very soon, the museum still needs proper private funding to acquire the necessary security equipment required by the police to exhibit the device.
Link via Gizmodo | Photo: National Technical Museum of Romania