Tag Archives: physics

The Revolutionary New Propulsion Engine That Even Scientists Didn’t Believe Was Possible

Roger Shawyer is one of the most persistent and driven individuals in the world.

For years, he has been working on a new type of propulsion engine that could theoretically run forever without needing any fuel. He calls his device the EmDrive.

The engine works by bouncing around microwave radiation in a small space to produce thrust, rather than burning a propellant fuel. The microwaves are produced by solar power which is generated from panels on the outside of the engine.

Roger Shawyer (left), receiving a DTI SMART Award for his EmDrive concept in August 2001 . Click to enlarge

When he first began proposing the idea for a quantum vacuum plasma thruster, Shawyer was laughed at. Most scientists he talked to told him the idea was ludicrous, saying that (among other issues) it defied the theory of conservation of momentum.

Only a group of Chinese scientists was willing to actually try out the idea. In 2009, they built a model of Shawyer’s engine that actually worked, producing enough thrust to power a small satellite.

Even then, many people weren’t convinced. But recently, American scientist Guido Fetta and a team at NASA Eagleworks (NASA’s experimental technologies division) recreated the engine for themselves, and found that the design actually does in fact work.

NASA’s Eagleworks Labs logo

In a statement about their findings, the NASA research team said:

“Test results indicate that the RF resonant cavity thruster design, which is unique as an electric propulsion device, is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.”

The whole mystery behind the engine stems from the difference between how physics operates on a large scale in our every day world, and how it operates on the microscopic, quantum level (ie. quantum physics).

When we observe molecules in their most basic form, they often don’t follow the same rules of physics that govern our visible world.

For example, if you throw a tennis ball off of a wall, you wouldn’t expect it to speed up after hitting the wall- its acceleration is totally dependent on how much force you release the ball with.

Momentum (p) is equal to Mass (m) times Velocity (v). The law of conservation of momentum says that for large objects like a tennis ball, the momentum when the ball leaves the wall must be exactly the same as when it hit the wall (minus whatever force is lost to friction). Click to enlarge

But on the quantum level, things change. Shawyer describes the principles of how the engine works here, but the wording is a bit overly scientific if you’re not an engineer, so I’ll try to break it down as best I can.

Basically, the microwave particles that the EmDrive uses can travel extremely fast (up to almost the speed of light). Because of this high velocity, the particles exert a force (albeit a very, very small one) on the reflective inner walls of the engine.

So, each reflector has a different velocity at its surface, depending on how many radiation molecules are hitting it and how fast they’re moving. Imagine someone throwing marbles at the surface of a number of drums- the drum being hit by the largest amount of fast-moving marbles is going to be vibrating the most.

The microwaves cause vibrations on the reflectors similar to how a droplet creates ripples in the water. However, in water, this energy can dissipate outwards, whereas is the EmDrive, this energy gets stored on the surface of the reflector

The radiation molecules have virtually no mass. Because of this, their momentum can actually be increased by bouncing them from a reflector with a lower surface velocity to one with a higher surface velocity. This added momentum comes from the difference in force between the two surfaces.

By taking advantage of this principle and carefully designing the inner geometry of the thruster, Shawyer was able to create a compartment that perfectly bounced the microwave radiation between reflectors, steadily increasing its momentum until it gets released out of the end as thrust.

A diagram of the thrust chamber, illustrating the concept. Click to enlarge

And since the microwaves are generated using solar panels, the engine could theoretically work forever, or at least until its hardware fails.

There still needs to be much more extensive testing to prove that the engine can be replicated and utilized on a larger scale, but the basic concept has been demonstrated twice now.

The lesson: never stop pursuing your dreams. The people who make the biggest impacts on our society are usually people who have been called crazy more than a handful of times throughout their lives.

So, to you Roger Shawyer: thanks for being a stubborn dreamer. I hope your engine plays a big role in revolutionizing this era of space exloration and discovery!

(h/t Sploid)

Two More Mysterious Giant Holes Emerge In Siberia (Pictures)

About two weeks ago, I reported on a giant crater that appeared on the Yamal peninsula in Siberia.

Well, while scientists are still trying to figure out what caused this first crater, two more have been discovered in Siberia.

Crater of Antipayuta

Click to enlarge

This crater was alo discovered on the Yamal peninsula, near the village of Antipayuta (a few hundred miles from the first crater). It measures 50 feet in diameter.

Mikhail Lapsui is a deputy of the regional parliament in the area. He visited this second crater and talked to locals from Antipayuta.

Lapsui reported that locals claimed this crater was formed in September of last year. When he asked about what caused it, he got a number of different stories:

“According to the first, initially at the place was smoking, and then there was a bright flash. In the second version, a celestial body fell there.”

Crater of Nosok

Click to enlarge

The second crater is a bit smaller, measuring just 15 feet across. However, it has an estimated depth of about 200-330 feet and observers say the crater is perfectly cone-shaped. It is located near the village of Nosok, in the Krasnoyarsk region.

One expert in the region had this to say about the strange, cone-shaped crater:

“It is not like this is the work of men, but also doesn’t look like natural formation.”

While no official explanations have been given by scientists studying the craters yet, most theories center around the melting of permafrost in the Siberian tundra. This melting releases gas that was trapped in the ice underground.

As more permafrost melts, the pressure of this gas builds up. Hypothetically, this build-up could cause the ground above it to be ejected if the pressure gets high enough.

Since we reported on the first crater, video has been released showing it in more detail. Check it out below:

Read the original story from the Siberian Times here.

Watch A 5,078-Foot-Long Bridge Get Destroyed In Seconds (Video)

A 54-year-old bridge was demolished in Cleveland this past weekend.

The bridge originally opened in 1959. It spanned 8 lanes, and at 166 feet it was the widest bridge in Ohio at the time. The bridge connected downtown Cleveland with the Cuyahoga River Valley.

The video below shows a slow motion destruction of the 128-foot-tall 5,078-foot-long structure (it begins about 30 seconds in).

The Ohio Department of Transportation demolished the bridge to replace it with two new structures.

Check out a concept image of the replacement I-90 Innerbelt Bridge below:

concept for replacement bridge

Credits: YahooNews

The World’s Tallest Waterslide Just Opened- Here’s How It Looks to Ride It (Video)

“Verrückt” is the German word for “insane”. It is a fitting name for the world’s tallest waterslide, which was just opened to the public at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City.

At 168 feet and 7 inches, the Verrückt is taller than Niagara Falls. To get the top you have to climb 268 stairs.

Click to enlarge
That “Faster than a cheetah!” claim is a bit exaggerated- top speeds are around 50mph. Click to enlarge

John Schooley was the engineer who designed the slide. Here he is talking about when he and park founder Jeff Henry came up with the idea:

“Basically, we were crazy enough to try anything. We decided to design something entirely new, because we decided to put a three or four man boat down it, and we wanted not only the fastest and steepest water slide going downhill, but we wanted to take it uphill over a hump, to give people a weightless experience going down the other side.”

Schooley was also the first to test out the slide, along with another one of the slide’s engineers. Speaking later about the experience he said, “I was terrified.” Check out video of that first test run below:

That second hill is one of the coolest features of the slide. Because of the speed and momentum you build up going down the first slope (you drop 17 stories in 4 seconds), G-force can feel up to 5 times greater than normal as you travel up the second hump.

G-force is defined as a measurement of acceleration felt as weight. Basically, it’s the perceived increase in gravity you feel because of the fact that you’re accelerating. G-force is what pushes you back into your seat as a plane takes off, for example.

A picture of the slide during construction. Click to enlarge

So, when you reach the top of that hump and begin the second drop, you go from feeling like gravity is 5x stronger than normal (5 Gs) to feeling weightless in a split-second. It’s not unlike what astronauts experience when they leave Earth’s atmosphere (although the G-force they feel is many times higher).

The slide was opened to the public this past Friday. Here’s what it looks like to to ride the Verrückt as a member of the public. Garmin VIRB sports camera technology allows you to track speed and heart-rate as you watch:

(h/t Gizmodo and USA Today)

The Story of the Man Who Only Made $10 for Figuring Out How to Make Diamonds

In 1772, French nobleman and chemist Antoine Lavoisier used a lens to concentrate the sun (magnifying-glass style) on a diamond in an atmosphere of oxygen. The diamond released only carbon dioxide (CO2), proving that diamonds were made up only of carbon.

Then in 1779, English chemist Smithson Tennant further bolstered the findings by burning both graphite (which is also composed completely of carbon) and diamonds, and showing that the amount of gas produced by the two minerals matched the chemical equivalence he had established for them.

Diamond (left) has a complex geometric crystal structure, while graphite (right) is made of more simple haxagonal sheets

From that point on, the race to manufacture a synthetic diamond was on. It become a sort of holy grail for both scientists and scam artists alike at the time.

Individuals claimed to have successfully manufactured diamonds a number of times over the next century and a half, but none of their claims proved to be valid or their experiments reproducible.

Enter Howard Tracy Hall, who typically referred to himself as H. Tracy Hall or simply Tracy Hall.

Hall was born in Ogden, Utah in October of 1919. He was a bright kid: his hero was Thomas Edison and he announced in the fourth grade that he would one day work for General Electric.

A recent picture of Hall

After spending two years at Weber College, he got his bachelors and masters at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

He then spent two years in the Navy before heading back to the University of Utah to get his Ph. D. in physical chemistry. He finished the graduate program in 1948.

Just two months later, he realized his childhood dream: GE offered him a position in their Research Lab in New York, working on “Project Superpressure”, which aimed to manufacture a synthetic diamond.

When Hall arrived at the lab in New York, GE was in the process of buying a massive $125,000 press that was capable of generating pressures up to 1.6 million pounds per square inch in a confined space.

Did you know… Ronald Reagan hosted a show on CBS called “General Electric Theater” sponsored by GE’s PR department from 1953 until 1962

Hall wasn’t impressed. He had previously built his own pressure chamber from a salvaged 35-year-old Watson-Stillman press, and thought he could create a better machine with only an additional $1,000.

Unfortunately, GE wasn’t interested. They refused to give him the funds or to even let him use their state-of-the-art machine shop to build it.

But Hall wasn’t going to be stopped. He got a friend and colleague to let him use the machine shop after hours and got a former supervisor to persuade the company to purchase the expensive carboloy (tungsten carbide dispersed in cobalt) that Hall needed to build the chamber.

On December 16, 1954, almost all of the researchers had left for Christmas break. Hall, on the other hand, was in the lab by himself, preparing for final testing of his new pressure chamber. He had  experienced a number of false starts, but was stubborn in his pursuit.

He later described the moment when he unsealed his apparatus:

“My hands began to tremble; my heart beat rapidly; my knees weakened and no longer gave support. My eyes had caught the flashing light from dozens of tiny . . . crystals.”

H. Tracy Hall, 1954

Hall tried the test a couple more times, and got the same result every time. He then had a colleague, Hugh H. Woodbury, reproduce the experiment. He too, created diamonds.

Hall reported his discovery to GE officials. They initially thought his findings were exaggerated, but after being shown the experiment in front of them (with Hall outside the building), they were convinced.

On February 14, 1955, GE announced that it had manufactured the first synthetic diamonds. Media outlets around the world trumpeted it on the front page.

For his efforts, they gave Hall a $10 savings bond. “Big deal,” he said later.

The diamonds weren’t large enough or of high enough quality to be sold as jewelry, but since diamonds are one of the hardest minerals on earth, they were perfect for industrial applications, allowing us to cut and harvest minerals that had been impossible to collect before.

Upset by the lack of credit, Hall left GE for BYU shortly after the announcement. However, the work was so ground-breaking that the government slapped a secret label on Hall’s device, preventing him from using it in his research.

H. Tracy Hall with his synthetic diamond machine. Click to enlarge

Still, Hall refused to be stopped. He designed a new apparatus, called the tetrahedral press, which was even better than the first one and circumvented all of the patents held by GE.

He published his work on the new pressure chamber in a popular scientific journal. The government responded by slapping another secret label on the new device.

However, the government lifted this second secret label a few months later, allowing Hall access to his invention. He and two other colleagues would later start MegaDiamond, which remains one of the largest synthetic diamond providers to this day.

H. Tracy Hall with colleagues and fellow MegaDiamond founders Bill Pope and Duane Horton. Click to enlarge

Since the 1950s, advances in other technologies have improved Hall’s methods, and synthetic diamonds are now used in many electronic devices like laptops and cell phones.

The modern methods are able to create synthetic diamonds as large as 12 carats with much higher quality and clarity, allowing them to be sold for jewelry as well.

After his retirement, Hall became a tree farmer. He passed away at age 88 in July of 2008.

(h/t LA Times)

Superheated Liquid Nitrogen in a Vacuum Does Some Crazy Things… (Video)

Liquid nitrogen has one of the lowest boiling points of any known substance at -321ºF, which is why anything that comes in contact with the substance is usually flash-frozen.

A substance’s boiling point varies with air pressure. For example, at sea level, water boils at 100ºC (212ºF). But at the top of Mt. Everest, where the air pressure is only about a third of what it is at sea level, water will boil at 71ºC (160ºF).

So as the air is sucked out of the vacuum, the liquid nitrogen’s boiling point drops below the substance’s temperature inside the vacuum, making it a superheated fluid. This superheated liquid nitrogen does some crazy things:

The evaporation of the nitrogen during boiling cools it back down until it freezes solid. In an attempt to align its molecules in a more tightly-packed pattern, all of the atoms will reorient themselves in a fraction of a second, causing cracks to spread quickly in fractal patterns across the solid nitrogen.

Liquid nitrogen isn’t just cool for science experiments. It’s widely used in every day life as a refrigerant for the freezing and transportation of food and as a coolant for superconductors. It’s even used to freeze off skin abnormalities like warts.

(h/t IFL Science)

Scientists Are Designing An Aircraft You Can Control By Thought. Would You Fly It? (Video)

Professor Florian Holzapfel and aerospace engineer Tim Fricke are leading a team of researchers at Technische Universität München (TUM), with the goal of creating an aircraft that can be controlled by thought alone.

To do this, the team created a highly specialized helmet covered in electroencephalography electrodes, which are able to record the electrical impulses that come from our brain. These signals are then translated into flight commands using a complex computer algorithm created by scientists at the Berlin Institute of Technology.

A team from the University of Minnesota recently used similar technology to create thought-controlled drones. Check out the video below to see them being tested out.

The idea seems outlandish, but the concept has already been proven to be realistic. The new technology was tested on seven volunteers with varying levels of flight experience (one had no flight experience at all).

Though they were tested on flight simulators, which lack some of the real-life conditions of flight, even the subjects with little to no experience were able to fly well enough to partially fulfill some of the requirements of the actual pilot’s license test. Some of the subjects were even able to land their simulator aircraft in conditions of low visibility.

Fricke’s goal is to make flight more accessible while also creating a safer, more relaxed flying experience:

“A long-term vision of the project is to make flying accessible to more people… With brain control, flying, in itself, could become easier. This would reduce the work load of pilots and thereby increase safety. In addition, pilots would have more freedom of movement to manage other manual tasks in the cockpit.”

An aerial shot of the Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Fricke and his team still have a number of issues to figure out though. In real flight, for example, pilots feel wind resistance while steering, and if the wind load is significant, pilots have to actually use physical force to maintain smooth navigation. The researchers have not yet figured out how to solve this problem.

Also, no word yet on what happens if you start obsessively worrying about crashing while operating the thought-guided aircraft. Hopefully they’ll look into that as well.

Read the full press release from TUM here.

BONUS:  The Technische Universität München (TUM), or Technical University of München, has one of the coolest interiors ever, including slides that you can take to get from upper floors back down to the ground floor.

How Can This Extremely Fragile Drop of Glass Withstand A Hammer Strike? (Video)

A Prince Rupert’s Drop is simply a drop of molten glass that has been quickly cooled in cold water. Upon first examination, it doesn’t seem very extraordinary, but once you begin to examine the physics behind the drop, things quickly get crazy.

The way in which the glass rapidly cools creates some strange and extreme internal stresses in the drop, which make it behave in logic-defying ways.

Check out the video below from Smarter Every Day to learn more:

 

 

Korean Scientists Just Built A Two-Legged Robot That Can Outrun Usain Bolt (Video)

They call it the “Raptor”, and its design is largely based on the anatomy and dynamic movement of the velociraptor which roamed the Earth nearly 100 million years ago.

At 46 km/h (26.8 mph), it is the fastest two-footed robot ever, faster even than the world’s fastest man Usian Bolt, whose top speed has been clocked at 43.92 km/h.

The robot, designed by scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), uses a number of elements from nature, including an “achilles tendon” which helps with shock absorption and a tail which assists with balance.

These features allow the robot to navigate over obstacles without hardly breaking stride.

However, the robot is still confined to the treadmill, needing a bar for support.

For more, check out the original story from the International Business Times here.

The Race Is On: Scientists Will Soon Convert Light Into Matter Via Einstein’s Famous Equation

Even if you couldn’t tell me the first thing about physics, you’re probably familiar with the equation E=mc2, Einstein’s famous theory of relativity that hypothesized (based off extensive observations) that light could be converted into matter and vice verse.

Then, in the 1930s, Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler expanded on Einstein’s theory, arguing that it should be theoretically possible to accomplish this transformation using just two photons.

However, until very recently, it was thought that actually turning light into matter with just two photons was virtually impossible, since it would require colliding the two infinitesimally small light particles (which technically have no mass or volume) with one another, an extremely difficult task.

The breakthrough came in a scholarly article published in the journal Nature Photonics on May 18th which described a groundbreaking new “photon-collider”. The collider works by heating up a golden vacuum tube known as a hohlraum (a hohlraum is basically just a vacuum in which the radiative energy in the walls and the interior of the vacuum are at equilibrium).

As the hohlraum is heated, it begins emitting photons. Once there’s a significant “cloud” of photons in the hohlraum, a high energy laser is shot at another piece of gold. This laser heats up the gold target until it starts shooting gamma rays (photons) at extremely high speeds into the hohlraum.

Diagram of the photon-photon collider. Click to enlarge

If one of these high-energy photons collides with one of the photons in the hohlraum, the two annihilate one another, creating an electron and a positron, the electron’s antimatter equivalent which carries a positive charge (think of it as an anti-electron). Conversely, when an electron and a positron collide at high speeds, they annihilate to form pure energy, in the form of two photons.

Now that the process of colliding photons has been proven to be experimentally possible in the lab, physicists across the globe will be scrambling to be the first to successfully convert light into matter.

Somewhere, Einstein is smiling.

Read more from the L.A. Times here.