April 27, 2007 Steorn is publicly unveiling its “perpetual motion machine” this July, according to the latest video from CEO Sean McCarthy. The Irish company made international headlines after declaring news of its invention, which would theoretically violate the so called laws of thermodynamics, in a full page ad in The Economist in August 2006. However, because its “over 100% efficient” energy system still remains over 100% unverified, McCarthy is currently viewed by academia as about as scientific as an X-men sequel. An examination of the model by a panel of 22 scientists, (chosen out of a whopping 4500 applicants), is expected to complete its investigation into Steorn’s claims in the following two months. The result could simply be a punch line to what many scientists already regard as a bad joke...or it could revolutionize the world’s energy systems and utterly demolish our understanding of physics.
In science, the term efficiency is used to describe the discrepancy between the energy that goes into a system and the useful energy output of the system. The first law of thermodynamics states that, because energy cannot be created or destroyed, efficiency cannot exceed 100%. The second law states that, since matter and energy are constantly progressing towards a state of equilibrium with the environment, the efficiency of a system will inevitably deteriorate. Steorn, however, asserts that the “meticulous” placement of magnets can allow a magnetic object to progress indefinitely along a path in such a way that when it returns to its starting position, it has gained energy. McCarthy claims that such an arrangement can result in up to 400% efficiency. This system breaks the laws of thermodynamics with such blatant contempt that, in a Newtonian universe, all Steorn members would be thrown in physics prison. Indeed the devil-may-care attitude Steorn’s prototype has towards the universal constants is part of the reason the company had such trouble in their initial attempts to persuade scientists to test it. McCarthy claims that 90% of scientists they approached refused to even acknowledge the possibility. As for the 10% dared to witness it in action, McCarthy states that all were convinced.
The consequences for the world, if McCarthy and the still anonymous 10% are correct, will be nothing short of epic. Not only would it be a falsification of the laws of physics, it would provide infinite, free, clean energy for the entire global population. It would almost eliminate pollution, provide power to the hundreds of millions of people who currently live without it and could feasibly construct a society where the essential needs of the people are automatically taken care of.
But mainstream scientists are not quite ready to throw away their mobile phone chargers just yet. This is not the first time a group of secretive scientists have promised a revolution. In 1989, Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons claimed to have produced cold fusion, sending a shockwave of excitement through the scientific community. However, the discovery ultimately divided the scientific community, as the detractors continually denigrated the methodology of the proponents. Even now, opinion remains firmly divided on its achievability. A more irreverent example is the so called Hutchison effect, an anti-gravity technology pioneered by John Hutchison, which is effectively only replicable by him, in his private laboratory, with nobody watching.
One thing that Steorn is adamant on, though, is that success or no, everyone in the world will be able to witness the results of its invention. What it is that we will actually witness is still very uncertain. The doubting Thomases suggest the whole thing is a hoax. The cynics smell a scam. Those prone to adorning fedoras of the tin foil variety believe it’s a conspiracy funded by the oil barons to further discredit alternate energy sources. And the idea that it is a form of viral marketing for the X-box has garnered much more support than it, probably, deserves. But the question that results from any of these scenarios is “why?” Steorn is not a new company; it was previously responsible for some elegant innovations, and though it is not a good financial performer it maintains a decent client base, which would disappear completely should this free energy initiative fall through. There was also the full page ad in The Economist – if it is a prank, it is a very expensive one, and if it is a scam they have not as yet asked for any donations. Finally there are the 22 renowned scientists engaged to test the machine; scientists who could possibly seek compensation from Steorn if it is proven to have deliberately misled them. Among the well of possible outcomes there are two more worth a mention – Steorn is honestly mistaken in its belief, or Steorn is absolutely correct. Until July though, all we can do is sit back and wait. Unless there are any bookmakers willing to tally the odds of the possible outcomes, in which case it might be possible to make this historic milestone...more interesting.