The Impossible Perpetuum Mobile

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Perpetuum Mobile

A perpetual motion machine is a device that is supposed to move eternally without needing any type of energy. This machine has been one of the biggest unattainable dreams of physics throughout history, because just the thought of creating something that depends on nothing was worth the try over and over again. A machine that could make itself run above all friction and still have the sufficient power to keep on going would ideally solve many of the biggest energetic problems we have nowadays. Unfortunately, and although many inventors have claimed to have achieved the perpetual motion machine, physics has shown that it is impossible to create such a device because it would violate certain laws of thermodynamics: energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed, and the amount of heat supplied to a closed system is the same as the change of its internal energy minus the energy that the system consumes while working. Thus, a perpetual motion machine seems possible only in science fiction scenarios, but that has not stopped great minds in history from attempting to create it. To start with, perhaps just by looking at the way the moon works they could have thought never ending motion was in fact a possibility.

Some examples that come close to how this type of machines would work include the unbalanced mercury wheel of Indian mathematician Bhaskara, which was created in year 1150, and worked with mercury flowing from one side of the wheel to the other to keep the wheel in constant motion. Others include French architect Villard de Honnecourt’s drawing of a model in the 13th century from which Hans-Peter Gramatke built a model, Mariano di Jacopo’s (AKA Taccola) overbalanced wheel, James Cox’s timepiece, the capillary bowl, Pierre Richard’s Overbalanced Chain and Zimara’s self-blowing windmill or Georg Andreas Böckler different creations using Archimedes’ screws, among many others. Also, in the attempt of creating perpetual motion machines, other scientists came up with alternative inventions. Such is the case of Blaise Pascal (responsible for the wrist watch, the arithmetic machine or the Pascal triangle, to name just a few), who, while trying to arrive to a model of this machine, ended up creating the roulette.

Despite the many events in history and acquired knowledge (starting by Newton’s) that have confirmed the impossibility of building such a device, there are also current examples that – at the very least – mimic a perpetual motion machine. Tom Bearden’s MEG (motionless electromagnetic generator) is an example of this, and the privately held company Steorn Ltd that in 2006 claimed to have come up with the technology to produce clean, free and continuous energy. In 2010, after two public demonstrations, it became clear that what Steorn had created – named Orbo – was in fact not the impossible eternal motion machine.

Despite the fact that the laws of physics, both of thermodynamics and energy conservation prove that we may never develop such a device, it is fair to say that in the end none of these laws are the unalterable truth. This is perhaps why still to this day many models of perpetual motion machines are currently been developed. As a matter of fact, there is no need to discourage these investigations because a breakthrough in this field would actually be great potential news for our environment. But until then, we will have to continue to believe that the basic concept behind perpetuum mobile, which is getting something from nothing, is simply misguided.


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