Graduate studies in Physics at Cal State University, Fullerton

As part of the backstory to this, know that Jeri and I had quit our working life for a number of years, starting when we hit 40 (Retirement 1.0, Beta).  Too many fun things to do, and work got in the way.  However after  travelling around for 3 to 4 years and getting into various flavors of mischief, I was getting bored and started thinking of a suitable challenge.

I eventually decided to go back to school for a Master in Physics for a couple of reasons.  First, in Jeri’s and my adventures to date I had faced all sorts of technobabble and I just couldn’t tell if it was bullshit or not.  It almost certainly was, but I didn’t know precisely why.  My engineering background wasn’t science.

Secondly, I had started my academic career as a Physics major, which, uh…didn’t go so well.  While I had a full scholarship to UC Irvine, I also had the diversion of a girlfriend and the freedom of a new car.  And I don’t know if you know this or not, but they don’t take attendance in college!!!  Wow, what great news!  They didn’t seem to care if I showed up at all!  My screw off/slacker tendencies promptly took over and after three scholastic  quarters I got a very polite letter from those nice UC Irvine folks saying, “Mr Mahood, perhaps it would be best if you didn’t come back here anymore”.

But it always bothered me more than a bit that I failed at something.  I don’t like to fail.

Since California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) wasn’t far from where we were living, that seemed like a plausible school.  After meeting with the Physics Department’s graduate adviser, it looked like it was just the program for me.  It was a new Masters program, and they were actively seeking bodies to fill it.  And given my less than stellar undergraduate record, I found their “if you’re breathing you’re in” admission policy a good fit.  So in February, 1997, it was back to school for me, and a most amazing adventure ensued.

During my first semester there was when the concept of inertia being caused  by something known as Zero Point Energy was becoming popular and hitting the main stream press.  I asked one of my profs about it and she said, “Oh, you need to talk to Dr. Woodward.  He knows all about that sort of stuff”.  Woodward, huh?  I recalled seeing his picture on the bulletin board near the Physics office, so off I went to track this guy down.  Well, his office wasn’t in the science building, it was in the history building.  History? It turned out Dr. James Woodward was a professor of history.  His undergrad and graduate degrees were in Physics, but his PhD was  in the history of Physics, specifically gravitation.  That sounded sort of interesting.

I found Dr. Woodward in his office and we talked Zero Point Energy for a while.  He was of the opinion there wasn’t much to it, as there were other processes that could result in same observed effects.  We chatted a bit about the Area 51 activities I had been involved in, and when I mentioned Bob Lazars claims about how the discs flew he started laughing out loud.  He then asked if I wanted to see some real experiments in possible mass modifications?  Ummm…..Mass modification?  I thought mass was one of those constant sort of things.  He sent me off with a couple of reprints of his experimental work and an invite to visit his lab on the Physics floor in a few days.

I found the papers he had given me, published in peer reviewed journals, a little intimidating.   I hadn’t really learned yet how to read such journal articles.   But they seemed to contain experimental results that showed the modification of the rest mass of a capacitor array.  Now I don’t mean the kind of mass change due to adding or removing energy as in E= Mc2, this was a change in basic rest mass of the capacitors.  Why had I not heard of this?  It seemed like a big deal.

Visiting his lab a few days later, I came across something that reminded me of Dr. Emmett Brown’s lab in the movie “Back to the Future”.  Strange electronics all over the place, digital displays, vacuum pumps, and in the center of all the chaos, a massive vibration isolation cradle containing a shiny aluminum container about the size of a garbage disposal.  Opening it up showed that inside it rested a ring of capacitors, as well as some piezoelectric crystals (PZTs).  I told him it looked like a warp core from Star Trek, and inside were the Dilithium crystals! (This was an analogy that carried on for some time in a surprising number of accurate ways).  He fired up his system and it did some stuff.  I had no idea what I was seeing, but something was going on.  I recall nodding a lot, but I was pretty much clueless.  In the end, Jim invited me to visit as often as I wanted, which was exactly what I wanted.  Unless Jim was a lunatic, (and he didn’t appear to be), this was something extremely unusual.

I eventually ended up working with Jim for quite some time, focusing my graduate work on gravitation and Jim becoming my graduate adviser.  Before doing so, I discussed it with the Physics department graduate adviser.  I asked him flat out, “Do you think Jim is crazy?”  He laughed and said, “No, not at all”.  He said that at the very least I’d get an excellent education in experimental technique.  But as we  talked, it became clear to me the adviser didn’t exactly know what Jim was doing and hadn’t read any of Jim’s papers.

Fun with Inertia

It would probably be a good idea to go over a little of the theory before getting into the guts of what I got myself involved with.  It essentially revolves around what is the cause of inertia.  Why, when you push on something, does it resist?  Toward the end of the 1800s, a physicist by the name of Ernest Mach (of “Mach number” fame) suggested that inertia was caused by the interaction of all the matter in the universe.  Einstein later gave this idea the name of ‘Mach’s Principle”.   It’s a tantalizing theory, but it’s never been clearly proven.

OK, time for a classic thought experiment!  Suppose you take a bucket partially filled with water, and start spinning the water in it.  As the water spins around the bucket, it rises up the sides due to centrifugal forces.  You see the same thing every time you make a Margarita in a blender.  Nothing strange there.  Now let’s bring Einstein’s Relativity into play.  It says that all motion is relative and you get the same results whether you smash two cars together head on at 30 miles per hour as you would if one car was stationary and you hit it with another car at 60 miles per hour.  In either case the cars close at 60 mph.  Again, nothing strange there, just common sense.

But now lets go back to the water spinning in the bucket.  According to Relativity (which has yet to be disproved), you would get the same results (i.e., water rising up the sides) if you held the bucket still and spun the universe in circles around it.  Whoaaaa!  Now that’s pretty weird!  If there’s no link between all the matter in the universe and the bucket’s water, how could that happen?

After a lot of years of work, Jim had found a quirky mathematical derivation that suggested by rapidly changing the energy density of an object in a certain way, it might be possible to briefly alter its mass.  In most cases, it would time average to zero, in that briefly the mass would increase, then decrease, and it would always just cancel itself out.  But it appeared possible, mathematically at least, that one could fool Mother Nature and extract a net force or thrust on the object changing mass by pushing or pulling it at just the right times.  To help myself understand it all, I once wrote a grossly simplified “fruitcake” analogy of it and showed to to Jeri.   It made sense to her as a lay person, so here it is.

“Wait just a stinkin’ minute!” some of you are hollering by now.  “This is bullshit that violates both conservation of momentum and energy!”  And so it would appear, at least superficially.  But there’s a way out of the weeds and it has to do with Mach’s Principle.

If it’s true that the inertia (and thus the mass) of an object is created by the action of all the other matter in the universe, then something strange is going on.  When you push on something it “pushes back” instantly.  How could the rest of the universe respond instantaneously?  Aren’t things limited by the speed of light?  Not necessarily.  There is something called “Absorber Theory” developed by John Wheeler and Richard Feynman in the 1940s which deals with certain odd effects of electromagnetic waves.  In a Machian interpretation of Absorber Theory, pushing an object sends off incredibly minuscule  gravitational waves at the speed of light, essentially into the future.  As they eventually interact with everything else in the universe, those interactions sent equal gravitational waves back in time, to the object the instant you push against it.  Bingo, bango, everything cancels and the object has inertia.  Now I know how wacky that might seem, but it’s theoretically sound.  And Jim appeared to have found a mathematical way around the cancellation.

When the equation is fully derived, several strange terms appear in the equation (The final equation is shown below, but for a full derivation and understanding of the variables, see my thesis.  This is an overview).   The first term on the right hand side of the equation is the Newtonian source term, which is where things normally stop.  The next term Jim and I took to calling the “Impulse” term.  It would go positive then negative and suggested one could pull or push when this term was active creating sort of a Star Trek Impulse Drive.  The next term is very small and simply time averages. It seems to have little relevance.  The last term is the one that gets interesting.   Very interesting.  Notice there’s a minus sign in front of it?  This means it’s always negative.  Also notice that in the denominator there’s the speed of light, which ends up being taken to the fourth power.  Normally, this would be a very small number and one would think the term could be ignored.  But if p0 (the mass of the item)  starts heading toward zero, things can get crazy real fast.  This we came to call the “Wormhole Term”.

Final derived equation showing the impulse and wormhole terms

Here’s the thing about wormholes.  To create one you would need lots of something called “negative mass”.  By “lots” I mean a Jupiter sized hunk of negative mass compressed into an area maybe a Meter or so in diameter.  That’s a pretty good definition of “lots”.  Negative mass makes spacetime curve the other way than normal mass curves it.  So if you do accumulate that much negative mass in that small an area, you essentially rip spacetime a new asshole and a wormhole appears.  And perhaps the planet is destroyed.  Side effects happen.  That’s progress.  In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that no one has ever seen negative mass yet, but it is theoretically possible.

So here we seemed to have a possible mode of propulsion that at low powers held out the possibility of a type of propellantless propulsion using only electricity, an Impulse Drive if you will.  Then at high power, perhaps the ability to actually warp spacetime, a warp drive.  As a result a sign appeared on the door to the lab:  “Starfleet Labs:  Tomorrow’s momentum, today”.

Fun with (very) exotic propulsion

At its fundamental basic, the trick was to change  the energy density in a capacitor with a specific time-varying electromagnetic waveform, then pull and push the sucker at just the right moments. The shoving was primarily done with a variety of configurations of piezoelectric (PZT) discs.  Piezoelectric material is a type of crystalline structure that gets larger when a certain polarity electric field is applied, and smaller when the opposite field is applied.  In many of the early test devices the capacitors were shuttled back and forth between two stacks of PZT discs.

Here are some assorted images of the earlier devices.  In some images there are small squares with leads attached.  These were nifty little accelerometers we made out of scrap PZT material.  When PZT material is squeezed, it gives off electricity.  These little accelerometers allowed us to tune the devices to run at just the right frequency.

Early shuttler example. PZT discs at each end and capacitors in the middle

View of shuttler device showing attachment of PZT accelerometers

“Warp core” and shuttler device on load cell, for comparison

Eventually we came to the realization that PZT material and capacitor material were very similar.  This allowed us to make devices that were simply stacks of PZT discs, applying different signals to different portions of the stack.   The image below shows one such device.  The outer, thicker looking discs did the shuttling.   The inner stack of discs were the area in which any mass shift occurred.  The thin discs between the inner ones and the shuttlers acted as accelerometers (actually “squeezometers”) which provided feedback on what was happening in the stack.

All PZT unit – No conventional capacitors in center

At some point the experimentation moved away from the warp core and its load cell to the creation of torsion arms that actually rotated.  This was a completely different means of measurement and corroborated what was going on in the warp core.  The image below shows an evacuated box in which two devices are suspended.  The power and driving signal was fed in on dual suspension wires, which was in the tall vertical tube.  Rotation could be measured by bouncing a laser beam off a mirror on the arm and measuring the movement of the reflected spot on assorted electro-optical pickups.

Torsion box vacuum chamber

This close up of the torsion arm vacuum chamber box shows the test devices.  The apparatus beneath the torsion arm was a damping arrangement.  A servo beneath the arm could raise or lower a small cup of Mercury into which the arm extended a vane.  It was raised when needed to damp out any arm motion, then retracted when doing tests to allow the arm to swing freely.  The two acrylic columns prevented the large faces from bowing in under vacuum conditions.

Close up of torsion box chamber

The following image is a device I designed which was one of the few devices that did not seem to work (but it was neat looking).  It was modeled after an ultrasonic transducer and intended to run around 47 KHz.  The theory was the PZT disc stack at one end would generate waves in the aluminum that would end up being focused at the other tip, causing a bigger excursion of the capacitors clamped there.  That was the theory, anyway.  It just sort of sat there.   Because of its shape and intended mode of operation, it was called the “Capacitor Crusher”.  It’s a nice current paperweight on my shelf today.

The “Capacitor Crusher”!

When it came time to do my Master’s project, I wanted to do a torsion arm setup.   It’s hard to argue when something is actually moving (although it’s certainly not definitive!).  Using the station wagon-sized lathe in the school’s machine shop, I created a vacuum chamber out of acrylic.  I was planning on feeding in the power to the devices via a single suspension line.  The circuit would be completed by a copper probe extended into a Mercury cup below, which would also damp the swing.  Here’s a shot of my apparatus:

Yours truly and the test setup I built for my devices

In the closeup below, there are two devices in the vacuum chamber (although only one was energized at any one time.  A small laser on the stalk to the right bounced a beam off a front surface mirror on the arm holder, which was reflected on the graduated scale outside of the chamber and visible to the rear.  During operation, the scale was videotaped and the playback analysed to determine swing amplitude.

Two units suspended in my test rig

The further closeup below shows more detail.  The two test units were suspended at their centers of gravity by neoprene straps to isolate vibration.  The curled metal spiral on the end of the unit to the right was a temperature indicator, lifted from an oven thermometer.  If the temperature of the devices became too high there was a risk the PZT discs could “depole” and no longer work.  Because this was all operated in a vacuum, it sometimes took quite a while to cool down.  The Mercury cup is visible at the bottom, and the brass mass above it helped to tension the suspension.

Two units in my vacuum chamber

Here is a closeup of one of my test units.  They were sized to operate at resonant frequencies of 50 KHz and 100 KHz.  The temperature indicator is visible to the left.

One of my test units

If you should be so foolish as to want more details about these devices and their testing,  my entire stinkin’ thesis is available for download.  It has the catchy title, “A Torsion Pendulum Investigation of Transient Machian Effects” (I found out you get more credibility by making the title as obtuse as possible).  93 pages of obscure Physics goodness! It does have a very good derivation of the effect included in the Appendix though.  It also has something else I really regret is there, but that will come later.

Before moving on, here are some hard to find papers and books  that might prove to be resources:

Fun with magnets

It wasn’t all crazy, weird propulsion stuff.  Since a lot of the work Jim and I were doing could be considered “unconventional”, a lot of weird stuff floated our way.  There were several email lists where ideas were exchanged, some more out there than others.  As this was during the period when “lifters” (AKA “Ionocraft”) were the craze, Jim and I had a look at those.  Lifters were sort of a modern version of Biefield-Brown devices, and claimed to produce thrust with high voltages and no moving parts.  It was clear to us there was nothing more to it than ionic wind, but we made one of our own and demonstrated there was nothing exotic about its propulsion.  It actually did work in air, but didn’t (and couldn’t) work in a vacuum.  But the most entertaining of the occasional weirdness that came our way was magnet dropping.

One of the individuals on the rather loose email list was a senior scientist at Lockheed (who shall remain nameless).  This guy was a PhD, and holder of quite a few patents.  In other words, no slouch.  Then one day Jim and I see that this guy is making a claim that high powered magnets, when taped face to face (i.e., with their repulsive poles forcibly taped together) will fall more slowly than a dummy weight of the same mass.  Huh, say what??

Specifically, this gentleman claimed to have observed an “experiment” whereby two tennis balls were dropped in the windless, internal atrium of a building from a height of 59 feet.  One tennis ball contained a set of Samarium Cobalt magnets, one inch by one inch by 1/4 inch, taped face to face.  The other tennis ball contained a dummy mass of the same mass, 59 grams.  Two tests were conducted, and the claim was that the tennis ball containing the magnets hit the ground after the dummy mass, indicating it fell slower.  The claim was it was a full 17% slower.  That’s a lot!

Now this would normally be the sort of  nonsense we would blow right past, but for some reason the sheer lunacy of the claim hooked me.  General Relativity says that all objects move (i.e., fall) along geodesics at the same rate, regardless of their mass, and it’s only dumb money that bets against Einstein.  And there’s a simple two part thought experiment that suggests this isn’t possible from the start:

Say you’re floating in the space shuttle, in orbit (or even a ride in the “Vomit Comet”), and you take a couple of these magnets out of your pocket and tape them together so their like faces are forced together.  They should immediately exhibit a force, and when released, zip to the shuttle wall opposite the direction of orbit.  After all, the shuttle is “falling”, so magnets falling less fast would seem to want to head in the opposite direction.  Sounds a little outlandish to me, but that’s the implication of this claim.

Now for part two of this thought experiment.  Say you’re at the forward end of the shuttle, and you tape your two magnets together, face to face, and they want to head off away from you.  Rather than letting them go, you attach a string to them, which in turn is connected to a generator.  Then as they are released, they would turn the generator.  When your magic magnets reach the aft end of the cabin, allow them to naturally separate, and give them a small nudge to return them separately to the front end of the shuttle, where you tape them back together and repeat the process.  The work done putting the magnets together is of course equal to the work done when they are allowed to separate, so that’s a wash.  But not so for the generator.  You would, in effect, get something for nothing.  I think this scheme could be modified into some sort of perpetual motion arrangement, which is surely the kiss of death.

Despite all that, this just cried out for an experiment, which is just what I did (It must have been a slow time in the lab).  My first stop was at Home Depot, the primary supply source for fringe experimenters everywhere.  I built a “drop tower” from an 8 foot length of ABS sewer pipe, fastened to a floor plate with a toilet flange.  I built a couple of laser trip lines within the pipe, which the falling magnets would have to pass through, starting and stopping a high precision timer.  The magnets and dummies were in an acrylic plastic holder, which was released by an electromagnetic holder.

Rather than go into gory detail, here’s a copy of the report I did on the initial round of magnet dropping.  Suffice to say there wasn’t anything to it.   But there was something odd I was measuring and it seemed something wasn’t quite right.  It’s a good example of just because you get experimental data, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily correct.  It’s sometimes difficult to do a good experiment, even if it seems simple.

So I followed it up with another series of tests and chased down the weirdness I was seeing.   It turned out my electromagnetic drop arrangement was interacting with the clean drop of the magnets.

So, no, magnets don’t drop slower when bound face to face.  But it was a sweet, crazy  little experiment to do and exemplified good experimental technique.  Which was really what it was all about in the first place.

Fun with the National Labs

One of the more interesting episodes I experienced while working on my Masters had to do with involvement with the Department of Energy and a couple of the national laboratories.  In mid-1998, a gentleman by the name of David Hamilton started showing up in our email traffic.  Hamilton’s position with the DoE involved the promotion and development of electric cars and their power supplies.  Since part of his charge was development of high energy capacitors, it wasn’t too far of a reach to see how he could plausibly pursue research on propellantless propulsion as a possible means to drive electric vehicles.

I found Hamilton to be extremely bright and knowledgeable, although sometimes I wondered if there was more to him than it appeared.  I knew he gave regular briefing sessions at the Pentagon, which seemed strange for an electric car guy.  But there was also a time we were speaking on the phone about the possibilities of wormholes and the like.  He asked me if I thought it would be possible to create a wormhole with one end being on the surface of the Sun and the other over an enemy on the battle field.   I think I was stunned into silence for quite some time, but eventually regained enough composure to say while I had not thought about that before (an understatement!), I supposed it was theoretically possible.

By late 1999 Hamilton was going to actively fund real development of some sort of device by national labs he had under his funding umbrella.  He contacted Jim and a meeting was set up at Cal State University Fullerton for January 15, 1999 to discuss technical details.  In addition to Jim and I, there was David Hamilton from the DOE,  two scientist/engineers from Sandia National Lab (Bruce Tuttle and Don King), a scientist from Oak Ridge National Lab (John McKeever), an engineer  from Lockheed Martin in Houston (Paul March, who was working on this independent from his company), and someone representing the school as sort of a legal guy.  It became quickly apparent that all these folks were VERY sharp guys, and not flakes of any sort.  They were however, more of the engineering bent. By that I mean they simply wanted to build these things, and wanted to understand only enough science to allow them to do so.  I could relate to that.

Jim started out and gave a presentation for about an hour on how this effect came about.  He mentioned how in the past how he ran into difficulties in attempting to explain how it all worked, so he was trying a different tack.  He did it historically, by telling of how he came across it and slowly refined the theory over the years, without getting into gory math details.  This proved to be a very understandable and excellent way of doing it and I had wished I recorded it.  It also clearly showed there was a lot of evidence for this stuff in the literature, that had been just sitting around in plain sight, with no one realizing what it might mean.  I was objectively watching Jim to see how he would come across to our guests, and was very impressed.  He was quite credible and reasonable about the theory, and gave no overinflated expectations.

Towards the end of the meeting, Jim pointed out that if the low power stuff we had been doing worked, then the possibility of high power wormhole-type operation became more real.  The efficiency of what we had been doing made high power operation unlikely.  But if these lab guys succeeded in finding ways to make huge increases in efficiency, then that sort of thing should NOT be spread around due to the dangers of high power operation.  Jim noted that attainment of such capabilities might be much simpler than acquiring weapons grade plutonium.  Our guests paid amazingly close attention to this.

Following that, we went to the lab, ran the warp core for them and showed them around.  They understood what was going on with that, then we set up the vacuum chamber and ran the torsion arm setup in place at the time.  We told them what they we seeing was likely mostly heat, but they still seemed impressed.  We then adjourned to lunch and talked some more.  It turned out that Hamilton had to be back in DC sooner than he had thought, so he had to leave at 1 PM.  It was odd that he flew all the way out to attend what essentially was a 9 to 1 meeting for him.

After he left, we had a brainstorming session with the remaining guys as to what they were going to build, and how they were going to do it.  Sandia was going to do the fabrication of the devices, which were intended to be small (maybe less than an inch in diameter) multi layer, monolithic dodads.  They had means of doing thin and thick layer buildups, and bonding the layers without adhesives (using some sort of glass process, actually).  Oak Ridge was going to build the control electronics.  It wasn’t clear who was going to be doing the actual testing, but it appeared to be Oak Ridge.

Sandia’s initial design idea was a fairly large device, with a PZT in the middle, sandwiched between two capacitors, on the size of a hockey puck.  After our discussions, we talked them into a much smaller design (or so we thought), with the capacitor sandwiched between two PZTs, Jim’s “classic” design.  We were somewhat surprised to hear their project was actually  already underway  and they were shooting to have the devices completed in about 3 months (which they said was quick for them).  It also appeared the devices they had in the works were large, hockey puck size things.

Months went by and we heard very little other than a few rumors.  They had told us they planned on using some very exotic equipment in the effort, along the lines of a quartz beam interferometer.  I wasn’t exactly sure what that was, but it sounded way more fancy than anything we had ever used!   Jim and I considered it bad form to be too direct in our inquiries but when we did raise the question as to any results they might be getting, it was always ignored or brushed aside.

Then with very little notice, on September 10, 1999, the Sandians (Don King and a technical guy whose name I can’t recall) dropped by our lab for a strange visit.  They were very interested in our experimental setup, to the point they seemed like they wanted to replicate it directly.  Jim ran it for them, and they were quite impressed to see the torsion arm move. We kept quizzing them as to exactly what they were planning on running, but they were very vague in their answers, but not obviously so. The last we had heard unofficially was they had made a bunch of hockey pucks sized devices that had been shipped to Oak Ridge, and Oak Ridge was working up some sort of wild 10 kilowatt  power supply to run them. (The Oak Ridge Boys were apparently of the “Go big or go home” school of thought). For a number of reasons, to us this seemed doomed to fail, and I told Hamilton that in so many words a couple of months prior. I asked the Sandians what was up with the hockey pucks, and they just smiled, shrugged, and said they really weren’t sure. Why the hell they weren’t sure is beyond me.

They were only there for a couple of hours and then blew out, asking for a draft copy of my thesis, which I was still working on at the time. For two of them to come all the way out to have a another look at things, without any obvious, specific point, was just plain odd. We knew less about what they were doing then before they showed up.  But it did seem likely they were planning on building some small devices, regardless of what the Oak Ridge Boys were doing. My guess was that David Hamilton had taken heed of our warnings about the hockey pucks, and had a few of the guys at Sandia quietly doing a quick and dirty project along the lines of ours. It also seemed to Jim and I that it was being done without the Oak Ridge Boys knowledge, so no toes were stepped on.

By the end of September, 1999, my draft thesis was complete and I was gearing up for its defense and also hunting for some sort of employment in the science field.  So I was probably not paying as much attention as I should have when an email exchange started in late October between Jim and the Oak Ridge Boys regarding a flaw they claimed to have found in the derivation of the mass shift effect.  They claimed to have found an error in the math that resulted in a great deal of the effect cancelling itself out (but not all of it).  I had a quick look at it, and it appeared plausible, and could explain why the effect we had been seeing was always so small.

My thesis was scheduled to be defended on November 11, just a couple weeks away.  I thought the fact a national lab, full of a lot of people much smarter than I, had found an issue with the derivation to be an important point.  So, exercising due diligence, I rushed through an addendum to my thesis describing their theoretical findings.  At the time, I felt rather good that I was able to include that.  That was integrity!  Yeah…right.  Later I would come to realize it’s one of the very few things I’ve done in my life that I actually regret.

After my thesis presentation on the 11th, I wound down a bit, and when not looking for Physics employment, helped out Jim in the lab.  Jim had some interesting back channel contacts, and from them he had heard a rumor that the Oak Ridge Boys had found…something.  Just what, we didn’t know.   But we started getting more direct in our questions of Hamilton and McKeever, and that fact the answers got vaguer seemed very odd.

Then on February 21, 2000, a parcel showed up with two draft papers.  The first one, was a theoretical takedown of the whole theory.  The second paper sought to dismiss my thesis purely on the basis of theory and simulations they put forth.  Garbage in, garbage out.  Now this was getting interesting.

Jim had pretty much addressed the issues the Oak Ridge Boys had raised in regards to the theory, but there it was again, bigger and stupider.  They were incorrectly hung up on the “rocket equation”.  I won’t get into the gory details of cancellation issue, as there was nothing new, and they were just plain wrong.   If a doofus like me could see it, then they had a serious problem.  Their position required a mass, moving at a constant velocity through space, to slow down or speed up if it underwent mass variations.  Where does the force come from to accomplish such a magical feat?  It makes some of the admitted assumptions we made in our theories seem positively ordinary!

The other paper was a rather amazing piece of work attributing everything in my thesis to thermal expansion of the test units.  I say amazing, because it was the sort of dumb thing a beginning physics student might come up with, and would be very, very wrong.  Their premise was that thermal expansion caused by the energy input into the PZT caused an “acceleratory wave” of motion through the material, which caused a force against the torsion arm. They had all sorts of simulations to show that’s what was going on.   They were taking such a close look at what was happening to the internal bits of the devices, when they actually needed to step back and see the overall picture.

You can have a device floating in space, and expand it, contract it, or unfurl whatever you want, but its center of mass (CoM) will not move, unless acted on by an EXTERNAL force. That’s not to say various surfaces on the device won’t move in relation to the fixed, floating CoM. They will, and that’s the key. It turns out on my thesis units that assuming a PZT temp increase of about 130 C (probably worse case, based upon their calcs of three, 5 second pulses of 80 watts), the attach point would move only 0.0014 mm further from the CoM. This displacement would act on the arm and result in a total oscillation amplitude of twice that value. Even assuming for the multiplication factor of the larger of the two optical levers I used, the resulting oscillation would be too small to be seen.

Of course they also needed to explain why in about a quarter of my tests the direction reversed. They attributed this to the two units having slightly different operating characteristics, which implied they thought they were both operating at once. Bzzzzt, wrong! I clearly stated with my units I only ran one at a time.

They also went the same route explaining Jim’s units, which I used for some of my tests. Yet they were in possession of the STAIF paper which showed the almost instantaneous onset of a force. Also, the STAIF paper talks about having to “warm up” the units for a considerable length of time to get the best force outputs. Yet if they are heat soaked, the delta T and resulting delta L is greatly reduced, so the observed force should lessen. It doesn’t. It gets larger.

I didn’t know what was going on here. Having met John McKeever, I had the impression he knew what he was doing. He’s a very smart guy.  Yet if this work was legit, these guys were idiots.  Another possibility was that these papers represented some sort of smokescreen. They had dodged our direct questions about any experimental results, and the papers were pure theory (bad theory, but theory). Perhaps there was a mundane explanation of what we had seen, but it wasn’t this.

On February 28, 2000, I emailed my response to John McKeever and Jim did one also in regards to the theory aspect.  After that, pretty much all information flow from the labs or David Hamilton ceased.  They either considered our work to be nonsense, as their official position apparently was stating, or it all went black.

Many months later, a final paper finally bubbled to the surface with a lead author of J.H. Whealton.  I don’t think it was ever published anywhere, other than on a DoE website.  It was pretty much the same old stuff, combined into a single paper, but there was now a new twist.  In the very last paragraph they were actually reporting the results of an experiment they had performed!  But wait a minute, where was the quartz beam interferometer??  Instead, there’s some wanky arm with a 9 volt battery and some heated resistors, in friggin air!  This would barely qualify for a high school science fair.

I soon went off to work for LIGO and my active participation in the project halted.  But I did make time to attend an AIAA aerospace conference in Salt Lake City July of 2001.  Jim was presenting a paper on his work to date.  Who should we run into there but John McKeever and a guy named John Whealton.  Yeah, that John Whealton, lead author of the paper.  Great time for a chat!

So we all got together in a corner of the room and Jim began asking questions of Whealton in the polite, professional way scientists do.  After a few minutes it became clear to me that Whealton really didn’t really have a good understanding of the theory he had attacked and was seriously on the defensive.  I pretty much stayed out of the discussion as I was doing something much more interesting.  I was watching McKeever closely as Jim was taking Whealton apart.  McKeever pretty much stayed out of it, but the whole time he had such a fascinating smile, as if he was enjoying a private joke.  We all parted on good terms, a bit more enlightened.  I realized Whealton, while completely wrong and possibly a bit clueless, truly did believe in what he wrote.  I recall the phrase, “useful idiot” popping into my mind.  McKeever, on the other hand…..well I did say he was a very smart guy.

This was all a very through-the-looking-glass experience and still don’t know what to make of it to this day.  While I’m not one to embrace darker theories, it really felt like something was up.  But I suppose it was all part of the adventure.

Fun with Patents

As Jim churned out more papers and made presentations at science conferences, the University started to perk up a bit and began to consider there might be something to all this. And if there was, big bucks could be involved.  Universities have an exquisite sense of smell when it comes to money.  Jim had already gained a base, underlying  patent when the University wasn’t paying close attention, but now it made sense to do a bit more. And Jim was gracious enough to add my name into it.

So on January 23, 1999, the patent attorney retained and paid by the university filed the patent.  And we waited.  On August 8, 2000, patent 6,098,924 was issued to Jim and I for “Method and apparatus for generating propulsive forces without the ejection of propellant”.  While that might possibly impress some folks, I knew the the Patent Office would pretty much issue a patent for anything.  One of the the things I’d amuse myself with (when I had any spare time) was to look at patents issued for Dean Drive-type devices and work out why it was impossible for them to work.  But a patent certificate was neat to hang on the wall.

Eventually this patent was followed by a follow on, Patent 6,347,766, issued February 9, 2002.  It had the same title, but covered a few new aspects interim experiments had uncovered.

The issuance of patents, in some minds, stamps sort of a seal of legitimacy on things, which led to a bit of strangeness.  We began to get overtures from a rather flaky (in my mind, anyway) outfit by the name of “Molecular Robotics, Inc.”  They wanted to acquire all the rights to the patents and “develop” them.  What Jim and I took this to mean was they were going to shop it around to venture capital type of folks, acquire investment cash, and maybe or maybe not do anything substantial.  The “firm” consisted of perhaps 5 or 6 people, with very odd backgrounds.  They were not to be trusted.

They visited the lab a number of times and were fairly aggressive in their pitch.  At one point they asked for a copy of my thesis so “their scientists” could review it.  When pressed about who their scientists were, the only reply we could get was they were Russian.  Eventually Molecular Robotics showed up with a report dated March 17, 2000, which contained the results of a seminar held at the Moscow State University to review my friggin’ Masters thesis!  The Ruskies apparently didn’t care much for it, but it was also clear they didn’t care for Mach’s Principle itself.  But still, had I known the damn thing was going to end up in Russia, I would have done a better job on it.

But Tom, is this stuff ……real?

I….don’t…. know.  And I say that after being involved in chasing it down for 10+ years.  At this point, I see arguements on both sides.

Fundamentally, the mathematics are extremely compelling.  I have yet to come across anyone credible in General Relativity who can say why the derivation is incorrect.  About as damning as I’ve heard is something along the lines of, “Wait,…This can’t be right….But I don’t know why it’s not right”.  The math is straightforward.

The effect (or something like it) has been demonstrated in a wide variety of different types of devices and experimental setups.  Something has been observed if it’s merely capacitors being shuttled back and forth, but also with later generation devices composed of all PZT discs.  The most recent generation of devices were a very different design having capacitors embedded in a magnetic field which used the Lorentz Force to move the ions in the capacitor dielectric (These were called Mach Lorentz Thrusters).   And the force measuring setups have ranged from various load cell devices to ballistic pendulums to multiple torsion arm pendulums, in which movement is actually observed.  The fact the movement is produced in torsion arm apparatus suggests it just can’t be RF pickup or ground loops contaminating the recording of the load cell data.

OTOH, the results have always been very small, well below what the theory says.

As time progressed and the experimental apparatus more refined, the “effect” seemed to get smaller, and that’s a REAL bad sign.  It was already well below what the theory predicted.  That sets off alarm bells.  After all this time, if something isn’t in hand to float around a table top, its should still at least be producing unequivocal results.

The  instrumentation to date is hand-wired and complex, with potential for ground loops.

I am aware of only one positive replication attempt, and even that experimenter (Paul March) had concerns over its validity.  All other replication attempts have either been negative or ambiguous.    My own experiments were ambiguous.

It seems to make the effect happen, a lot of parameters for the test devices, some not clearly understood, need to be “just so”.  The question remains, are the devices being dialed in to create a real effect, or do things need to be just so to cause merely a false positive?

The experiments require a large amount of power be dumped into a very small volume over a short period of time.  Given the power densities involved, strange, unexpected things can occur, and are subject to misinterpretation.

At this point, I’m inclined to think the results obtained to date are the result of either two things, or a combination of the two.

The first possibility is that the test devices are merely high tech versions of a Dean Drive.  Dean Drives are contraptions that traditionally have involved the slinging of masses around in an attempt to create linear thrust and motion.  They don’t really work, but give the appearance of doing so, generally depending on the differences between static and dynamic friction.  They can also trick an experimenter when non-linear materials are involved, such as rubber dampeners.  My hunch, and it’s only a hunch,  is that is what transpired in my Masters thesis experiments.  I can’t speak for other devices.

The other possibility I’m willing to entertain is that the effect may in fact be real, but there’s something in Nature that desperately wants to quench it.  For example, the derivation of the effect, mathematically, is very clear.  However it’s really only applicable for an point mass (think frictionless pulleys).  In reality, matter is much more complex.  In the case of the piezoelectric materials used in the experiments, the molecular structure is that of a crystal, composed of a variety of ions, some positively charged, and the others negatively, and having different masses.  When one of these crystals is exposed to an electric field to drive motion, as is usually done as part of the experiment, the positive ions move one direction and the negative ions move the other way.  Under classic Newtonian mechanics, the momentum of the different ions cancel each other out.  But this effect, if real, is non-linear, so perhaps the masses and accelerations of the different ions don’t exactly cancel each other, but mostly do.  Perhaps there is a small but real net force that sort of “leaks out” of the process, requiring the aforementioned “just so” arrangement.  If this is the case, then it becomes an engineering problem to figure out how to oscillate a “plasma soup” of pure, singularly charged ions.

I hope it’s the latter and not the former.

Despite any doubts I might have about the effect being real or not, I thoroughly enjoyed my work at CSUF.  And work is the correct word as it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I learned an immense amount about good experimental technique from working with Dr. Jim Woodward and enjoyed his company.  He was always more than generous when it came to awarding credit for the work we did, when in fact he usually did the lion’s share.  I was pretty much just along for the ride, but Jim made it a fun ride.

If you’re interested in this further, pop over to Jim Woodward’s webpage at CSUF. You’ll find links to some of his papers on the subject.


Back to the Physics page