“Who is John Galt?” Finally Answered

For those who haven’t read [Ayn Rand’s] philosophical tome Atlas Shrugged, there’s a pretty cool piece of engineering stuffed in between the 100-page-long monologues. Although fictional, a character manages to harness atmospheric static electricity and convert it into kinetic energy and (spoilers!) revolutionize the world. Harnessing atmospheric static electricity isn’t just something for fanciful works of fiction, though. It’s a real-world phenomenon and it’s actually possible to build this motor.

who-is-john-galt-thumbAs [Richard Feynman] showed, there is an exploitable electrical potential gradient in the atmosphere. By suspending a tall wire in the air, it is possible to obtain voltages in the tens of thousands of volts. In this particular demonstration, a hexacopter is used to suspend a wire with a set of needles on the end. The needles help facilitate the flow of electrons into the atmosphere, driving a current that spins the corona motor at the bottom of the wire.

There’s not much torque or power generated, but the proof of concept is very interesting to see. Of course, the higher you can go the more voltage is available to you, so maybe future devices such as this could exploit atmospheric electricity to go beyond a demonstration and do useful work. We’ve actually featured the motor that was used in this demonstration before, though, so if you’re curious as to how a corona motor works you should head over there.

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Funky Looking Motor is Powered by Static Electricity

[Steven Dufresne] of Rimstar.org is at it again with another very functional science experiment. This week he’s showing us how he made a large electrostatic motor, also known as a Corona Motor.

A Corona motor makes use of a cool
phenomenon called the Corona discharge, which is the ionization of a fluid
(in this case, air) surrounding a conductor that is energized. He’s done other high voltage experiments that take advantage of this, like his Ion Wind propelled Star Trek Enterprise!corona_motor_electrostatic_atmospheric_motor_diagram

The motor works by using an even number of electrodes on the motor, each electrically charged; positive, negative, positive, negative, etc.

Because each electrode is the opposite charge, they want to repel each other — but since the cylinder is electrically insulated, the charges have no where to go — instead the cylinder begins to rotate as the charges attract back and forth — when a positive charge on the insulation meets a negatively charged electrode, the charge is removed by ionization (creating the corona effect), and the cycle continues. The direction of rotation is determined by the angle of the electrodes. The motor can get going pretty fast but doesn’t have that much torque or power.

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Ion Wind Propelled Star Trek Enterprise

[Steven Dufresne] recently demonstrated ion propulsion using high voltage, and someone pointed out it kind of looked like the warp drives on the Star Trek Enterprise… so he went out and bought a model Enterprise and rebuilt his demonstration!

His original video on Ion Winds gives a good summary of the beginning of his experiments. In fact, it’s actually a recreation of a design he saw at the International Symposium on New Energy back in 1996 of the Electrokinetic Apparatus which was patented in 1960.

By creating a high voltage arc of electricity, it appears that the resulting “ion wind” propels the Enterprise with respect to the fixed testing apparatus. Did we mention he made the high voltage power supply himself?

[Steven] also points out that the propulsion might be occurring due to dielectrophoresis, but hasn’t discovered any conclusive evidence to prove that. Even the patent is rather vague on how this works:

The invention utilizes a heretofore unknown electrokinetic phenomenon which I have discovered; namely, that when a pair of electrodes of appropriate form are held in a certain fixed spaced relation to each other and immersed in a dielectric medium and then oppositely charged to an appropriate degree, a force is produced tending to move the pair of electrodes through the medium.

Regardless of how or why it works, it’s a fun video to watch, so make sure you stick around after the break to see it!

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