Too Good to Be True
The contraption in this sketch is a compound machine that caused quite a stir in the early 1800s. Its creator, named Charles Redheffer, said it was a perpetual motion machine. This is a machine that can keep running without any input of energy.
The Back Story
- Can you imagine the benefits of a perpetual motion machine? Using it would require no energy, and its motion could be used to run other machines.
- In fact, when Redheffer exhibited his machine, for which he charged admission, he demonstrated how it could turn a gear that would run another device.
- Inventors had been trying to create perpetual motion machines for centuries without success.
- Was it really possible that Redheffer had achieved this amazing feat? Watch this re-enactment of the story of Charles Redheffer and his perpetual motion machine to see for yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjU39AWM8qM
What Do You Think?
Use the links below to learn more about Redheffer and perpetual motion machines. Also read about the Sokal affair. Then answer the following questions.
- Is it possible to create a perpetual motion machine? Why or why not?
- How did Redheffer’s machine really work? Why do you think Redheffer created and exhibited his machine?
- If Redheffer had been a serious scientist, how would his “invention” be considered in light of scientific ethics?
- Recently, a scientist named Alan Sokal did something that other scientists found questionable. What did Sokal do, and why did he do it?
- Do you think that Sokal’s behavior violated scientific ethics? Why or why not?