Sei sulla pagina 1di 2

THE PERPETUAL ELECTRON by Stephen Euin Cobb

Let's play a little game: what Einstein liked to call a "Thought Experiment." Imagine a hypothetical device that spins, requires no energy input, and that no matter what you do to it you can not make it stop. You can squeeze it, rub it, beat it, throw it against a hard surface, abuse it any way you like, but it will continue spinning. Minutes, hours, days, years; it will spin forever so long as it continues to exist, and nothing that it can experience from you or anyone else will make it stop. Would this be a perpetual motion device? Yes, I would think so. It not only fits the definition it sounds like a remarkably robust perpetual motion device. Which is particularly interesting since this device is not hypothetical. This device exists in our universe and is quite common. You have probably heard of it. It's called an electron. All electrons are perpetual motion devices; as are protons and neutrons. In point of fact, on the subatomic scale, there is no object that does not fit the description of a perpetual motion machine. They require no energy input yet they spin endlessly. But Steve, I can hear you say, the spin of a subatomic particle is not a real spin. Physicists just called it spin because we had no word on the macro-scale for what the subatomic particles were doing. And the physicists had to call it something that didn't sound stupid. Nice argument, but it won't hold water. Here is the opening paragraph of a news release from a Dutch University which was issued in 2006: Researchers of the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University of Technology and the Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter (FOM) have succeeded for the first time in the world in controlling the spin of a single electron in a nanostructure. They are able to rotate the spin to every possible direction and to record it accordingly. This achievement makes it possible to use the electrons spin as a quantum bit, the basis of a (still theoretical) future quantum computer. The researchers have published this scientific breakthrough in a Nature article on 17 August 2006. An electron does not only have an electrical charge, but it also behaves like an ultra small magnet. This is caused by the spinning of the electron around its axis, also called spin. <A href="http://www.tudelft.nl/live/pagina.jsp?id=4b3e55d0-1a34-4388-b3ca-acbe48c87696&lang=en"> (You can read the entire Dutch University news release here.) Not one to give up easily, I now hear you say, "But, Steve, an electron's spin is surely built into its wave function." That may be true, but it doesn't matter what drives an electron's perpetual spin, it only matters that it drives it perpetually and without an external energy source. "But Steve," I hear you say one last time, "These objects probably exist in a frictionless environment." My response to this is simple but requires on your part a familiarity with college physics: the permittivity and permeability of free space are greater than zero. This is just a fancy way of saying that space itself gently resists any and all changes to electric and magnetic fields. Since electric and magnetic fields are an extension of the subatomic particles which possess them, this resistance to change subjects every subatomic particle's spin to a small but non-zero amount of friction. That they overcome this friction, as well as all the other chaotic events that would slow their spin, is what

causes subatomic particles to fit the definition of perpetual motion machines. This may be a small part of why human beings have had so much trouble making sense of the subatomic world. We live in a macroscopic world in which perpetual motion is impossible, while in the subatomic world the situation is reversed. There, perpetual motion is obligatory. Between our macroscopic world where perpetual motion is impossible, and the subatomic where it is mandatory, there is another world. An intermediate world with one foot in the bigger world and one foot in the smaller. A world where perpetual motion may be neither impossible, nor mandatory. A world where it may be optional. And while this world is relatively new to our technological manipulations, it is a world in which we are learning to build more and more things. We call this the nano-world or the nano scale, and our manipulations within it we call nanotechnology. And while it may be half a century before we can tap into the energy available from the naturally occurring perpetual motion machines on the subatomic scale, the engineering of artificial ones on the nanoscale may almost now be within our reach. ------------------------------------Did you spot any assertions the Doctor might have found questionable? Here's a clue. My love of astronomy and classical physics has never translated into a similar love of quantum physics. Oh, sure my curiosity on the subject is powerful and has led me to read a dozen or more books on the subject, my favorite being QED by Doctor Richard Feynman, which I read twice. But I've read the Bible from cover to cover and I'm still an atheist. Reading and understanding something verses completely buying into it are two different actions. It's not that I doubt the results of quantum physics; I admire few things more than results, and quantum physics has generated far more than its fair share. It's that I doubt the explanations of the results. Telling me, as too many of those books did, that a thing is true because it just is, or worse, because it's elegant, is the same as slapping me in the face. And believe me, my face is very sensitive. But on to Travis gentle response: Hi Stephen, Your article is interesting and makes you think, but I'd say it is completely wrong and misrepresenting what an "intrinsic property" of a subatomic particle is. You have confused a real "extrinsic" phenomenon, AKA the angular momentum of a spinning ball, with an "intrinsic" property. The angular momentum of electrons is actually a thing called "intrinsic angular momentum" and is only real in that we ------------------------------------------That ends the preview. Probably in the middle of a sentence. Sorry.