The Error Machine of Joseph Newman

                        Tom Napier

   Eric Krieg's Arizona radio show was a reaction to Joseph Newman's long-running campaign to have himself and his "Energy Machine" hailed as world saviors.  Here is some background for readers unfamiliar with Newman's ideas.  I hope eventually to address them in greater technical detail on PhACT's Web site.
   Since the early seventies Joe Newman has been promoting a electric motor which, he claims, generates more output than the input from the driving battery.  Much of this time he has been fighting the patent office.  They, not unnaturally, refused to grant a patent on what appeared to be a perpetual motion machine.
To counter them Newman has bombarded scientific journals, Congressmen and several US Presidents with letters of complaint.  He has even run for President.  From time to time he stages demonstrations to encourage investors to fund bigger and better versions of his device.
   Our old friend Dennis Lee learned the free energy business from Newman.  Both claim to have been inspired by God but only Newman claims to have been predicted by Nostradamus!
   Most of what appears here is drawn from Newman's own magnum opus, "The Energy Machine of Joseph Newman."  This 9" by 11" book is 1 3/4" thick, has around 590 pages and is bound in white fake leather with the title embossed in gold.  It contains an amazing hodgepodge of material.  There's Newman's attempt to "explain" magnetic forces in terms of "gyroscopic particles."  There're descriptions of his machine, complaints about the patent office not testing it correctly, many press cuttings, and reprints of the noncommittal letters Newman has received from people he has pestered.  His rewriting of textbook science extends from statics via electromagnetic theory to thermodynamics and orbital mechanics.
   The first few pages of the book exhibit an attitude common among pseudoscientists.  "If I can't understand the conventional theory, it must be wrong."  Newman believes there's a flaw in the rule which relates the induced current in a conductor to its motion in a magnetic field.  This flaw, he says, explains why conventional motors have efficiencies under 100%. *

   Newman has convinced himself that magnetic fields consist of particles which behave like tiny gyroscopes.  From this concept, using spurious logic and without mathematical reasoning, he concludes that the intensity of a magnetic field depends, not on the current flowing in a coil, but on the mass of the copper.  He then applies E=mc2 to this mass to compute the energy of the field and claims this energy can be released by his machine.
   One of Newman's amazing discoveries is that coils having many turns of wire generate a given magnetic field with a lower input current than coils with fewer turns.  Well even Michael Faraday knew that.  Next he claims that increasing the number of turns reduces the power used.  In this calculation he ignores the resistance of the wire.  It seems to have escaped Newman that a static magnetic field requires no power to maintain it.  Only the resistance of the copper wire is dissipating energy.  For example, a superconducting magnet requires a power input to create a field but none to maintain it.
   Newman has wound solenoids having many thousands of turns of wire.  These have weighed from 140 to 4200 pounds.  It takes thousands of volts to get any appreciable current to flow so he powers them from hundreds of 9 volt batteries wired in series.  In his energy machine a rotating magnet turns a commutator which switches the current in the coil on and off in a complicated way.  The resulting pulsing current makes it difficult to measure the mean input power.  However, Newman and his former sidekick Dr. Roger Hastings compound this problem by making an elementary blunder in calculating the mean power.  This makes it appear that more heat is being generated in the coil than is being supplied by the battery.
   In other words, Newman doesn't get his "over-unity" efficiency by comparing the electrical input and the mechanical output as anyone else would do.  He simply miscalculates the resistive losses, which the rest of the world would treat as wasted input power, then adds them to the output.  There's more, he claims an output at high frequencies which no one else can measure and he also lights fluorescent tubes from the motor pulses to show its large power output.  As in so many "over-unity" schemes, the claimed effect arises from measurement errors and botched calculations, not from new physical laws.  Of course no over-unity device has yet passed the ultimate test, being able to drive its own input indefinitely.
   A little obfuscation always helps.  Newman extols the tiny current his motors draw, telling people he can drive a car (at walking speed) with a transistor radio battery.  The fact that there were 1500 batteries in the car is down-played, as is the several hundred watts which they can supply even with a tiny current drain.
   Before I read his book I knew, based on simple physical principles, that Newman's machine could not possibly output more energy than is put into it.  However, I was aghast when I saw the photographs of the motor which Newman submitted to the patent office.  It consists of a permanent magnet rotor with a commutator on its shaft.  Standing alongside this is an air-cored solenoid.  Now the first principle of making an efficient electric motor is to provide a direct magnetic path through the armature and field coils.  Normally one uses a ferromagnetic core and all air gaps are made as small as practical.  No motor consisting of a rotating magnet with a coil alongside it has a hope of being more than a few percent efficient.
   Even Newman has realized this.  His more recent motors, as witnessed by the one built for him by Norm Biss, consist of a conventional rotating armature inside a steel tube containing permanent magnets.  Only the weird commutator and the high voltage batteries remain from the original design.  Alas, even this motor cannot generate more power than it gets from the batteries but it manages to convince naive investors to shell out.

*  Note Newman's fallacious reasoning here.  Conventional electrical theory perfectly explains the observed behavior of all motors, including Newman's.  Adopting Newman's incorrect theory can't magically make motors work any differently.  In any case, there is no need to modify a theory until there are experimental grounds for supposing it to be flawed.  Newman has not shown any such grounds.

This article first appeared in the October 1999 issue of Phactum, the newsletter of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking.  It is copyright PhACT, 1999.  All rights reserved.


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