At first blush what we appear to have is a revolutionary new lighting invention, a lamp that will run for hours using the energy supplied by a falling weight. This invention is so momentous that the student that designed it is immediately awarded a prize from an eco-nazi, er, environmental group called Greener Gadgets.
Only one problem. It doesn’t work. Nor does it even exist. It can’t work without defying the most basic laws of physics, stuff us nerds learned in middle school. Unfortunately this fellow forgot to audit a basic math course on his way to inventing a perpetual motion machine. And as usual, the enviro-whackos bite, hook, line and sinker.
Press Release Science
Let’s start at the top. The Press Release. From a university that has “Tech” in its name, no less. “Tech” used to mean that somewhere on the campus there was an engineer or scientist hanging out. Apparently not any more.
The headline says “Lamp lit by gravity wins Greener Gadget award”. A minor detail. Gravity doesn’t power anything. If this lamp existed and worked, the energy to power the light would have come from the muscles of the person who lifted the 50 lb weight. This is exactly how a Grandfather Clock works. A university ought to know better, even the university’s press flack.
Next we see in the press release that the student “created the lamp when he was an industrial design graduate student.” Now, to you and me and most folks, “created” means that something was actually made. Apparently not, in this case. A little later he says “The light output will be 600-800 lumens”. Notice the future-tense. In other words, this thing hasn’t actually been built. The “photo” in the article, reproduced above, is actually just a CAD rendering.
Do the Math!
Next, the specs. He claims that this thing will (future-tense again) generate at least 600 lumens of light, running on the stored energy of a 50 lb weight a few feet off the floor. Several people here , myself included, have run the basic high school physics calculations. The result? Using pretty much state-of-the-art 100 lumen per watt LEDs, this thing would run for less than a minute while producing 600 lumens.
To run for his claimed 4 hours, I calculated that the 50 lb weight would have to drop from the height of the Empire State Building!
But it gets worse. This graduate student goes on to claim that the mechanism will “last more than 200 years, if used eight hours a day, 365 days a year”. Can you think of ANYTHING that’s used every day that has lasted 200 years? Me neither. I’d be hard-pressed to think of anything mechanical that would last even 20 years.
Looking a little further down the press release, we see that the university is wasting public funds pursuing a friggin’ patent on this absurdity. Given that the patent office will now issue a patent on air if someone applies, I bet they get it. It used to be the patent office’s policy to dump perpetual motion applications at the gate but I bet this one gets through. I bet VT will blow $5,000 or more on this application.
Not doing even the most basic math certainly didn’t keep this student from whipping out a profound-sounding artist’s statement.
“The precedent for this lamp lies within horology, the science of keeping time. Gravia recalls the archetypes of ‘grandfather clock’, ‘hourglass’ and ‘wind-up clock’. User input provides the potential energy for these devices, and maintains a cycle of timely upkeep for the life of the object.
Gravia is also metaphor for an understanding of social activism. The mechanism of social activism is like a flywheel, where each participant in society is not necessarily required to provide all of the energy to power a movement, but instead, contributes with others, bits at a time to accomplish positive change.”
“A metaphor for understanding social activism”. I feel soiled just reading that.
That this thing doesn’t exist and could not work if it did, obviously didn’t slow down this eco-nazi bunch “Greener Gadgets” from awarding this guy a prize. This is a common theme running through most all so-called “alternative energy” proposals. “Don’t bother with any math, just wave your arms wildly and think pure thoughts and everything will work OK.” Best to keep that in mind the next time you see someone claiming to have come up with the latest invention to “save the planet”.
Finally, we have to consider the implications of a technical university that woud not only graduate a scientifically illiterate student with an advanced degree but then go and brag about his illiteracy in a press release. It is any wonder that the Asians are kicking our technological butts?
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