Did NASA Validate an “Impossible” Space Drive? In a Word, No.

By Corey S. Powell | August 6, 2014 3:27 am

Physicist John Baez has another, more colorful word to describe the spate of recent reports about a breakthrough space engine that produces thrust without any propellant. The word starts with “bull–.” I won’t finish it, this being a family-friendly web site and all. Baez himself has softened his tone and now calls it “baloney,” though his sentiment remains the same: The laws of physics remain intact, and the “impossible” space drive is, as far as anyone can tell, actually impossible.

Yes, that would be cool, but we still have no idea how to do it. (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

Yes, that would be awesome, but we still have no idea how to do it. (Credit: Paramount Pictures)

The story begins several years back with a British inventor named Roger Shawyer and his EmDrive, a prototype rocket engine which he claimed generated thrust by bouncing microwaves around in an enclosed metal funnel. Since no mass or energy emerged from the engine, Shawyer’s claim was another way of saying that he’d found a way to violate the conservation of momentum. In Baez’s words, “this is about as plausible as powering a spaceship by having the crew push on it from the inside.” Shawyer argued that he was exploiting a loophole within general relativity. Baez calls his explanation “mumbo jumbo.”

Everything in science is open to questioning, of course, but nobody is going to throw out all the textbooks on the say-so of a single inventor trying to raise money for his company, SPR Ltd. Conservation of momentum is one of the most fundamental and thoroughly confirmed principles in physics. The EmDrive therefore got little notice outside of the “weird science” web sites. Last year, a Chinese group reported success with a similar device, prompting another blip of fringe coverage but little more.

Then Guido Fetta (a self-described “sales and marketing executive with more than 20 years of experience in the chemical, pharmaceutical and food ingredient industries”) built a third version of the EmDrive, renamed the Cannae Drive. Fetta convinced a sympathetic group of researchers at the Eagleworks Laboratories, part of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, to give it a test. The results were maybe, tentatively, a little bit encouraging. And that is when the nonexistent propellant really hit the fan.

A number of publications that should have known better threw caution to the wind. “Nasa validates ‘impossible’ space drive” was the headline in an online story by WiredUK. The author, David Hambling, declared that an engine like the EmDrive could “take astronauts to Mars in weeks rather than months,” and even managed to work in nationalistic hand-wringing about “another great British invention that someone else turned into a success.” Soon the madness crossed the pond; “Space Engine Breaks Laws of Physics,” declared Popular Mechanics. “EmDrive is an Engine That Breaks the Laws of Physics and Could Take Us to Mars,” summarized Mashable.

Put It to the Rocket-Science Test

Perhaps we should take a long cool drink at this point. Let’s start with the “NASA validates” part. NASA is a huge agency, with more than 18,000 employees. The testing was done by five NASA employees in a lab devoted to exploring unorthodox propulsion ideas. The team leader is a researcher named Harold “Sonny” White, himself a proponent of ideas about faster-than-light warp drives that most of his colleagues have classified as physically impossible. The lead author is one of White’s Eagleworks teammates, David A. Brady. Calling this group “NASA”—as almost every popular news story has done—is a gross oversimplification.

The EmDrive produces propulsion without propellant, according to its inventor. (Credit: SPR, Ltd)

The EmDrive produces propulsion without propellant, according to its inventor. (Credit: SPR, Ltd)

Still, science is science: What matters are data, not motivations or semantics. Did White et al actually validate Fetta’s version of the EmDrive? The abstract of their paper, which was presented at a propulsion conference in Cleveland, is freely available online. Reading it raises a number of red flags. The methodology description makes it unclear how much of the testing took place in a vacuum—essential for measuring a subtle thrust effect. The total amount of energy consumed seems to have been far more than the amount of measured thrust, meaning there was plenty of extra energy bouncing around that could have been a source of error.

Worst of all is this statement from the paper: “Thrust was observed on both test articles, even though one of the test articles was designed with the expectation that it would not produce thrust.” In other words, the Cannae Drive worked when it was set up correctly—but it worked just as well when it was intentionally disabled set up incorrectly. Somehow the NASA researchers report this as a validation, rather than invalidation, of the device.

Did I say that was worst of all? I may have  take that back. In the paper by White et al, they also write that the Cannae Drive “is producing a force that is not attributable to any classical electromagnetic phenomenon and therefore is potentially demonstrating an interaction with the quantum vacuum virtual plasma.” That last bit stopped me. What’s a quantum vacuum virtual plasma? I’d never heard the term, so I dropped a note to Sean Carroll, a Caltech physicist whose work dives deeply into speculative realms of cosmology and quantum theory.

Carroll wrote back immediately, with a pointed message: “There is no such thing as a ‘quantum vacuum virtual plasma,’ so that should be a tip-off right there. There is a quantum vacuum, but it is nothing like a plasma. In particular, it does not have a rest frame, so there is nothing to push against, so you can’t use it for propulsion. The whole thing is just nonsense. They claim to measure an incredibly tiny effect that could very easily be just noise.” There is no theory to support the result, and there is no verified result to begin with.

The Cost of Spaced-Out Dreams

It is possible that there is some way around conservation of momentum. It is possible that there is a way to tap into the quantum vacuum. Heck, it is even possible that there is a way to build a useful warp drive. Nobody claims that our current understanding of physics is complete, and the things we do not know could be vast. At the same time, the important point here is that the things we do know are also vast. Overthrowing centuries of well-established ideas about how the world works is not something to be done lightly—certainly not on the basis of a single paper that has yet to be vetted by any independent researchers (the “NASA validated” headlines notwithstanding).

That’s part of why this space-drive story bothers me so much. Abandoning known science when it feels good to do so is a dangerous proposition. As Carroll later tweeted, “The eagerness with which folks embrace sketchy claims about impossible space drives would make astrology fans blush.” I am personally a huge space enthusiast; I would love to see a new type of propulsion that would make it easier to explore the universe. But having your heart in the right place is no excuse to walk away from normal critical thinking. It is not materially different than the approach of people who reject science when they don’t like what it says about climate change, vaccines, or genetically modified organisms.

The other danger here is that glorifying dubious shortcuts like Cannae Drive takes away attention (and, potentially, political support and funding) from the real space-exploration advances. You know, the ones that result from the hard work of large teams, not the tinkering of lone inventors. When the results of the Cannae Drive prove impossible to validate (as will almost surely happen), it may produce an unjustified cynicism about how NASA has failed us once again. I’m not just speculating here. In a whiplash pivot, the same Popular Mechanics story that starts with the breathless headline ends with a sneer. The writer concludes, “But I’m still wondering, how much did it cost to run this test? During this era of tight budgets, is NASA wasting money on fringe science?”

Rosetta's Philae lander will touch down on comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko this fall--a real-world triumph. (Credit: ESA/ATG)

While Rosetta circles, the Philae lander will touch down on comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko this fall–a real-world triumph. (Credit: ESA/ATG)

That question is easy to answer, actually. Five researchers at Eagleworks Laboratories spent a total of 8 days testing the Cannae Drive, using mostly existing equipment. Assuming they each spent about half a day on the test, that is the salary equivalent of about $7,000, give or take. In the annals of government waste, $7,000 ranks as a footnote to a footnote to a footnote. I find it telling, then, that the issue of money is coming up at all. It is the crash that comes after inhaling the high of an up-with-people story in which sheer optimism can trump the laws of physics.

The reality is that space exploration is expensive, difficult, and time-consuming. Therein lies both its challenge and its glory. The Rosetta mission making a historic rendezvous with comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko this week was in development for two decades. The intrepid New Horizons mission, scheduled to soar past Pluto next July, is fulfilling a cancelled part of NASA’s Grand Tour, originally planed in 1972. It took tremendous determination and engineering prowess to make these missions happen. The people who did the hard work deserve our respect and our admiration, not our delusions that there is an easy way out.

Someday space travel may be simple and accessible to all. I certainly hope so. For now, though, we still live in the age of ad astra per aspera: through hardship, to the stars.

Follow me on Twitter: @coreyspowell

  • gopher652003

    Great article, thanks:). And you didn’t even mention that the effect measured by NASA was 1000 times less than that measured by the Chinese team. That kind of decrease almost always indicates that the original tests were screwy, and should be ignored.

    • Corey S. Powell

      That’s another important point, one that Baez makes as well. The designs of the three versions of the EmDrive are not identical, which leaves some wiggle room to argue that the design changes are responsible for the changes in measured thrust (which Shawyer does), but it certainly does add one more reason to be highly skeptical.

    • Andrew T. Armstrong

      The key word there is Chinese team. It’s no secret there pissed about being excluded from NASA, while Nigeria is allowed in NASA.

    • Rane

      The version tested by NASA is one “null drive”. Made just for proof of concept…

    • johnqp11

      The Chinese team used kilowatts instead of watts. When the input power is 1000 times less and other parameters were different too you should expect different results. That’s not screwy at all. Ignoring major differences is counter productive and feeds cranks and quacks. Sloppy skeptics do as much harm as the people they try to debunk.

    • king

      you just dont get it, chinese use device of 1kw of power, but NASA use device of 17w of power, and that’s why nasa has 1000 ttimes lower thrust.

  • David Hambling

    Glad you liked the Wired piece. I’m afraid you missed the point about the Null Drive, which was simply a modified version of the drive. When they used a simple resistive load, there was no thrust. I strongly suggest you read the full paper and check the background. Oh, and it’s Roger Shawyer, not Sawyer.

    • Corey S. Powell

      Thanks for the correction (I’ve changed in the text), and for your polite tone (a rarity these days, and very much appreciated).

      I understand that the “null” version is not a deactivated model of the Cannae Drive, but rather a modified model designed not to produce thrust. “Disabled” is the wrong word–I’ll change that, too–but my argument still stands. If the device was generating thrust in the way the inventor claimed, the modified version should not have produced a measurable effect; the fact that it did anyway should have been taken as another reason to doubt the measurement, the theory behind it, or both.

      And I’m deeply disturbed that the NASA team invoked completely new physics to explain what is, at best, a marginal measurement. It has unfortunate echoes of the new physics invoked to explain cold fusion and N-rays.

      • David Hambling

        Agreed the Null Drive wasn’t generating thrust the way the inventor (Guido Fetta) claimed – but as we appear to have three other different theories and it still produced thrust, it suggests that one of the others may be right.Equally they may all be wrong, but we still have anomalous thrust.
        Note that the tapered drive similar to Shawyer’s also produced thrust, which it shouldn’t according to Fetta, so Shawyer is 2-0 up in the Eagleworks stakes..
        And all three drives produced thrust in the other direction when rotated 180 degrees, which suggests genuine thrust rather than simple experimental error. Point taken about N-Rays (Dean Drive, etc etc), but I’d say this one has produced enough results in different places to look interesting, even if it really does look ‘impossible’.

        • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo

          funny to have educated people always mismatch between refutation of a theory and refutation of an experiment.

          this may finally be an artifact, but an artifact that remind accross 4 experiments.

          the null artifact argument is indeed a fallacy.

          the paper is out


          missing detail, but more test is planned.

          emergency is not to conclude

          • Corey S. Powell

            What I would like to see is a detailed, transparent accounting of possible sources of experimental error. That’s what the CERN team did with faster-than-light neutrinos, and that’s what the BICEP2 team did with the detection of B-mode oscillations in the cosmic microwave background. Such an accounting is essential for judging the credibility of the studies done so far. I would also want to see multiple confirmations by independent research teams. Then I would know exactly how seriously to take the EmDrive claims.

            So far I see measurements made mostly by interested parties, giving wildly different and inconsistent results, interpreted via a wide range of vaguely formulated theories–none of which fit within known physics. I maintain an open mind about the possibility of incredible new discoveries, but right now there is a painful mismatch between the scope of the claims and the quality of the evidence.

          • jwvanderbeck

            While I agree with this article 100%, I too think the issue of the “null” device is being misinterpreted. Now it may be ME doing the misinterpretation, but my understanding is that there were THREE devices. The actual device, one modified to not produce thrust *based on their understanding of how it worked*, and a third device which was just a dummy load. The first two devices supposedly generated thrust while the third did not.

            Now playing devil’s advocate here, there are two questions I submit. 1) Why did the dummy load NOT generate any force? and 2) How do we know that the “null device” was properly modified to not generate force? It could be that those modifications were not correct, or that the understanding of how this device works is incorrect.

            “A number of publications that should have known better threw caution to the wind.”

            Welcome to the era of Internet News – where getting the information out is more important than getting it right.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Is “imposable” a very clever pun or a typo? John Baez is a mathematician of vast depth, power, and reach. His family has been quite productive, STEM and a singer.

    NASA is the Veterans Administration of space agencies.

    There have been published valid papers on “swimmers” translating through the vacuum. Nothing is violated. If getting a few microns from here to there over the age of the universe without exhaust is your idea of a good time, go for it.

    • Corey S. Powell

      It was a typo, but I thank you for giving me the benefit of the doubt!

  • Chandrakant Kulkarni

    I remember a ‘game’ I used to ‘play’ in my childhood.
    On the occasion of any solar eclipse, we children gathered a big flat plate-like utensil ( we called it ‘Paraat’ :परात) and a wooden rice-pounding rod ( we called it ‘Musal’ :मुसळ. This rod is covered with a slightly convex metal shoe on its bottom.)
    Just before the onset of the eclipse, we filled Paraat with water and tried to hold Musal erect into it.
    The Musal obeyed the law of gravity and fell sideways TILL THE ONSET of eclipse.
    Strangely, it stood perfectly erect : without anybody’s hand-support at the moment of onset of eclipse. And we children danced round this whole thing excitedly!
    Still more strangely, the Musal used to collapse down naturally (again obeying law of gravity) at the moment of the end of eclipse!
    Well, I asked about this mysterious phenomenon to my Physics school teacher (that time) – but he could not explain.

    • http://lateral.netmanagers.com.ar Roberto Alsina

      Just how many solar eclipses did you witness “in your childhood”?

      I have seen perhaps 5 in 42 years. A quick google search, for example, shows that there will be 4 visible around here in the next 10 years (none of them total)

      I don’t doubt your physics teacher could not explain this. OTOH I don’t see why he should believe you, either. ¿Why did you decide to attempt this? ¿Why did you expect this to work during an eclipse and not at other moments? ¿Have you tried it at other oments at all? ¿Why is there no mention in the whole internet about anyone trying this except for this one? ¿Was it your own idea?

      • Chandrakant Kulkarni

        Thank you very much for your Comment, Sir.
        Well, I was certainly less than 10 years old when I played that Musal thing with many other children. ( I am running 69 now.)
        We were staying in a huge Wada (= a cheap housing complex for lower middle class people). There were many other Wadas too, in our neighborhood – and the same ‘game’ was played in many Wadas by children there. I distinctly remember 2 such ‘game’ occasions in my childhood.
        There was absolutely no reason, why we played it. Since many other children were participating in that game, I joined them : that’s all. Moreover, there was always a sort of ‘fearful’ & ‘tense’ atmosphere in our orthodox homes during an eclipse. ( So, the best way to escape that peculiar home environment was to play out with other children!)
        I certainly remember 2-3 partial solar eclipses – when I ‘saw’ the eclipse affected Sun through a glass on which soot from a candle flame was faintly deposited.

        • http://lateral.netmanagers.com.ar Roberto Alsina

          So you have a vague, 60 year old memory of something that is certainly influenced by your local superstitions (that “tense atmosphere in your orthodox home” during an eclipse).

          And of these thousands of kids who did or saw this, not one has left written testimony except you, here, 60 years later, in a comment in a blog.

          Sorry if I am not impressed and ready to consider it proof of violation of laws of nature, dude.

          • Chandrakant Kulkarni

            I remember, there was one ‘Photo Studio’ run by Mr. Date Photographer – in our lane. Once, Mr. Date had photographed this phenomenon with his ordinary Camera (Agfa Click or some camera like that). As his son was in my school, I could see that ‘black & white’ photograph of a Musal standing erect without any support in a Paraat filled with water.
            Mr. Date died many years back. His son ( of my age ) may be alive, still.
            I will do find the whereabouts of my school-mate Date. If I find him, I will request him to show all collection of photographs belonging to his father. If I am lucky enough to get that photograph, I will certainly mail it to you, Sir.

          • http://lateral.netmanagers.com.ar Roberto Alsina

            So you will mail me a picture of a stick standing up. Yeah, that disproves physics, all right.

          • Chandrakant Kulkarni

            Thanks for your Reply, Sir.
            Today, I met my Massage Client Mr. Dattatraya Prabhune at his home in Pune. He is running 71 now. Well, he had spent his childhood at Wai – a township about 120 Km away from my place (=Pune city ).
            I asked him: whether he had seen that ‘Musal standing erect in a water-filled Parat without any support [in Solar Eclipse Period] phenomenon’. Yes, he had also witnessed that ‘magic’ scene at Wai – at least 2-3 times, in his Wada there.
            His son ( Suyog Prabhune)’s mail ID is –
            colorcoatsAT THE RATE OFgmailDOTcom.
            Mr. Dattatraya Prabhune’s mobile phone number:
            (Well, Mr. Dattatraya Prabhune is a person more senior to me – who retired from a responsible post in Government Service. He is not a ‘dude’ like me, Sir!)
            Chandrakant Kulkarni.
            ( In the mean while, my “Search” for the photograph is ON!)

          • http://lateral.netmanagers.com.ar Roberto Alsina

            You really seem to be impervious to the comments you reply to. A picture of a stick standing on a plate means nothing. I can produce one right now. All I need is a plate and a stick, which I am sure I can find.

          • Chandrakant Kulkarni

            Thank you very much for your Reply, Sir.
            Well, a Musal (= a device for pounding Rice) is not just a stick, Sir. It is a sort of solid wooden shaft made from very hard & durable Teak Wood. It is roughly 3 inch diameter and 5 feet length, and weighs around 4-5 Kg. Moreover, it is fitted with a slightly convex brass / steel shoe at its bottom for facilitating pounding action. Due to this semi-rounded shoe, it is not possible to keep Musal erect (in water-filled Parat) WITHOUT any support- at any time except a Solar Eclipse.
            We children used to support Musal with our hands -(some time before Eclipse time), but it couldn’t stand anyhow. But at the moment of ‘onset’ of Eclipse [ we call this as ‘Vedh’ (वेध) of an Eclipse], it magically stood erect without any support! It stood there till the Eclipse was ‘on’ -and fell down, hitting ground at the moment the Eclipse was over![ =’Moksha’ (मोक्ष) of an Eclipse]
            Sir, you may please type ‘rice pounding wooden rod’ on Google and get many images of Musal. The Mizoram (an Indian State) version of Musal is ‘Suk’ and is bulkier than our Musal in Maharashtra..

          • http://lateral.netmanagers.com.ar Roberto Alsina

            So, a large stick.

          • Chandrakant Kulkarni

            Thank you, and yes, Sir.
            It’s more or less like a pole or a shaft made from solid Teak Wood.
            It may be weighing even more than 5 Kg.,depending on its girth and length.
            You may please find many Indian versions of Musal on Google Images for ‘rice pounding / husking wooden rod’.

          • http://lateral.netmanagers.com.ar Roberto Alsina

            So, you still don’t see why a picture of a (large) stick standing on a plate doesn’t mean anything, do you?

          • Chandrakant Kulkarni

            Thank you Sir, for your Reply.
            To me, that ‘Musal standing erect in a plate’ is a totally mysterious phenomenon.
            Well, if it were connected with the gravitational force among the Sun, Moon & Earth, it could have been ‘felt’ elsewhere : like slow / fast running of pendulum clocks – or birds disabled to fly properly etc….and the latest geophysical instruments could have ‘measured’ it with amazing accuracy.
            The above phenomenon was witnessed NOT ONLY BY ME IN MY ‘IGNORANT’ CHILDHOOD, but it had been seen / experienced by many other individuals (like Mr. Dattatraya Prabhune) at places different from my City.

    • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

      It’s amazing the amount of nonsense we propagate due to Jungian synchronicity, superstition, and lack of investigation, even to the point of war.

      Let us all believe in the impossible without any understanding. The way I see it, the electron and the proton are actually elementary particles of this magical universe. The fact that some people are even able to speak astounds me.

      • Chandrakant Kulkarni

        Thanks a lot for your Reply, Sir!
        Once, a school boy caught 2 insects, cut them, and joined their dead body parts together: to ‘create’ a strange insect.
        The boy showed that strange insect to Sir Issac Newton, and asked to identify it.
        Newton carefully observed it – knew the ‘craft-work’ of the boy – and asked smilingly to him: “Did this insect hum when you caught it?”
        “Yes” ..the boy said.
        “Then it’s humbug!” -Newton.
        Yes,we should be ready to believe in the impossible (-which itself seems to be impossible!).
        Well, everybody among us has his own & independent MIND with him / her from birth to death. Yet, we can never never understand our mind!
        I ask my friends just to try a ‘game':
        “Put some push-button like device below your hand, at your bedtime. You have just to push the button AT THE MOMENT you go to sleep.”
        ‘It’s impossible!’ – all my friends exclaim even without trying it.
        My ‘next’ story:
        Once, I was much tired, so retired to bed early.
        In my sleep I had a dream….’I am in a Palace with a huge bedroom…and I happily sleep there…have a dream. But I see a snake in that dream, and wake up! To my wonder, I find myself fast asleep on bed at my home! -though I am fully awake!’
        Thank you once again, Sir!

  • http://explainingindia.blogspot.in/ Sachi Mohanty

    Reminds me of how Sagan used to say how he would ‘love’ for extraterrestrials to exist and which is precisely why one had to be extra-skeptical about people’s claims about those UFO sightings.

    • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

      “We are afraid of earthlings, also you are looking for the wrong things. You should have imprisoned Higgs; joking. However, you will find your physics defined at CERN, once the public environment exceeds their knowledge, CERN.will have to concede they were wrong. Grab your pop-corn, it will happen soon.

      By the way, if light speed is unlimited and multi-directional, then you may see the universe is not expanding, maybe you can figure when the fire will start. We told you fire next time. Anyway, who rewrote my book?”

      That’s my take upon what an alien would say, if they were not so afraid of us. i.e. fear is universal for survival.

  • Jacob Smith

    I enjoy maverick science as much as the next guy (I’m a huge fan of the soliton model of signal propagation in nerves, for example) but even I am tempering my interest in this story until many more experiments have been done.

    Still I have a question about the “quantum vacuum virtual plasma”. The concept reminds me of the results mentioned in this recent Wired.com article: http://www.wired.com/2014/06/the-new-quantum-reality/

    It isn’t mentioned in the article, but reading it I couldn’t help but chuckle about this being experimental evidence for the existence of the “ether”, hehehe.

    • Corey S. Powell

      Agreed, that is a fascinating idea (and fascinating article) about the “pilot wave” interpretation of quantum mechanics. But note that the argument is about interpretation, not about new phenomena that contradict known physics. Even in the alternate interpretation, there is no fundamental rest frame of empty space–one of the defining attributes of the abandoned conception of the aether.

      • Jacob Smith

        I went back and re-read the Wired article about the pilot wave theory of quantum mechanics and it sure doesn’t seem like anybody involved sees this as simply a question of interpretation. It sort of appears that by saying that space and time behave “like a superfluid” they are implying that the universe is it’s own fundamental rest frame?

        Then again, as ignorant as I am, even I can sense how crazy and problematic that sounds.

        • alysdexia

          Learn how to spell its.

  • Diego Sagrera

    Great article! keep it up!

  • Chrochne

    I do not agree wit the way this article is written. With all due respect I feel arogance behind their words. I agree that there is a considerable hype around it, but I also do not agree with the arogance you hear and listen from the critics. There are few facts author of this text did not mention.

    First Mr. Shayer said that EmDrive do not violates the Newton law. I did not saw that in the text and that is quite important.

    Second. NASA people that tested it did not believe it as well and ordered additional independet test to prove or destroy the results of their paper. You did not mention that as well.

    Third. Author asked only the critics of the EmDrive and did not look on the other side (connected with the first point).

    Last – Do not be arogant. Question the reasearch – yes. Shatter their findings – great. But do not be arrogant, its pathetic.

    • Cliff

      Chrochne: The claim doesn’t make it so. The would-be theory behind this concept is completely at odds with established physics. To claim the opposite is to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the physics involved even at the most basic level. The negative assessment adopted by this article is the only scientifically appropriate one.

    • coreyspowell

      Raising questions about an exciting new claim is never a popular sport, but it is an essential part of scientific advance. Anyone who steps forward and says he has disproved all of physics has set a high bar for the supporting evidence.

      • Chrochne

        I do not question that it is difficult and I agree that we need to see the both side of it. I only wish for (and I stress wish) less insults among the people that should be the pinacle of the humanity.

        Thank you also fot the article. It definitely started a debate. I think we all are looking forward where it will go.

      • Scot-Kiwi

        Just point me to the place which says that they disprove all of physics? If anything this is proving Quantum theory, the rest is Newtonian.

    • doomedby2020

      Why don’t you explain to us all what a quantum vacuum virtual plasma is then?
      Anyone can write a paper, many can get it published, but this doesn’t make the science true, next you need to debate it.

      • Iikka Keränen

        The theory is that in vacuum, quantum fluctuations cause “virtual particles” to randomly pop in and out of existence. Their nature is that they “average out” to be empty space as far as anyone can tell. If (and this is a big if) you could interact with virtual particles before they vanish, you might be able to ionize them to form a plasma and use it as propellant mass.

        It’s a straightforward concept in the sense that such a device would push against the “virtual gas” the same way an ionocraft pushes against ambient air without violating conservation of momentum etc. But nobody has demonstrated this is possible. The Cannae drive test was not even performed in a vacuum, so they may have measured thrust created by airflow ionized by the electric fields. The “null test” producing the same thrust certainly makes it seem that the apparatus doesn’t do what it’s supposed to.

  • John Yaraee

    Thanks for the article, I think a healthy dose of skepticisms is essential and should be applied to any study or experiment including this one. It is interesting that sometime wishful thinking leads to overlooking simple facts. One test or example which doesn’t fit the model can negate the theory, but opposite is not true. By having two experiments showing positive results, it doesn’t mean that the system works. However, by showing that the so called “False or Disabled” version producing the same result or thrust, that clearly point the fact that the measurement is coming from a different source or it is just a noise or any other explanation rather than a thrust generated by the system. By comparison a mathematical equation cannot be proven by showing 10 correct examples. It can be proven wrong if there is an example which doesn’t fit the equation. Same principle applies in physics. I haven’t seen any explanation as why both the false
    version and the correct version produce thrust.

    • envy

      The “null” test was physically altered so that by their understanding of the device it should not produce thrust… but that’s not a control or placebo since they don’t know for a fact whether it theoretically should or shouldn’t produce thrust. Right now there are only (rather questionable) experimental results, and no sound theories for the basis of operation.

    • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

      However, your logic is only based upon provable statements. if one allows the excluded middle, partly true, then experiments may test each statement as being a member of a set of possibilities and within what domain are they true. ex. Newton true for earthly measures, Maxwell always true, Standard Model: if q is an element of e[0.1.-1 -1/3 2/3 ?]., i.e faulty axiomatic structure or true axiomatic structure, etc. Logic? Who needs logic?. Test? Please explain, no, don’t, I don’t want to know. So go ahead, see if anything will fly by trial an error. Just don’t fall too hard. Well, at least don’t fall upon me.

  • NCSteve

    There are obvious, profound problems with the science. Cool-headed articles calmly pointing out the obvious problems would in the long run, be a lot more useful and a lot more effective politically and educationally, than the overwrought emoting this flash-in-the-pan story seems to have provoked.

    Scientists are people and, to put it charitably, many of them are people whose social skills are somewhere to the left side of the bell curve. Derision and eye-rolling are very normal responses to claims one’s training and experience says are ridiculous. But the history of science is rife with anecdotal tales of profound advances being met with scorn, derision and insults–often by scientists whose positions or, more understandably, life’s work–were threatened by the advance. Those episodes may not be the norm. Indeed, I can think of many breakthroughs, even the ones that were paradigm-changing, that were met with applause and excitement (though those seem most often to occur when the science had hit a seeming dead-end).

    And when scientists come off as responding to extraordinary claims by scrappy outsiders working alone, against great odds, against a stultifying conventional wisdom with scorn and derision because they want to nip nonsense in the bud before it takes hold, it is counterproductive. That kind of thing triggers both the tendency to root for the underdog in the lay observer and the recollection of all those mythologized tales of revolutionary advances being met with thunderous denunciation and ridicule by those at the head of the discipline.

    And the other thing that doesn’t help is the doubts about a preliminary report of an extraordinary result by a “reputable” scientist, like the superluminal neutrino report, are expressed much more respectfully when the report comes from a perceived outsider. Natural, but unhelpful, guys.

    • jay_C

      Wish I could up-vote more than once!

      Not that I am drinking the Kool-Aid on these results, but it sure presented positive, repeated, (granted differing) results. Time will hopefully be *allowed to* tell. I for one will be keeping a thoroughly intrigued, yet skeptical eye on this.

    • Christopher Burgess

      Man, it violates conservation of momentum. If that does cause your soul to shreek in horror, you are no scientist. In fact, I would go so far as to say that you are no engineer either. If you scooped up 50 engineering students from a community college and told them that someone had broke the law of conservation of momentum they would every one laugh at you. It is that obviously flawed. I figured I would explain how important it is that you address existing research in any new discovery but I disrepair that anyone who doesn’t already understand that principal would listen. Science has certain tenets. There is a proper way to do things, a “method” if you will. If you violate that, your research is meaningless.

      • TikiTDO

        That has to be the saddest thing I have read. If something violates the conservation of momentum the first emotion it should evoke is “intrigued.” There’s the potential that one of the longest surviving physical concepts may not be as absolute as we thought. If you are a real scientist that is absolutely amazing. Obviously colored by skepticism, but still amazing.

        Also, if you’re a real scientist you’re going going to using statements like “obviously flawed” until there is actual evidence. At best you’d be working on an experiment to analyze the findings that seem to be happening, otherwise you’ll be waiting for someone more qualified to do it while reserving your own judgement.

        What you wouldn’t be doing is going on a forum and yelling about how people that are fascinated aren’t “real scientists” and how your understanding of the world is so much more accurate.

        • Christopher Burgess

          You read things into that post that were not there. There was no yelling, only incredulity. It sounds like you haven’t met a lot of scientists. Most I have known, if not all of them, would have reacted much more negatively, if less vocally, than I did. While any assertion is worth checking out, if I came to any of my instructors with a claim that I had circumvented ANY conservation law they would probably laugh and wonder where they went wrong :) In addition, I want to clear up that I am not a scientist yet, just a student.

          • jay_C

            Put the claim of “circumventing conservation laws” aside…

            The Law of Conservation of energy says this cant be happening, yet there it is….

            The experimental results show movement, where there should be none, and movement when the machine was “disabled”.

            Both should be HUGELY intruiging, and furthermore, worthy of study to any scientist.

            Nothing wrong with skepticism.

            Perhaps we just don’t have a theory yet to explain the mechanisms that were stumbled upon that are allowing the test machines to move.

            Both scientific law and theory can be shown to be wrong at some time if there are data to suggest so.

          • Pooua

            This experiment is not about the conservation of energy; it is about the conservation of momentum.

          • jay_C

            sorry. my bad. changed.

          • jay_C

            thoughts on the rest?

          • Pooua

            You should start your investigation with the most mundane and least extravagant possibilities and rule those out before getting into such esoteric possibilities as dark matter or quantum vacuum plasma.

          • jay_C

            I personally will not be doing any investigations. My suggestions are tongue and cheek, I even suggest perhaps it is all a hoax. Maybe it is, but so far nobody has shown that.

            The inventors are saying , Look, it works. We don’t know how exactly but it does. Simply look, kick the tires, look under the hood. Don’t mothball it because we all don’t understand it…yet. Agree? Disagree?

          • alysdexia

            in cheek

          • Christopher Burgess

            Unless I am mistaken…there is no such thing as quantum vacuum plasma. A plasma is a highly ionized gas with specific properties. What could quantum vacuum plasma even mean? Its like saying something as weird as airplane engine apples….. huh?

          • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo

            I would add that conservation of momentum is not challenged by EmDrive reality…
            They SEEMS to be challenged.

            as strongly as some challenge the experimenters, one should challenge those who interpret conservation of momentum.

            conservation of momentum is linked to a symmetry that is very hard to challenge, like relativity, like conservation of energy (linked to time translation invariance)…
            I really think CoM, CoE are not challenged, but that the lazy application we do can be challenged.

            see Schetman the quasi-scientists… quasicrystal were predicted since long, but those quasi-periodic solution were removed as uninteresting since long…

            anyway there can be surprises.
            I was really surprised when CP was broken…

            who on a forum would have bet that CP symmetry was broken ? not me.

            we should stay modest, and trust experiments, temporarily, especially after 4 replications.

          • Christopher Burgess

            I trust experimenters to a certain degree. As Feynman said, “[if have a theory and it] disagrees with experiment it is wrong”. I just think it is far more likely that there have been some mistakes made or that what people think they are observing is not what is actually transpiring. I think the author was criticizing the media more than the research. However, I am still not convinced that the research definitively showed anything compelling. On a side not, I am pretty sure CP-symmetry is not broken. P-symmetry (parity) was broken because it was incomplete. Conjugation symmetry was the missing piece of the puzzle. Conjugation symmetry + Parity symmetry = CP-symmetry. Then again, this is still a bit outside the scope of my experiences. I have never performed any experiments involving mirror inversion of chemical reactions or decay mechanisms. However, I look forward to learning about it in the future.

          • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo

            CP symmetry is broken by kaons.

            left and rightwing version don’t behave the same because of a mixing effect…


            not intuitive indeed, unless you see the explanation and it looks evident…

            the rabbit-duck of Kuhn.

            anyway rabbit or duck, you can cook it.

          • Christopher Burgess

            Show me something in quantum mechanics that is intuitive :) I haven’t delved that far into the standard model. Most particle and high energy physics is still above my paygrade. However, it is refreshing to read a post by someone who knows what they are talking about.

          • alysdexia

            Interactions are two-body; therefore one-body set-ups are indeterminate.

          • alysdexia

            learn verbs

            for long

            learn plurals

            ? is not a word.

          • JazzZyx

            Pedantry is the refuge of a weak mind.

          • alysdexia

            Weak minds can’t be pedantic.

          • alysdexia

            Wrong, theories are already proven. New effects posit new theories.

          • Enzo Canuzzi

            The first thing you would do, is to check your test (also through independent researchers) and to find another group which does an independet test. In no way you go into the big public in the way they had done.

          • NCSteve

            Yeah, that would be that “left hand side of the social skills bell curve” thing I was talking about.

          • Christopher Burgess

            I never said I could communicate with human beings in an intelligent or concise manner without being an a*hole :) Nobody is perfect :D I wasn’t trying to be a troll, though I clearly turned out to be one.

        • Emkay

          totally accurate understanding is the first premise of all pricks…educated or not..

      • NCSteve

        Okay, since you apparently failed to actually read (or possibly just comprehend) what I wrote, let me try again, in shorter form.

        I’m actually trying to explain that it’s one thing for scientists to get nasty and personal about a seemingly ridiculous result in their communications with other scientists, or, hell, for that matter to be that way in faculty meetings. However, when they undertake to explain to the lay public why a result is 99.999% certain to be wrong, being nasty and personal is counterproductive because it makes lay people more, rather than less, likely to believe the junk science may be real.

      • J.K. Wolf

        Did anyone read the full paper or just infer from the abstract? Serious question.

        • Christopher Burgess

          Ok, so I just read the full paper in depth. It is NOT a violation of Conservation of Momentum. I acknowledge I shouldn’t have taken the word of the blog’s author. He clearly didn’t fully understand what was happening in the experiment. This is a type of ion drive called a Q-thruster and it is well within the realm of plausibility. The tapered RF cavitation experiments were inconclusive but that just means they need to do more research. The only real problem I see with the experiments were that they were rushed. There was no enough trials and the controls were not fully evaluated. Bottom line is, the blog post to which we are all replying is horribly misleading. Having just ate crow, I have to say that I have learned a lesson here. ie Don’t assume trust someone else’s evaluation. Read the paper and make up your own mind.

      • alysdexia
      • Wall

        If something seems to violate conservation of momentum, the first thing i would think is that something interesting is going on. There is probably a simple explanation. It is a very simple design to recreate in a shop class. Make one, test it, then try to figure out what is really going on. It would make an interesting science project for an engineering or physics class. Laughing stuff off without even looking at it is not science.

      • rjxflat

        I would agree with you. But then those same students take the obligatory course work on relativity and quantum physics and , at least in my case. are forced to consider the possibility that sometimes ones first reactions are not correct.

        anyhow hows this, if you don’t know what dynamite is, and you throw a 1 kg stick of it traveling at 1 m/s per second it will impart a heck of a lot more than good old mv would have led you to expect.

        all that said i am glad it has been disproven. but all that talk of different frameworks and relativity had me intimidated into silence.

    • Girish

      Could’nt have said it better. Brilliant !

    • Scot-Kiwi

      Yes, even amongst Mathematicians eg Fourier, Heaviside were both laughed at for their work.

      • Christopher Burgess

        Heaviside was a very strange individual, to put it lightly. They laughed at Heaviside because of who he was, not because of his research. Don’t know much about the man Fourier. However, you have to admit that the idea of a Fourier transform sounds crazy :) It just happens to be amazingly useful.

    • ka9q

      Derision and eye-rolling are prefectly normal and reasonable responses to wild claims that violate well-established physical principles, are supported by no actual, valid, repeatable physical evidence, and further confuse a gullible, scientifically-illiterate public.

      “A good belly-laugh is worth 1,000 syllogisms.” — HL Mencken.

    • Vacant_Mountain

      I totally agree with you! Actually, now that we’re on that topic, I have this box in my house, no energy goes into it, and *yet* it makes a humming noise! For $50,000 you can have it and see what enormous progress you can do with it. Me, I’m no good at science you see.

    • donald scott

      Or as Kuhns puts it, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, new science takes hold when all the old scientists are dead.

  • Andrew T. Armstrong

    The thrust provided by these “impossible engines” is thrust on a much smaller scale than your typical rocket engine. NASA plainly stated in it’s article there engine was about a quarter of the weight of a iPhone sitting in the palm of your hand.

    I really do not know why there is all the confusion about this. Not that long ago a ION engine was considered a “impossible engine” yet ION engines are powering deep space probes as well as high and low earth orbit satellites.

    These engines, EmDrive and NASA’s Canne Drive still provide thrust, it is just not visible thrust, so if someone can’t see it, it must be a lie. For those who are truly lost in all the tech explanations, this microwave engine works on about the same principle as two magnets with there polar ends flipped so that they repel each other, just not with that much force, yet.

    Even once these engines are sorted out and made larger, the fact is they still will not have enough power to push a usable rocket from a launch pad. However, they would come into there own in the vacuum of space, just like the ION engines have.

    It is always funny to me, when someone comes up with a engine so advanced it immediately falls a foul of Einstein’s relativity or other published works. I would be interested in Stephen Hawkins take on this, as leaving the Earth was a dream in Einstein’s time.

    And of course you have all those scientist who told Christopher Columbus the world was flat…

    • coreyspowell

      The ion engine is a good example. Nobody ever said it was impossible according to the known laws of physics. Many people doubted that it was practically feasible, but nobody doubted it was possible. This is an entirely different kind of claim, and so requires an entirely different kind of proof. So far there is only one independent test of the EmDrive/Cannae Drive, and it gave a puzzling and marginal result. Maybe there is a real effect at work, but for now there is not nearly enough evidence to say that.

      There is no working engine in existence that falls afoul of relativity. If there were, we’d need a new theory to replace relativity, which would be an exciting thing indeed.

      And it is important to remember that no scientist told Columbus the world was flat, because no scientist (or anyone whom we’d call a “scientist” in modern terminology) of the past 2,000 years believed that. Scientists of the time *did* tell Columbus that they thought his estimate of the diameter of the Earth was incorrect. They were right and he was wrong–he was just lucky that he reached the New World before he ran out of supplies.

      • alysdexia

        But Snell’s and Maxwell’s laws (with Chèrèncov and Scharnhorst effects) override relativity in that celerity may vary by medium.

    • alysdexia

      I do not know why you cannot spell its or their or afoul or Hawking’s or scientists and think ion is three words.

  • mtnfreebird

    Corey S. Powell, how do you think I got here?
    After confiscating my ship, their reverse engineering didn’t go so well; it radiated Area 51 so badly, they had to move it to Utah.
    Not knowing what you’re doing when messing with microwaves will grow digits in the most unconfortable places.
    When your government does figure it out, they will not know how to avoid all the space debris or rocks in space. At light speed plus, a pebble can be disastrous, much less a mile wide hunk of titanium floating around.

    Yup, Bruno, Leonardo and Tesla were all crazy; or were they?

    • John Yaraee

      May I suggest that there is the other side of the coin!
      Cold Fusion, Creating Stem cell by Acid and so forth…

  • Guest

    One way to test the result is to scale up the engine. As it
    stand it has been claimed that they’ve produced about 30-50 micro-Newton, enough
    to hold a feather. At this level there may be many different sources of noise or
    forces, I don’t know if they’ve accounted for all of them or have created an environment
    to control them. If they scale up the experiment to the size of very small 5-inch
    rocket, it is easier to measure the thrust as noise and other variables won’t
    scale up. I read that Chinese researcher has produced a result 1000 times
    stronger, by that I infer they’ve got 30- 50 milliNewton of thrust, which is
    enough to lift a very small object. I haven’t seen any demonstration of that or
    even a published paper demonstrating this level of thrust.

  • John Yaraee

    One way to test the result is to scale up the engine. As it stand it has been claimed that they’ve produced about 30-50 micro-Newton, enough to hold a feather. At this level there may be many different sources of noise or forces, I don’t know if they’ve accounted for all of them or have created an environment to control them. If they scale up the experiment to the size of very small 5-inch rocket, it is easier to measure the thrust as noise and other varies effect won’t scale up. I read that Chinese researcher has produced a result 1000 times stronger, by that I infer they’ve got 30- 50 milliNewton of thrust, which is enough to lift a very small object. I haven’t seen any demonstration of that or even a published paper demonstrating this level of thrust.

  • Scot-Kiwi

    Great how people can be experts from the comfort of their home without doing the experiments themselves! They just ‘know’ it’s wrong! I can do that!

    • John Yaraee

      and you know it is right from the comfort of home because you like it to be true?
      it is likely wrong because it violates one of the fundamental law’s of physics. it is possible (because one should keep an open mind) but very improbable.

    • coreyspowell

      The Cannae Drive claim contradicts literally millions of experiments done by thousands of researchers over centuries of work. If you spend a lifetime studying those experiments, and performing many of them yourself, then yes, I think you have the authority to cast doubt on someone making a contradictory claim with meager evidence.

      • Scot-Kiwi

        That’s nonsense. I am willing to bet that nobody has ever done experiments down at this micro-level of force ever before. We all know F=ma, this is not what it’s about, completely misses the point. Plus it’s not disproving F=ma, it’s only saying that particles come into existence and then vanish – quantum style. Something we know already.

        • coreyspowell

          A big problem here is that the proponents of the EmDrive/Cannae Drive (including the team at JSC) are using vague, hand-waving language to explain their extravagant claims.

          It’s easy to say that the device is exploiting some kind of loophole in quantum physics or relativity, or that it’s based on the established idea that virtual particles come into existence and then vanish. The point made by Baez and Carroll (and every other physicist I’ve heard from who does not have something at stake in this device) is that all of these ideas are poorly defined, and to the extent that they *are* defined they contradict all of the established studies of quantum physics and relativity.

          You see how slippery this gets. The experiment doesn’t violate conservation of momentum because it relies on a new interpretation of relativity. Or if that doesn’t work, maybe it relies on a new interpretation of quantum physics. Or if that doesn’t work, maybe the conservation of momentum isn’t right after all.

          Same thing with the measurements. Two versions of the drive give totally different thrust values because of some vague explanation of the differences in design. The null version worked because the JSC researchers measured a different effect than the one they thought they were measuring. And so on: There is a lot of vague ways to explanation away the inconsistencies.

          For a claim this radical, the right way to proceed is with complete transparency: An open accounting of all possible sources of error, followed by multiple independent verifications. Show me that, and then I (and researchers like Carroll and Baez) will take the EmDrive seriously.

          • Scot-Kiwi

            Well this is the second attempt I am led to believe. I am sure others will follow.

  • Ali Khbr

    Well.. That was a good
    indication and reduces my confusion about what we are doing in
    community of science around the world. Thanks.

  • Stanley Bonds

    Baez, is absolutely correct. This is publicity seeking by the foolish. Micro-waves do not produce propulsion. They do produce heat related phenomanon. The laws of physics are still correct, except in the world of nano-science.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Robert-Johnson/100001570464018 BobJohns

    Multiple resonant waves can be also promising. http://youtu.be/6zh9abFF3ZE

  • Keith Campbell

    What we don’t know is so much more vast than what we do know. How do we know this? From experience … looking back over human history we can see that at ANY point in the past, the current generation was, in fact, hopelessly ignorant. As science, this evidence strongly suggests that at the present, we will discover at a future date that we are now hopelessly ignorant. The only constant over time is the arrogance of the current generation.

    • Stephen Dedalus

      I’ve read this post three times, and I still don’t see the relevance to the article.

      Previous generations can’t have been hopelessly ignorant since we are here now with their accumulated knowledge. So what if they didn’t know about stars? Not knowing that the sun was the center of the solar system certainly didn’t affect Homer or Dante, neither of whom was ‘hopelessly ignorant’. Past generations built vibrant cultures and lasting works of art, pulling their way to an understanding of how Nature works.

      • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

        You make a valid point, it is not the previous generations, it is the modern generation, i.e, theory without a logical proof is simply fantasy. Everything has been logically shown up to modern physics. Where we make statements without proof and seek to prove the statements with the same idea. Gee, you can always find a mode! So who are ignorant?

  • Pooua

    My guess is the thrust is due to heating effects, either heating the atmosphere inside the vacuum chamber (which operated at ambient pressure, not in a vacuum) or due to boiling off particles from the surface.

    • Chrochne

      Just a note – EmDrive is sealed unit. There is vacuum inside of it if I understand it correctly. Of course the test in vacuum chamber is essential. I believe that NASA guys bit underestimated this test and tought that it would not work. That is, why I believe they did not have a proper equipment for it. You can also observe it on how they wrote the papper. They are clearly supprised.

    • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

      If no propulsion, why would you think that? Any energy source, why not cosmic rays turning and EM field, i.e. a motor, that allows the ship to pivot about any point on its boundary, using an impulse that saturates how fast the counter punch can respond before the ship has completed its pivot about a point upon its surface. So it rolls through space, increasing speed with each pulse and increasing the energy of relative cosmic rays. The wheel, re-invented not using mass is the key.

      Now you have an idea for a ship in the shape of a sphere. a cylinder or a saucer for the teenagers with no propellants..If we are smart we will contain portions of the ship at 1 G. pretty cool, huh?

      • Pooua

        I’m trying to understand what you are talking about, but it is difficult for me. No, there is no propellant in the experiment. There is a measured force or thrust, due to some unknown cause, most likely an error in the experimental setup. I suggested one possible error that could account for the results observed.

        Using cosmic rays to move any kind of ship would take many centuries to get it out of orbit.

  • Tobi Houfek

    I would like to add…


    In his own words:
    “What the EmDrive does is produce a force, which we call the thrust in one direction … and as with all machines that follow newtons principles, it will therefore accelerate in the other direction”

    “This is not a reaction less thruster …, but its propellant less thruster”

    Conservation of Momentum is therefore not violated, and everyone who writes that, and I haven’t read anything else, has not even done the admittingly weird personality of Roger J. Shawyer, the simple courtesy of watching the first 40 seconds of his latest presentation from August 2014.


    • Chrochne

      Thank you for sharing this.

  • Robert Thompson

    why did it take this long for a voice of reason to arise. this is a scifi entitlement madhouse.

    • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

      Well, actually, we are making progress, some are using real empirical evidence and some only imagination. Just that we should keep our eyes upon the interpretation of empirical evidence of the imagined.

  • http://www.kacweb.com/writing.html Kenny Chaffin


  • Barzia Tehrani

    Nasa scientists do all kind of study, write up what they think it is happening and pass it around. That just mean nothing because many of such ideas and so called findings turns out to not pass the validation when other eyes looking at the results.

    There is a reason for the work “Peer Review” is the Peer Reviewed scientific journals. New media loved the result and jump on it before it passed the Peer Review that is the essential part of any scientific paper to even be considered. That is a huge mistake and dangerous. We want scientists to freely express opinion, but if it get viral in the news as this story gor before validated, they may choose not to do so and play conservative, which is not good for community.

  • Andreas Velten

    I agree that extreme caution is good in this case. But ridicule of the idea may be more damaging than over-enthusiasm. Some of this article looks strikingly similar to this piece of history:


  • Nixter

    What a strange reaction to such a discovery even if not fully proven the results are far from ambiguous and should be investigated further, not ignored. If it seems too good to be true it probably is and I agree, but the key word is probable, not definite, there’s plenty of space to be curious to explore and perhaps discover something new, close mindedness is not good for science or the populace of the earth. We are living in modern times and we should be expecting these types of breakthroughs and facilitating them not mocking them.

  • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

    possible if control over rotary momentum into linear momentum, so why not? Impulse drive?

  • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

    re-invent the wheel!

  • KLRajpal

    Quantum Physics
    Electron Spin http://vixra.org/pdf/1306.0141v3.pdf
    Linear Polarization http://vixra.org/pdf/1303.0174v5.pdf

  • Carlos Bravo

    Proponents of the standard model are starting to sound like religious freaks, any contradictory idea or experiment is met with violent denial and mocking accusations.

    • coreyspowell

      The intense responses from Drs. Baez and Carroll are in part a reaction to the media hype. They find it understandably upsetting to see numerous mainstream publications presenting a marginal measurement as proof that the laws of physics have been overthrown. What they are saying is that an extraordinary claim like this (the EmDrive) needs to produce extraordinary evidence. Calling Drs. Baez and Carroll “religious freaks” for insisting on traditional standards of logic and proof is both misleading and disrespectful.

      • jay_C

        “They find it understandably upsetting to see numerous mainstream publications presenting a marginal measurement as proof that the laws of physics have been overthrown.”

        Agreed, And the inventor of the emdrive never made those claims. I hope Baez and Carroll can equally blame the media for putting words in Shawyer’s mouth and review his work on the merits. To me, this merits more research.

  • Chrochne

    Guys. Mr Shawyer Theory paper link – http://www.emdrive.com/theorypaper9-4.pdf

    I do not see any evidence that it brakes the Newton laws. He only says that it probably (I say this because we need additional tests done by independet laboratories) work with the radiation pressure at microwave frequencies.

    If I understand it correctly and give me hand if I do not. He says basicaly that it works on the atom based level. The atoms are a “mass” in my book even if tiny one.

    Still I must say I like this debate, even if it really is sometimes reaches insulting levels on both sides.

    • coreyspowell

      Thank you for providing this link; I should have included it in the original article. As I briefly noted, Shawyer explains his result on a novel interpretation of relativity, but the net effect is that he is still claiming a way to generate forward momentum without generating any momentum in the opposite direction. That contradicts the conservation of momentum and, in essence, goes against Newton’s third law. The third law & conservation of momentum are not exactly the same thing, though, which is why I didn’t include Newton in my article.

      • Chrochne

        Understood. I think even NASA guys that tested it said that he was wrong in his theory. I really can not wait till we see additional results from more laboratories.
        Of course this also make it more confusing, because that drive seems to work and I do not think that NASA guys would just release it to make a sensation (if yes, thats terrible) I am looking forward for the explenation of this phenomena and I hope NASA invites additional people that will help them to explain it.

        • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

          Einstein was senile, he used only lambda-nu and forgot all about the wave vector. His obsession would be better without the universal constant referring to the wave-front , and applying it to a description of charge. However, he also misinterpreted “mass.”

        • alysdexia


    • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

      newton stands, but the universal applicability is questionable, i.e. the property mass.

  • Chris Prophet

    So, in a nutshell, this article argues that science should only investigate the known and studiously ignore anything which falls outside the standard model…shame!

    • cre8iveman@aol.com

      False, the article argued the opposite, but found the claims unjustified based on lack of evidence and the falsification doctrine.

      • jay_C

        You don’t believe your lying eyes? The inventors never claimed this falsified any theory or law, their only claims is that it works. They fully admit they don’t know how exactly. They have some ideas, but no official theories.

        • coreyspowell

          The inventors presented results that seem to defy known physics, and offered a variety of explanations for the results, all of which also defy known physics. That’s the whole reason for the excitement and for the controversy.

          • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

            Don’t worry the theories defy known physics. We have just begn to define what we know. So there is no known physics, YET!

          • coreyspowell

            I’m all in favor of intellectual humility, but professing utter ignorance is going overboard. You are reading this article on a computer (or other electronic device) that is based on a profound understanding of the basic laws of physics!

          • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

            Oh, the universe is expanding and Newton is wrong? Or charge is an element of [1,2/3,0,-1/3, ??] and we cannot travel faster than light? yea, we got that right! Not!

      • Chris Prophet

        Did you know the guy who thought of the laser explained his idea to two top quantum physicists who both told him quantum doesn’t work like that. Luckily he decided to stuff the so called experts and built the laser anyway. Think we would live in a technologically impoverished world if we didn’t test the limits of what is known.

        • cre8iveman@aol.com

          Perhaps you need to read this article again. The concept couldn’t be verified. It doesn’t matter what previous scientists say, it only matters what the results of an experiment says. And in this case, the concept is shown to be bogus. That’s how science works.

        • cre8iveman@aol.com

          But he demonstrated the practicality of the laser, proving its validity. This concept of a space drive using vacuum energy has been debunked.

  • doomedby2020

    You could just as easily write this article to express the validity of the science linking man to global warming.
    This is the legacy for science left behind by the AGW fraudsters…as predicted by skeptics 20 years ago.

    • coreyspowell

      If everything we knew about global warming were based on a single test of one climate-measuring device created by a private inventor, backed by a variety of self-contradictory theories that defied known physics…then yes, you would be justified in being equally skeptical.

      • doomedby2020

        Exactly, the enormous complexities of the science involved, makes it possible to pull off such a scandal by a very openly biased group.
        I wish the peer review process worked as well in climate change as it is doing with this specific subject….

        • coreyspowell

          I do believe you have missed my point.

          • doomedby2020

            Actually, you missed mine, which wasn’t directed specifically at you fyi.

  • David

    The side effects of free news are over sensationalized head lines.


    Nothing Is Impossible Until It Has Been Proven So, Or You Give Up Trying.
    If you know your History you will know that Once Upon A Time it was Believed The World Was FLAT: It was eventually Proven that it Isn’t. They also said that Man Would Never Fly: He DID.
    When John F. Kennedy said Man Would Walk On The Moon, many people Laughed at him. Although he never lived to see the day, Neil Armstrong Did It in 1969; and others followed.
    They said that Man Would Not Achieve The Goal of Landing On Mars. We Did … Just Ask NASA.

    Although I personally find hard to comprehend, I truly believe that Some Day, although it may be 100’s or even 1,000’s of years away, it is quite possible, that the Dream of Producing a Method of Propelling a Spacecraft Without The Use Of Fuel, WILL Quite Possibly Happen.
    You just have to consider the Microwave Oven. It Cooks Food WITHOUT The Use Of Physical FUEL. The Food Is Cooked By The Force Friction: The Molecules of The Food are Rubbed Together to Cause Heat and that in turn Heats The Food (just like when you Rub Your Hands Together and the Get Warm, and if you Rub Too Fast and Too Hard for Too Long, Your Skin Will Blister and Break).
    Another example of the Possibility of Why It Could Be Achieve is when you Shake a Bottle of Fizzy Drink or Sparkling Wine Vigorously, and Remove The Cap, The Drink Pressure Will Force The Drink to be Expelled at High Speed. And in the situation of a Bottle of Sparkling Wine, or a Bottle of Champagne, as soon as you release wire retainer that is holding the Cork/Stopper in the Bottle, the Force created by the Internal Pressure that has been created, will Force The Cork/Stopper to Shoot Out Rapidly.
    Now consider this ….. Taking the example/s in the above paragraph, but instead of holding the Bottle in your hand, and allowing the Internally Created Pressure to Force The Cork/Stopper to be Expelled, you Shake The Bottle Vigorously and place it on a Flat Surface, or hold it gently in your hand, with the Top Facing On a Downward Angle, and Release The Cork/Stopper, the Pressure would Create A Kind of Jet Like Stream which would Force The Bottle Along The Flat Surface, or Out Of Your Hand (albeit possibly only a short distance). Now if you do the same in a Swimming Pool or a Large Body of Water, the Pressure would Force The Bottle to move through the Water At Speed: But this time it should move Faster because of The Difference In Pressure, because the bottle would (in theory) Be Lighter In Weight, (and it would keep moving towards the Surface, until it Slowed Enough to Begin Taking In Water, just like when you Hold a Bottle Down in The Water and Release It So That It Floats To The Surface).
    Have you ever considered what would happen if you used a Fire Extinguisher in a Vacuum Chamber? ….. Just Watch The Movie ‘GALAXY’ !!! ….. Yes! Maybe Dramatic Licence was Utilised in some parts of that Movie, but just ask an Astronaut what would happen in Reality.
    So, when you take into account what I have explained above, it’s not really that much different to The Theory in This Article. Just take My Bottle Examples and instead of Doing The Experiment In The Open Air On Earth, Do It In a Vacuum Chamber (a VERY LARGE Vacuum Chamber), or In Space: The Bottle Would Keep Moving until, in the Vacuum Chamber It Hit The Wall … or in the case of Space, It Would Keep Moving Forever.
    Now, if you have a Vessel that has a means of Creating This Internal Pressure on an Ongoing Basis, and if it was able to Increase The Pressure as it travelled, The Vessel Would Move Indefinitely and Continue to Increase Velocity, until a Reverse Thrust was Created to Slow and Stop It.
    So Yes! ……. Believe It Or Not … It IS (although maybe only theoretically) Possible to Create It.

  • Evan Hocking

    The Chinese have some proof of concept, the UK has some proof of concept, and now a small team with NASA claims some proof of concept. I’m still skeptical, as we all should be, but to discount it at this point with such strong vocabulary is quite silly in my opinion.

    I personally will eagerly await further tests, and you can count me as a tax payer that supports this research even if it fails. As the attention this experiment has brought is priceless to our space program.

    • coreyspowell

      Some helpful historical perspective on how easily such radical “discoveries” can fall apart. It is extremely easy for people to get swept away with enthusiasm and unwittingly produce evidence–even convincing evidence–for wild results that they want to be true.


      • Evan Hocking

        I’m quite aware that this could (and probably will) fall flat on its’ face, and have no predisposition that this backed by foolproof experiments. It only brings up more questions. Where is this “trust” coming from? Why did both the actual device and the null device produce trust?

        You’re letting the media dry hump on this experiment cloud what’s more important. The questions it left us. Call it bad science or whatever you’d like, but something is happening, why not find out what, even if it’s a bust?

        I refuse to just jump on the bad science bandwagon just because it’s an incomplete answer, and begs more questions. That just makes it more exciting.

        On a side note, comparing this experiment to the N-Ray failure of yesteryear is a fallacy. Thus not a logical argument for evidence of bad science.

        • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

          each person has a perspective of reality, such is the case in science. This case may be the grown work upon the measurements of “space” itself, why not?

          • Evan Hocking

            I really don’t know, all I know is there’s questions this experiment raised for both camps. That’s exciting. I do however see the failures of both in claiming it’s proof of concept, and the other claiming it’s bad science.

            I for one think the route of – let’s study it further, is the more rational position. Otherwise we’re left with assumptions of what is or isn’t going on, and that’s unsatisfying.

  • Asteroid Initiatives

    Here is the full paper, which is a much more careful job.



    – the “null thruster” is something of a red herring – they have a true “null load,” which shows no thrust, the “null thruster” was a mod of a Cannae drive and, at any rate, they tested several types of drives.

    – they did pretty much all of the things you would like to see (such as reversing the direction and making sure the thrust reverses).

    – they seem to have done a thoughtful and careful job, including testing in vacuum.

    So, I still think they are likely wrong, but this ups the ante. In my opinion, you can’t just say “this is obviously wrong.” I bet there will be a bunch of attempts to replicate it in labs all over the place – let’s see what comes of that.

  • Kelvin Green

    “You know, the ones that result from the hard work of large teams, not the tinkering of lone inventors.”

    I know what you’re trying to say here, but the wording is a little harsh, isn’t it? Plenty of breakthroughs and discoveries have been made by lone inventors.

    • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

      Scientist should ignore emotion and instead concentrate upon the truth value of any response. Emotion can distort thinking, objectivity is best. it does not really should not matter upon the receiver of truth as to its source.

  • Erana

    In this age we’re all used to click-bait headlines, and there’s no room to genuinely get so upset about them, as no one takes them seriously anyhow. The study does not seem like ‘junk science’, sure the conclusion they draw are a bit silly, but the device they built seems to be enough of a mystery to warrant further study. Whetting people’s interest in resolving the mystery by suggesting “breaking of fundamental physical laws” is ok by me, even if I don’t buy it for a second. Regardless of whether the device can actually function in space, it may help us find some interesting new physics.

    • A Default

      So regardless of whether or not it is entirely smoke and mirrors it might help us find new physics? Perhaps next you’ll announce that regardless of whether or not some snake oil actually works it might help us discover new medicines?

      Bad science is bad science. It is only helpful in the sense that if we learn to recognize what bad science is we can avoid being suckered by the next charlatan that shows up.

      • alysdexia

        whether or not ~ if I don’t say so myself.

  • Relativityboy

    Such a strong minded piece against results that have been carefully verified and where there are several independent experiments that have already shown devices based on this principle producing a measurable force suggests a rather reactionary viewpoint.

    You’re ripping some experimenters a new exhaust port why? Why does space have to cost a lot again? Is that one of the things we have in our ‘vast’ human knowledge.

    I get the impression you’re nothing more than a paid troll.

    • A Default

      What “principle” would that be and what experiments demonstrated a measurable force that was above the noise floor AND wasn’t similar to the measurable force seen in a dummy device?

      Science requires replication, none is apparent here, a sound theory and none is present here.

      What you have here is really nothing more than yet another perpetual motion machine, of which history has produced thousands and exactly zero have been shown to be anything but either outright fraud or erroneous testing at work.

      • jay_C

        Did the devices move? If so, how? If not please call Webster’s to redefine the definition of move.

        • A Default

          Did the same device without the features that are supposed to make it work also move, just as much?

          Did they provide 28W of input power to the device and generate movement? If so, congratulations on making something move if you provide input power.

          Now if they can just figure out why it worked just as well if not better without the feature that is supposed to provide the thrust.

          • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo

            in fact the null device is just refuting fetta’s theory, not EmDrive&variant reality.

            in the paper a variation of the reactor, removing the dielectric, don’t work.
            the blank test does not work either (an artifact is identified mesured and corrected, bellow the signal anyway)

            the dynamic response to microwave power and resonance is amazing.

            so to challenge that result, some work, some evidence is required.

            about theory, ther are 4 theory, and theory have never been more than a hint or an impediment in experimental matters.

            I perceive also a tea kettle argument, the desperate fallacy, when one cannot challenge a scientific result, claiming that it cannot be real because it is not yet usable and industrial and commercial and one my kitchen table.

            Nothing personal, those fallacy like call to theory, mix between refutation of theory and experiments, mix between breaking a fundamental law and breaking the usual interpretation, tea kettle fallacy, like, like also the call to consequence, the biased comparison with scientific error forgetting more frequent theoretical tragedy (Semmelweiss, quasiscientists, HTSC, semiconductors), call for total reproducibility at early stage instead of simple replications, are mainstream and even supported in public without shame…

            most don’t even understand that applying those fallacies to pas discovery would have (and often have) delayed discovery of half a century or more.

            as if making a mistake was more dangerous than preventing a discovery… funny.

          • jay_C

            “Did the same device without the features that are supposed to make it work also move, just as much?”

            The degrees to which they moved varied, which is interesting, and worth studying… But more importantly, why do any of them move?

            “Did they provide 28W of input power to the device and generate movement? If so, congratulations on making something move if you provide input power.”

            Nobody said this was a zero point energy machine. Of course it needs power to create microwaves.. The point is that it moved by only generating microwaves in the particular ways they set up the machines.

            “Now if they can just figure out why it worked just as well if not better without the feature that is supposed to provide the thrust.”

            Agreed, that is one thing. The other is why any of them, regardless of setup works at all.

      • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo

        this is teh 4th replication,

        and NO theory is not required. that is even hindering science when don too early.

        there are 4 theory it seems if you read latest wired article based on the full paper


        this result is intriguing, quite replicated with setup enough different, and enough cross checked to ruleout all proposed artifacts , so some respect for experimental science is required.

        some love to treat the experimenters as incomptent, I also often see people like Linus Pauling on quasiscientists, who get challenged by their oversimplification of the theory.

        both error are possible, not even considering an improbable violation of an evident symmetry of physics laws… as evident as the CP symmetry (which is indeed broken).

      • alysdexia

        Wrong: Howard Johnson, Markus Büttiker, Reidar Finsrud, Roderich W. Graeff.

  • Jennifer Fiche

    “Animals, which move, have limbs and muscles. The earth does
    not have limbs and muscles; therefore it does not move.”

    “The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd
    to go on seeking it…
    Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever
    be associated in the consciousness of the patient.”

    “This `telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously
    considered as a practical form of communication. The device is
    inherently of no value to us.”

    “What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of
    locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?”

    “Glorifying dubious shortcuts like Cannae Drive takes away attention
    (and, potentially, political support and funding) from the real
    space-exploration advances.”

    • davidbyrden

      You post a list of wrong quotes, and you include the author’s quote among them. Are we supposed to conclude that he is wrong, just because other people have been wrong?

      I could post a list of CORRECT quotes, and include the author’s quote among them. Heck, I could post a list of murderous dictators’ names, and include your name among them!

      Your argument, “this thing looks vaguely like those things”, seems to be illogical and open to abuse. Can you explain it please?

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5OWRRJh-PI&list=FLYJP3MjZQ-BJugrvyegfQ7Q&index=1&feature=plpp_video Alberto Knox

        It seems more that her argument is “Be sure you have all the data before making blanket statements.”

        I a confident in stating today that “Solar F***ing Roadways” is bunk. This microwave gizmos, however, dexerves a closer look if for no other reason that to understand how they got it wrong.

    • David_Evans

      “They laughed at Galileo. They laughed at Newton. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

      Carl Sagan

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B5OWRRJh-PI&list=FLYJP3MjZQ-BJugrvyegfQ7Q&index=1&feature=plpp_video Alberto Knox

    This device is a long shot at best, but who can claim to know all there is to know and seriously call themselves a scientist or engineer? Yes, this sounds a little quirky (er, impossible), but the full paper is out now and I will reserve judgment until I’ve read and studied it. I won’t call it fake or mistaken until that’s proven in a lab, just like cold fusion was.

    On the other hand, I was taught about geosynclines forming mountain ranges long after “the kids” were all abuzz about tectonics. Truth doesn’t care what we think. It doesn’t care about our model. Truth lives in the data. To date those with data say there is an anomalous force. Others will see it if it exists.

    And I’ll resist buying this stock until then.

    • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

      First, you must understand, until one see’s exactly what is there and make the correct inference from the data. One must first explore the carpet before one understands the pattern.

      • Guest

        I agree with the last bit but you can’t “understand” until you have verifiable repeatable data.We have to describe WHAT we are seeing before we can say WHY we are seeing it.

  • raresaturn

    All this hand-wringing is getting tiresome. When will we just admit that we don’t know everything about physics yet? This drive has been validated by five separate teams, all with positive results

  • David Cornett

    What space exploration and NASA need are big ideas. There is a reason that public support and funding for NASA are at a low: lack of ambition. I find it heartening that they do allocate some of their budget to what the author describes as “fringe science.” Every major scientific advancement started out as “fringe science.” Powered flight, relativistic physics, etc.

    This Cannae drive may turn out to be valid, or it may not. Time will tell. But this author seems to want it to fail, as it didn’t come from “big teams” that are well-funded. The author disparages the work of the lone inventor. It’s sad that the author can’t separate out valuable skepticism from his anti-disruption bias.

    • coreyspowell

      I have a long, long record of supporting boundary-pushing science, specifically including the fringe-science research programs at NASA. The amount of money devoted to these programs is small (as I note in my article), and the fringe is exactly where new discoveries are likely to be made.

      What I am opposed to is bad science, and bad science reporting; this story has a strong whiff of both, especially the latter. Excessive claims, insufficient openness, and wild hype are not helpful in exploring new ideas. Disruptive ideas need to be approached honestly and transparently, because it is very easy to fool yourself when you are seeking novel results on the scientific fringe. Most experiments that produce non-physical results are due to experimental error. Most inventions that claim to defy known physics prove to be the result of error or (in a few cases) intentional deception.

      I would love the EmDrive to be real–and that is exactly the danger. There are many people who would love it to be real, and they are letting emotion cloud their thinking. I made the point about the lone inventor because that is part of the emotional response here; just look at the tone of the media coverage, and of the responses here. We all love to root for the underdog. That is itself a bias.

      As i say, emotion should not matter. The EmDrive needs to be put to the exact same standard of proof as any other claim of breakthrough physics. The results that have been presented thus far do not come anywhere close to that standard.

    • davidbyrden

      David, are you discussing the drives, or the motives of Corey Powell?
      Because I, for one, came here to read about the drives.

  • HenryC

    The research is worthwhile if only to disprove certain Zero Point energy theories.

    • alysdexia

      Theories are proven and can’t be disproven.

      • davidbyrden

        Nope, it’s the other way around.

        • alysdexia

          A theory is a proven hýpothesis (proven by probability). After that it can be supplemented or complemented by other theories, but not overturned. Unless you can undo time.

          • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

            stats only show correlation, correlation is not proof, could just be coincidence.

          • alysdexia

            All laws are founded on correlation.

            I suggest you go into some dictionaries and look up proof, prove, and probe.

          • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

            If u say so; I must have missed that class on Jungian synchroncity.

  • Christopher Burgess

    OK. I finally read the entire paper in depth and there is a few things that I think should be said. First and foremost, this does not violate any conservation laws. It is not at odds with the known laws of physics, and quantum vacuum plasma, though I think it is poorly named, is a real phenomena. The design is, over simply put, a unique type of ion drive. It just creates the ions through quantum cavitations. The premise is that it is possible to induce the spontaneous creation of short lived temporary ionized particles that can then be accelerated via magnetic fields to produce thrust. Though they are not analogous, it might help to think of them as being similar to Hawking Radiation. On the other hand, the experiment was anything but exhaustive and some the results are ambiguous. Still, this research is not a waste of time. If anything, the paper presents strong evidence that more research is required. While I am certainly no expert, I still think this blog post was a knee jerk reaction prompted by I don’t know what. I am quite sure Corey is qualified to read and understand the paper. I was able to and he has a great deal more education and experience than I. I can only assume that he didn’t personally read it or there is something going on here that I am unaware of.

    • coreyspowell

      The key problem here is that the EmDrive (in its various incarnations) has yet to be tested by an objective third party, in a systematic way, with the results submitted to rigorous peer review. The full paper by White et al is available here:


      I looked for the discussion of instrumental calibration, attempts to measure sources of experimental error, evaluation of systematics. None of them are in the paper. There are no error bars. In the part of the paper where I would normally expect to find such a discussion there is instead a wildly premature flight plan to Mars and TItan using a scaled-up Cannae Drive. This is clearly not the work of dispassionate researchers trying to evaluate a technology objectively.

      What I find most exciting and encouraging is the part at the very end, where the JSC team describes plans to have teams at the Glenn Research Center and JPL do repeat tests. That is exactly what we need to find out if there is a real effect at work here.

      • Christopher Burgess

        I agree 100%.

  • BIGPoJo

    The Earth is flat, says the authorities. Light comes from our eyes, says the authorities. This drive can’t work, says authorities.

    • davidbyrden

      You posted a list of wrong statements and added “this drive can’t work”.
      I could post a list of CORRECT statements and add “this drive can’t work”.

      • BIGPoJo


        • davidbyrden

          For those readers over the age of 17; BIGPoJo is enquiring into my emotional state.
          If you must know; slightly sad.
          I am sad that you posted an illogical argument, attempted an invalid criticism, and don’t spell correctly.

  • ka9q

    A microwave transmitter *can* generate thrust. So can any other generator of directional photons — even a flashlight. That’s because photons carry momentum.

    It’ll just cost you about 300 megawatts of power for every newton of thrust, that’s all. If someone claims to do it with less, then it’s up to them to provide the repeatable, verifiable experimental evidence. These guys haven’t.

  • scott

    This is rubbish. They have know idea what they are 100% using to get this working. Microwaves hitting what now? To get the reaction. This is still on the table of working 100%. This post is written by wankers trashing Sonny & Paul’s work. Hype jealousy.

  • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

    I thought we were looking for any manner to travel with the minimum loss of matter.

    • alysdexia

      One travels (< travail < trepale) on foot or by oar; otherwise one goes, fares, or wends.

  • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

    Here’s a new idea, instead of the GR, why not use the same idea without speed limits on wave fronts for the EM fields that already exist in space. So can those fields be modified to give us a push or a pull?

    • davidbyrden

      A question like that could only be answered by using the theory of the Emdrive or the theory of the Cannae drive.
      As far as I know, peer-reviewed theories for the drives do not exist.

      The question therefore has no answer at present.

      • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

        Oh, that’s what this is about, sort of lost track.

  • CRT

    Excellent article, my compliments. As always, a good measure of critical thinking helps to ease the soul in the search for truth. Thanks.

  • Myles Lyster

    Since no one has actually worked out the science behind the apparent thrust how can anyone say it violates any principle.

    • davidbyrden

      Because it’s possible to say that an object is acquiring momentum even if you have no idea how it does so.
      Similarly, it’s possible to say that a box is impossibly heavy without knowing its contents; by looking at its size from outside, you may work out that it’s denser than osmium.
      Now, when you investigate, you’ll probably find an explanation. Perhaps the box is being pulled down by a magnetic field. And, in the case of the Emdrive, the NASA team suggested that it’s obtaining momentum from the “quantum vacuum plasma”.
      Unfortunately, they don’t have a theory to show that you can do that.

  • weirdnoise

    There are all sorts of ways that a force as small as 30 micronewtons could be generated via experimental error. Interaction with the Earth’s magnetic field, for one. (Even a loop in the power cables driving the device could easily create the measured force.) Microwave leakage affecting the force measurement sensors for another. Yes, I’d assume they’d be aware of these possibilities and would attempt to eliminate such effects. Perhaps they were successful. But it’s going to take a lot more experiments and a lot more of measurements than what we’ve already seen to confirm these results.

    • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo

      you are right and this was measured as 10uN and corrected.

      they tested with a blank, a simple HF resistor to shunt the cavity.

      static electricity was considered and there was countermeasures…

      more strange is that it happen at cavity resonance which rules out many

      if there is an artifact it is not yet identified and seems linked to cavity resonance.

      more stange, in the full paper


      you see a (too discrete) paragraph about an early test when removing dielectric, that caused some effect to disappear.

      some people (citation needed) report since 1950s report of similar effect linked with microwave cavities and dielectric…

      as the null-drive (which all but a blank, it is a theory test, not a reality test) shows there is no strong evidence for Fetta’s theory.

      Shawyer computation seems to have predicted results more reliably, but basically no theory is convincing.

      Th dielectric effect is maybe the key

      • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

        The transfer of particles and energy is no different than Faraday’s experiment, electrolysis. replace mass with a particle count, use the mass of a neutron or the mass of an electron and a proton as a unit of mass. Then replace every location within our units such that mass is removed. Figure out the circular reference in the definition of a Mole. The Media does not have to do anything or be anything to transfer energy from one point to another. It’s only based upon potential and the state of matter.

  • Hugo Galvão Ribeiro Arraes

    Its a shame.. its like the book “Hundert Autoren Gegen Einstein” (A Hundred Authors Against Einstein).

    I think he works accelerating Axions (Dark Matter) because microwaves can resonate whit it in some frequencies. (See ADMX, also written as Axion Dark Matter eXperiment).

    Theres no violation of conservation of momentum. Axions are (i think) the propeller…

    • davidbyrden

      In that book, every objection raised against the Relativity theory was wrong. (The book didn’t discuss any experiments.)

      So, you’re implying that objections to the Emdrive theory, are wrong.

      The main objection is explained here. Please tell us why it’s wrong? http://byrden.com/emdrive

      • Hugo Galvão Ribeiro Arraes

        Hi, in this link, it says:

        “Why are you so happy that I noticed the sides?

        Because the inventor of the Emdrive ignores them!”

        It took for granted that the force originate from microwaves pressing all the sides of the container.

        From the point of view that it has already been tested by multiple teams (China, NASA, etc), what it ignores is that, if neither the creator of emdrive knows how it works?

        We must expand the search for answers and not ignore the issue based on preconceptions, don’t be like the Hundred Authors.

        Lets talk about science… Like, what kind of phenomenon can correlate to microwave resonance in closed environment?

        Why not verify the Axions study? Or something else? This is science…

        And… at last:

        ‘There has been opposition to every innovation in the history of man, with the possible exception of the sword.’ — Benjamin Dana

        ‘Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.’ — Albert Einstein

        • davidbyrden

          >> “It took for granted that the force originate from microwaves pressing all the sides of the container.”

          Is that assumption wrong?

          >> “it has already been tested by multiple teams… if neither the creator of emdrive knows how it works?”

          Perhaps they were too credulous. Remember, they were spending tax money, not their own money.

          >> “don’t be like the Hundred Authors.”

          They were all wrong, and their errors are known. You did not show an error in the page that I linked.

          • Hugo Galvão Ribeiro Arraes

            The error in the page, i think, is to assume that its that the way that the emdrive works, while its just supposition. Nobody already know how it works.

          • davidbyrden

            But we’re not talking about how the Emdrive really works. We’re talking about the theory.

            The page finds an error in the Emdrive theory.
            The “hundred authors” do NOT find errors in the Relativity Theory.

            Therefore, the page is NOT like the “hundred authors” book.

        • http://www.rufusgwarren.com/ Rufus Warren

          mediocre minds are also opposed? At any rate correlation is statistics and luck not science.

        • LukesFather

          This guy raises questions that have already been addressed elsewhere and then drops the conversation when someone shows him proof that his concerns are unfounded.

          Here: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-08/07/10-qs-about-nasa-impossible-drive

          • Hugo Galvão Ribeiro Arraes

            The old always struggle before the new.

          • Corey S. Powell

            I wish that new Wired article really provided a good case for the EmDrive. In reality, it answers none of the scientific concerns. I’ll talk about that in a future post.

          • LukesFather

            Mr. Powell, I have a few things to say to this.
            One, there is a big difference between “provid[ing] a good case” and addressing concerns. You mention both like they are the same thing, but I hope we can agree they are not. The article is not trying to make a case, it is addressing concerns.
            Two, the article addresses those concerns very well. One concern is that the behavior observed does not conform to any known theory. The article makes the very important point that many discoveries are made before there is a theory to explain them. That concern was well addressed. Another concern is that the “null drive” produced thrust. The Wired article explains what the null drive is, and explained that the true control experiment did not produce thrust. That is also a good point.
            If you have concerns not addressed by the Wired article, I understand. However the Wired article directly and completely addresses the concerns raised by the commenter I was talking about. His concerns are ill-founded as I explained myself here and the Wired article explained in more detail. That doesn’t mean there aren’t valid concerns. It only means no one here has raised one.

    • subh

      I appreciate your analogy with the opposition that special relativity faced in its rising days. But I think that’s an intrinsic and important part of healthy science practice. Any radically new theory should pass every test, criticisms and scrutiny. It’s good that questions are being raised, and it was good that questions were raised on special relativity as well, and that it had to go through rigorous validations. That’s what keeps science free from corruption, intentional or unintentional. right?

  • Ron Prichard

    Oh, Mr. Wright. That craft is heavier than air. It can never get off the ground. It’s basic science.

    • davidbyrden

      Birds are heavier than air, Mr. Pritchard, so I’d really like to know the name and qualifications of the person who said THAT to Mr. Wright.

      • Ron Prichard

        perhaps a bad example, but there are numerous examples to be had of scientists told something would never work. for example:

        This `telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a practical form of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us. – Western Union internal memo, 1878Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia. – Dr. Dionysus Lardner (1793-1859), Professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy at University College, London.


        • Ron Prichard

          and one more too good to resist:There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear energy] will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will. – Albert Einstein, 1932.

          • ericlipps

            And at the end of his life, an embittered Einstein, knowing what had been done with his work, doubtless wished that assessment had been correct–which, as of the time it was uttered, it was.

      • Ron Prichard

        Oh, and apologies for multiple posts, but Lord Kelvin said it would never fly:Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. – Lord Kelvin (1824-1907), ca. 1895, British mathematician and physicist

        • davidbyrden

          Well, thank you for the name, though he obviously did not address himself to Mr. Wright.

          I don’t see that he – or any of your other examples – had anything more than incredulity to back them up.
          The objectors to the Emdrive, on the other hand, are backed by physical laws that have not been seen broken.

        • ericlipps

          That doesn’t prove anything in this case. NASA can’t afford to chase after every wild-eyed inventor’s miracle scheme; see my post above.

          • Ron Prichard

            of course not. but the people who advance science (and any other aspect of human life) are those willing to test the bounds of possibility rather than say ‘why try? it’s impossible.’

          • ericlipps

            True enough, but “the people who advance science (and any other aspect of human life)” also tend to be those who can admit when a cherished idea just isn’t going to work. That’s what separates them from crackpots and fanatics.

    • Corey S. Powell

      “People were wrong before, therefore people must be wrong this time, too.” That is not a logical argument, since it could be used to justify *any* statement that contradicts known science.

      And I should point out that many groups were attempting heavier-than-air flight at the time of the Wright Brothers, and multiple groups succeeded in rapid succession. The demonstrations were public and unequivocal. Many scientists had doubted whether heavier-than-air flight was practically feasible but–given the existence of birds–nobody doubted it was possible.

  • Greg Gallacci

    Science is exploration, yes, but it is also about what can be proven.
    If someone has violated any of the conservation laws, and it can be proven to be real, then scientists should examine the experiment and its results.
    There have been unexpected results (the only kind that teach anything!) that have lead science toward great discoveries.
    Science also has the ability to adopt new theories as our understanding of the universe grows.
    The history of science is littered with discarded theories. Theories are discarded solely for the reason that they did not ‘work’.
    So, rather than grumble about ‘unsound reasoning’ let’s roll up our sleeves and build something….if it doesn’t work, try again.
    But please, let’s put an end to the practice of using bad science in non-reviewed publications to foster support.
    This is the worst kind of side-show mentality, and not useful for anything but finding investors.
    Anyone who says “I have this Amazing Plan, all I need is the money” is not ‘doing science’.

    • ericlipps

      NASA, however, has to beg for money from a Congress stuffed with members who are scientifically illiterate, if not actually hostile to science. It has to prioritize, and spending money on schemes most of its own scientists doubt will ever work is a sure path to budget cuts.

  • j2saret

    Sounds like cold fusion or the dean device all over again

  • ZenGeekDad

    I thoroughly enjoyed the article. As usual, I am amazed at the range of posted comments. Some are grounded and articulate. And some are amazingly confident in their knowledge of science, despite its being based on the tropes of Hollywood and novels. There no shame in graciously admitting one’s limits of personal experience. Some here too can’t get past the seduction of “Yeah, but WHAT IF?!”

    Don’t misunderstand me. Scientists are, at our core, driven by breathless excitement for the possible more than you might ever imagine. But you don’t get to the stars (or atoms, or DNA, or photonic computing) by hopeful wonder alone. The reason no one has built a car that runs on water is NOT resistance to new ideas; it is because all the “Yeah but WHAT IF”s in the world cannot break the second law of thermodynamics.

    Breakthroughs do happen. But, in the last many decades, all the major fundamental science discoveries have been amendments to, not reversals of, prior theory. No one will ever invent the untoaster – which makes bread from toast – … it’s that second law of thermo again.

    Scientists are, for the vast most-part, not a bunch of egomaniacs protecting the Given Wisdom against the upstarts outside our towers. We see ourselves instead as devoted servants of the advancement of public knowledge for common good. And in that pursuit, we have learned from the countless lifetimes spent actually doing the work, that there are ways that best serve that advance. They are called The Scientific Method.

    That title may seem to imply a religious faith in its body of precepts, but it is actually its antithesis. Faith is about believing because you feel it is so. The scientific method is about discovering what may be true, given the data – and that data must be repeatable anywhere, anytime, by skeptic, adherent, and neutral observer alike.

    The hallmark of actual science – not the pop culture myth of science – is a dynamic interplay between wonder and skepticism, which in the end resolves the best currently-accessible understanding of the state of nature, regardless of any predisposed expectations by its practitioners.

    The heavy lifting of getting there involves a lot of careful, thoughtful, informed experimentation, measurement, interpretation, reporting, debate, and replication. There are basic concepts that the public is unburdened with, but would benefit to understand when engaging in this debate.

    For example, every experiment is run against a baseline, or blank, or reference, or placebo, etc. That way, if the measured effect occurs similarly in both the test case and the baseline, then the effect cannot have been caused by the studied variable. Say I add a “mileage enhancer” to my gas tank, then drive that tank empty, then
    spend another tank without the enhancer. If both tanks show a similar effect (say, a 3 mpg gain), then whatever was causing that, it cannot have been the “mileage enhancer.” Instead, some error in the experimental method caused the observed effect.

    The challenge of experimental method errors, or outside interferences, is so universal that it is pretty much where all the real work of discovery/invention gets done. So when the “blank” in the EmDrive study appeared to produce thrust, just like the test engine, that observation indicates not some revelation of science (which happen terribly infrequently), but some error in experiemental method (which happens insanely frequently). Seeing it the other way around is like saying “Maybe this magician really is doing actual magic.”

    • Bob Winterstein

      For the number of scientists who supposedly are involved in this blog, it’s disappointing how few adequately investigated White’s study. The ‘blank’ drive that did produce thrust merely had slits that Fetta said were necessary for thrust removed. Other than that, it was still powered. The test demonstrated that the slits were not necessary, not that the drive did not produce thrust.

      So much for the lecture about how scientists work. Seems to me most scientists are a bunch of lazy curmudgeon nay sayers who publicly make ill informed snap judgments about other scientist’s work. Perhaps this explains why there can be so many scientists and so few breakthroughs. When somebody like White sticks his neck out to investigate something, he gets unwarranted ridicule rather than curiosity, cooperative investigation and constructive feedback.

  • Sweaty Palms

    A black hole dissapates because when a virtual particle (proven to exist) appears at the event horizon, one half gets sucked into the hole and one moves away.

    It is completely feasible to add energy to half of a virtual particle that appears in the Cannae Drive or EmDrive while the other half remains on the outside of the engine. This would prevent the particles from annhiliating each other. It would also generate a push like the Casimir effect (also verified) . If the virtual particals were heated to high enough temperature it would be refered to as a plasma.

    There are several theoretical physicists who suggested this was feasible before these drives were made. This particular engine could be bogus but the attempt is based on sound ideas.

    It’s embarrassing to read this article. Clearly, the author doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

    • Corey S. Powell

      By extension, you are saying that Sean Carroll and John Baez, two of the world’s leading physicists, don’t know what they are talking about, nor do the overwhelming majority of their colleagues. It is possible that they are all wrong, true, but I will need to see some very convincing evidence before I believe it.

      • Bob Winterstein

        OBW There were 2 null test articles. Where were your physicist buddies on that point? The null test article with slits wasn’t suppose to work according to Fetta, but otherwise it was identical and still provided thrust when it was powered. It demonstrated that Fetta was wrong about the necessity of slits. That’s it.

        The other null test didn’t use a horn ‘resonator’ but still emitted EM. It did not provide thrust. They also used a heat producing test article to see if it was heating that was generating the force. That also did not produce thrust. They also reversed the test article and it did provide thrust in the correct direction.

        Good point about the ambiguity of a vacuum test. That’s the biggest problem with these drives and everyone should have waited until several different labs had results from pure vacuum tests before making any announcements.

        The mocking about the the term ‘quantum vacuum virtual plasma’ is a douche bag’s comment. There are many virtual particles. White was referring to quantum vacuum virtual charged positive/negative particles/antiparticles. I realize that’s a stretch because those particles don’t act like a plasma. But I get it. Your physicist goons seem to be suggesting that because they’ve never heard of it, that it doesn’t exist, and they are using the opportunity to bully White on their theoretical physicist’s playground. So, give it a more appropriate name but saying it’s made up misses the point and comes across as ignorant bullying.

        Sawyer is confused about the conservation of momentum but not White. White is not suggesting there is a greater push on the rear large face of the resonating horn than the smaller front face and that the waves don’t apply a force to the oblique angles of the horn. White is suggesting that there is energy in the horn that could be taking advantage of quantum vacuum particles. That’s not a good explanation but he is not proposing the drives are violating the laws of nature. There isn’t a good explanation for high temperature super conductors either, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work.

        Bottom line, the idea of adding energy to virtual particles to separate them and then use the particles for power isn’t new, but you, Carroll and Baez seem to think it is.

        Why doesn’t your little posse of skeptics break out a fresh box of chalk and figure out mathematically, within the range of possible values for the energy in the quantum vacuum, if there is enough there to split particle/antiparticles and provide thrust. That’s using science, not bully tactics.

  • Simon Derricutt

    That you can create thrust with photons is well-enough established to have entries in the Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photon_rocket and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_photonic_rocket . The Cannae drive and EMDrive ideas are around 6-10 orders of magnitude greater thrust than this, though. NASA factor in light-pressure in calculating the orbits of asteroids etc. but these are small corrections and we’re looking at the effects of years of accumulated acceleration to see a difference.

    Since the thrust measured is so small and could be a systematic error from the vacuum enclosure or some other source, a true test of this motor would need to be done in space. This would of course also cost more and would also delay a possibly more-deserving experiment from going up to the ISS. By giving a definitive result, though, it would tell us whether the idea is worth continuing with or canning it as a bad idea. The question is not whether photonic propulsion will work, it’s whether this method is so much more effective than the brute-force method of producing a very high photon-flux.

    If it in fact works by ionising and accelerating the remanent atoms that will exist in space (or the vacuum chamber), and therefore works in practice even though its stated theory of operation is wrong, it may still be useful. For satellites in Earth orbit, where there will be a higher density of such atoms anyway, it could extend the lifetime of satellites that at the moment are killed when they run out of fuel for orbit corrections.

  • JamesSeddon

    I’ve got to say, this, as an article, seems very unbalanced. The statement “there was plenty of extra energy bouncing around that could have been a source of error” notionally invalidates his original criticism. If this energy could create “erroneous” thrust, it would be able to create the desired form of thrust too. “has yet to be vetted by any independent researchers” just shows that Powell hasn’t done his research. The EmDrive has been tested by other groups, namely Zhu et al. in 2008, which also measured a thrust from the setup (and well above the noise floor, too).
    I’m also surprised at the statement about “lone inventors” which comes with a rather sneer-ish tone. Vast quantities of our scientific knowledge come from individuals working more or less alone (for example Newton with the Principa Mathematica, laws of motion and theory of gravitation; Einstein with relativity, Galileo with a non-geocentric universe etc…). The fact that an individual may have come up with something that hadn’t been considered before shouldn’t be a surprise.
    With regards to the derision for the whole idea due to EWL’s reference to ‘quantum vacuum virtual plasma’, this isn’t something that Shawyer has put forward himself, as he claims it operates using photonic momentum (a proven concept), meaning that it is in fact not a reactionless drive (thus keeping it within the bounds of conservation of momentum laws).
    The suggestion that the ability to measure force to single-unit uN scale also suggests (to me at least) that the author has no personal scientific experience. It is very possible to measure these kinds of forces and has been done to smaller scales before using less sophisticated equipment.
    The idea that space exploration is supposed to be “expensive, difficult and time-consuming” is frankly indicative of a mindset that puts results second to ‘the challenge’ which is possibly even more dangerous for science than people having a rush of blood over a new idea.
    Having actually read Shawyer’s paper, the idea seems at the very least plausible – and the barrage of people shaking both heads and fists about it seems bizarre in that the whole principle of scientific thought is to entertain and test rather than reject as a knee-jerk reaction regardless of evidence or personal bias (or in some cases, what seems like more than a hint of professional jealousy).

  • Maciej Marosz

    I solved secret EMdrive ( simple test in home !!! )

    Joul/meter^3 = Newton*meter/meter^3 = Newton/meter^2

    part 1

    part 2

    MAROSZ – open chamber !!! EMdrive
    ( without relativistic idiotic paradx )

    I’m engineer I respect Si units
    below engine is ready for NOBEL prize


    Thank you for support my ART many bad people killing me and other people who not repeat unlogic methods and not naturals ideas

  • Steven Brykman

    Can I interest anyone in a nice can of cold fusion?

  • Gabe

    Man presents new, possibly revolutionary, technology and principle to the way we react with the physical world and this guy comes in with, “mumbo jumbo.” Essentially saying hey I just read this thing here and idk what just happened or what you did so must be wrong.

    Thanks for the useless input, we are going to move on and see what comes of this.

    • Corey S. Powell

      The only scientific way to approach a claim that defies known physics is with skepticism. Otherwise you start from the position of believing every incredible claim. That way lies UFOs, bigfoot, ESP, miracle cures, etc. I completely agree, let’s see what comes comes of this. But the only way to find out for real is to set meaningful standards for the evidence.

      • Gabe

        I don’t disagree with the need for questions and skepticism. However, using diatribe to negate results is neither professional or progressive. I believe we agree on what really matters, and that is good.

      • Bob Winterstein

        Reading your blog article was a waste of time because you didn’t bother doing adequate research before slinging dirt. The problem with uninformed skepticism is it wastes everyone’s time. Researchers waste time countering ignorant criticisms, and discussion goes nowhere when the skeptics don’t have an adequate understanding of the concepts.

        Your null drive comment was a waste. You could have used the opportunity to validate that White did test variations in the different drives to determine parameters for thrust and aside from not conducting them in a vacuum, it was a good test and a notable step in the journey to determine if these drives are for real.

        The quantum vacuum virtual plasma comment was a waste. You could have pointed out that quantum field theory suggests that positive and negative charged particles are constantly popping into existence and annihilating, but that they don’t act like a plasma. You could have posed the question, “is White suggesting that there is a plasma of particles (that started out as virtual particles) inside the drive?”

        You could have talked about Hawking Radiation, the Casimir Effect, the range of possible values for energy in the vacuum of space and how much energy it would take to create/separate virtual particles and make them real, as well as the limitations of using such particles for thrust. You could have also pointed out that if virtual particles where being used that this could be measured. One likely side effect of using energy to create particles is the drive would gain weight as it generated thrust, and particles would be detected outside the drive. There would be a measurable charge. You could setup a cloud chamber and watch the charged particles if this were really occurring. etc.

        Your comment about conservation of momentum is well understood, but you don’t repudiate Shawyer on his own ground. You could have addressed the main tenant of the EmDrive, that EM waves reflecting off the large rear face of the drive are producing more force than waves reflected off the smaller front face and that the waves don’t transfer a force to the oblique angles of the horn. Do you understand how White is using relativity to explain the effect? Where is the error in his claim? Have your Physicist buddies weigh in with plain English and you’ll make us all smarter.

        Bottom line, you didn’t add to the understanding of the issues but made weak and erroneous accusations based on attempts to discredit organizations and people.

        Hopefully, as the ill informed skeptic, you won’t waste more time, upon realizing the errors of your original stance, with strategic back pedaling and twisting the original points to save face. This will only further confuse the issues and continue arguments that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

        • coreyspowell

          You clearly have a lot of background knowledge and interest in the subject. Now I hope you will do the hard work. Stop “slinging dirt” as you put it (you call me & the entire world scientific community lazy and ignorant–I mean, really) and explore the details of scientific method. There really are good reasons why science works the way it does!

          The objections by Carroll and Baez (who are, I might point out, two of the smartest and most thoughtful physicists I know) center on the premature and poorly framed claims around these various permutations of the EmDrive. Both Shawyer and the NASA team report measurements without properly documenting sources of error, and both teams try to explain the results by invoking new physics and new, undefined terms.

          Has the EmDrive been shown to work? We don’t know yet because it has not been tested by neutral parties with a clear accounting of possible sources of error. Does the theory behind the EmDrive make sense? We don’t know because the various ideas have not been presented in a clear and systematic way, but rather in vague conversational language; that’s why Baez, in frustration, calls it “mumbo jumbo.”

          In short, there is a staggering mismatch between the claims and the evidence. As Carl Sagan often said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That is the point of my post–to add some balance and give an
          appropriate perspective on these intriguing but, so far, extremely
          preliminary and incomplete tests.

          • Bob Winterstein

            I am familiar with the resounding guffaw scientists use in the name of the scientific method. That’s not science. It’s laziness and counterproductive.

            You keep harping on the lack of data about the sources of error. There is plenty of information available about sources of error in White’s tests. If you care to look at their results, the thrust was well above the noise. (Carroll obviously didn’t look at the test results before commenting for your blog… lazy). The evidence from four documented tests suggests, given the circumstances and configurations, there is thrust. It’s worth further investigation and not a dismissive scoff.

            There could be any number of errors in the Em/Cannae drive test rigs that haven’t been identified yet, such as atmospheric heating or magnetic fields interacting with the test environment to name a couple possible candidates. In my opinion it’s not unlike cold fusion and faster than light neutrinos and worth getting people worked up so that other labs will quickly try to replicate the results and sort out if it is for real.

            How many times in the history of science have test results defied explanation? ALL THE TIME!!!! Experimental error identification and/or theory eventually catch up. Pointing the finger at Shawyer, Fetta, White, and the Chinese and saying, “your mumbo jumbo explanations don’t make sense so these drives are bogus,” is following the protocol a lot of scientists have used throughout history, but that is not part of a constructive scientific process. Although, it is nice to have guys like that around who make quotes that can be thrown back in their faces when they are shown to be wrong. But, if the drives work, they don’t need a good explanation why. Theory will eventually catch up.

          • coreyspowell

            I have no idea where this anger is coming from. I get the impression there is a personal story here. But you bring up an important point that I want to address. As you say, test results defy explanation all the time. If every error, mismeasurement, and cherry-picked result were reported as a revolutionary discovery, accompanied by a variety of novel theoretical explanations, the result would be chaos and confusion, not enlightenment.

            Skepticism in the face of improbable results is the most appropriate and constructive way to move forward and identify the real breakthroughs.

  • Corey S. Powell

    Just a few quick thoughts:

    * Noting that scientific authorities were wrong before does not provide any kind of evidence in favor of the EmDrive. All it says is that scientists are fallible–which is exactly why one should approach audacious claims with a healthy dose of skepticism.

    * No educated person in the history of Western civilization has claimed that the Earth is flat, and certainly that claim never came from anyone whom we would, in modern terminology, call a scientist. The idea that scholars once thought the Earth is flat is a myth popularized by Washington Irving, among others. And again, see point #1.

    * When the Wright Brothers built there plane, nobody doubted that heavier-than-air flight is possible (since, um, birds exist). What people doubted is whether it was technologically achievable. Multiple groups demonstrated it, publicly, in rapid succession. The theory behind powered flight was clear and well established. If the EmDrive similarly was supported by well-established science and then demonstrated openly, repeatedly, and convincingly by competing groups–yes, that *would* be convincing evidence.

    • Skunkworks_FTW

      So, therefore, only time will tell… it’s too new to even suggest that the critics, or the supporters are right. But, it has the backing of a multi billion dollar corporation, that has done nothing but expand since the early 2000’s… maybe you really should look into all the companies involved in the construction behind the manhattan project… then tell me Lockheed Martin isn’t up to the same game.

  • Cliff Stamp

    The Cannae Drive is indeed B.S. of the first order. However, where does Newton fall on the spectrum of “…large teams, not the tinkering of lone inventors”–or how about Edison? Did Einstein has a huge team helping him develop his theories? Certainly the Manhattan Project was staggeringly big in terms of humanpower and resources. But…the groundwork? Was he a tinkerer too? Thomas Edison or Tesla? Tinkerers, too? As we must be cautious of foolish optimism, perhaps derision isn’t useful either. “Tinkerers” was an appellation that otherwise marred a good article. Pity.

    • coreyspowell

      Point well taken. I was too derisive in my use of that word. As you say, many important scientific advances have resulted primarily from a single person’s insight.

      What raises a red flag for me is that Shawyer is creating his own theory, building his own device, and then testing it himself–all without presenting these ideas openly for the usual, healthy peer critique. That is asking too much of any one person, no matter how good his motivations. It is too easy to fool yourself, to come up with ideas that sound reasonable but don’t hold together, and so on. Even Edison and Einstein never attempted anything like this.

      This kind of story has great personal appeal–which is why it also figures in so many movies–but it’s not a realistic way to make progress. On the contrary, it is an effective way to sew confusion and spread erroneous data and ideas. That’s what I was trying to say, but I should have been more clear and less emotional in the way I said it.

    • Skunkworks_FTW

      cannae drive is not “indeed” bs… it’s just a less efficient version of the real thing, that skunkworks is developing.

  • Andrew Brown

    I’m in the camp of reserving conclusions, with intrigue and a hefty dose of skepticism. I have also read the full report, where as most seem to have only read the abstract. In it, bashing the null device test becomes a bit less convenient. Because it only shows that the inventor was incorrect in believing slots within the chamber are responsible for the thrust.
    Thrust was measured on 3 devices, The Cannae drive, one with, one without slots, and a tapered chamber like the EmDrive. And electrical interference was measured with a 50ohm load as another control. The thrust devices measured forces about 6x the electrical interference on the 50ohm test.

    The tests were not done under vacuum because of limitations of the test drive’s capacitors. Future tests will fix that. Either way force was measued the instant power was applied, so it is unlikely for air currents to build up forces that quickly.

    All we can say for sure right now is there is something anomalous, and more tests are required to validate/invalidate the results. That will also be carried out at other facilities with their equipment. Thats why NASA hasn’t announced a discovery. The report of little more that an announcement of current activity and a call for a few more eyes on the problem.

    • http://www.lenrnews.eu/lenr-summary-for-policy-makers/ AlainCo

      more data that confirm you catious position



      the experiments seems solid until proven else.

      at least better designed than the armchair critics.

      I don’t say it works. There is some challenge about scaling it up.
      there is intriguing evidence the key factor is microwave resonance, and dielectric.

      any critics that don’t account for that and explain why the artifact happens only at resonance frequency and when there is a dielectric, can be safely ignored.

      • Andrew Brown

        Thanks. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s nice to see some of the people behind it addressing the critiques posed by the public and the progress they are making towards improving the test rig. Hopefully by this time next year, for better or worse, the matter will be settled.

      • Corey S. Powell

        No question, the claim is intriguing and deserves a thorough, careful investigation. If there really is a new effect at work here, that would be a fantastic and important discovery.

        But you’ve got the scientific process wrong. New discoveries can only falsify existing theory, and they can do so only if demonstrated with extreme credibility (with “extreme” being a somewhat culturally defined term, admittedly). It is incorrect to say that new results should be accepted as true until proven otherwise. If that were the case, there would be a nearly limitless number of competing “truths” floating around, waiting for someone to shoot them down.

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  • Rich

    As an observer of the scientific advancement that have occurred over the last 150 years I think some reflection would be useful. The “laws” of physics are referenced by people that defend the statusquo of science

    • Corey S. Powell

      You say, “Skepticism is an absolute requirement for any scientist as is imagination.” I agree 100%. Skepticism is the only sensible reaction in the face of an incredible claim. I would love to see the EmDrive/Cannae Drive validated. Believe it or not, so would Drs. Carroll and Baez. There is nothing more thrilling than a new discovery, a new mystery, a path toward greater understanding.

      BUT extraordinary claims must be supported with extraordinary evidence. If you let go of that principle, then you end up chasing every spurious result and every speculation, no matter how marginal. You get so much noise that you will never be able to single out the important breakthrough. The heated (perhaps overheated) responses from Carroll and Baez are not because they fear new ideas; if you read up on them, you will see that they both spend their lives chasing new ideas. What got them upset was the stark mismatch between the scope of the claim here and the quality of the evidence.

      The NASA team unfortunately contributed to the problem by failing to include a formal accounting of potential errors in their paper; instead they included a wildly premature analysis of how to use a Cannae Drive to go to Mars. They also were not content to focus on their measurement, but also invented a nonsensical new theory (invoking words that have no accepted scientific definition) to explain their reported result. That approach calls into question the objectivity of their whole effort.

      Finally, no scientist, ever, stated that heavier-than-air flight was impossible (at least, no scientist who had ever seen a bird or a housefly). There were many people who doubted it was practically feasible. Some of them made ridiculously overconfident statements to that effect. But since we are talking about theory here, it’s important to be precise about the ideas and the history behind them.

  • Skunkworks_FTW

    The EmDrive has been built and tested by multiple organizations, including skunkworks. There’s pictures, and all kinds of evidence for its existence.

    Just because they don’t actually understand how it works, doesn’t mean it’s not something that warrants further investigation and refinement.

    The first light bulb powered by electricity was so dim, it was impractical for use with… anything… It was invented by a guy in his garage. “laboratory”.

    The first personal computer, practical for use by the masses, was invented by a guy in his garage…

    What do you have against guys in their garages?

    Sean Carroll, while being an amazing Astronomer, and Astrophysicist, and a brilliant man, has not produced one single invention of his own volition. So, I am not at all calling him inept… but I do not think he’s the best resource to be taking advice on an invention like this. This is real world, practical, and applicable stuff we’re talking about. Not dark matter theory.

    Harold White, of SKUNKWORKS… yes that’s right Skunkworks… the team that developed the goddamn SR-71 if you call that “abstract propulsion” because it nearly melted the plane every time it flew then yeah… ok their work isn’t that credible. You derp.

    Maybe the testing of the drive went something like this:

    1) Researcher turns on aparatus

    2) Sees that drive works as described by inventor

    3) Proclaims “yep, it works”

    4) Goes home and enjoys the evening doing whatever it is engineers do after a hard days work.

    I don’t think they were testing an interstellar drive at this point, which would have cost billions to develop… they were testing a simple mockup for the principle of the EmDrive… which they deduced works. And since they’re working for Skunkworks, I’m inclined to believe them.

    I don’t think the drive breaks the laws of physics, I just think they don’t understand how it works.

    The ABSTRACT of the paper on the Cannae did NOT state that the apparatus worked without the cavity. It stated that THREE tests were done. One with the with the grooves, which was expected to work. One without the grooves which was expected to work, and one WITHOUT THE FRIGGING THRUST CAVITY… THAT is the one that did not work… which was expected. You dolt.

    The methodology was unclear for the tests because… they’ve already stated that they don’t know exactly how it’s working, but that it does. It doesn’t matter what the methodology in it’s exact nature is, and study of that methodology is probably going to go on for a long time to come. Rest assured that that study is going to be good old fashioned, rigorous, valid, scientific study too… not some “mumbo jumbo”… as you call it.

    That’s why they call it an abstract, and not the real guts of what actually went on in the lab.

    I absolutely hate it when writers misquote official documents readily available online, expecting that nobody is going to read the actual references.

    I’m sorry but EagleWorks, a division of Skunkworks, a division of friggin Lockheed Martin, is just not something you can scoff at as if they’re a bunch of lone inventors in their mad scientist labs. That part of the article needs to be redacted immediately. It is a great insult to the impressive work they do.

    Here’s what NASA, yes that’s right NASA itself calls the QVPT:


    Here is an actual article, ON the NASA website, describing EAGLEWORKS’ QVPT theoretical drive, thus can be derived the reason that Fetta et al are calling it that. Even though it might not be exactly that.


    Sounds like you’re on the party line with big governments that want to spend big budgets, on wasteful projects, that could have been done in half the time, with twice the efficiency by corporations or smaller entities such as subsidiaries of Skunkworks with smaller teams that are working hard every day for the betterment of all mankind… or so we can deliver guided bombs to our enemies faster and more efficiently… whichever… but you get my meaning.

  • NukeDoc

    The only true ignorance comes from people who have already made up their mind about the emergence of a given scientific claim (i.e. “This idea is bull-“).

    “You can’t violate the conservation of momentum” is a valid objection. I said objection. Not discreditation. Consider ALL these:
    -This idea does not violate conservation laws due to some unknown physical process.
    -Our understanding about the mechanics behind momentum are flawed.
    -This idea does violate conservation laws and is not valid.

    If we think this idea is bunk, prove it. More testing.
    If we think this idea is valid, prove it. More testing.
    In summary: What you think is irrelevant. The answer is experimental data…which real scientists are in the process of obtaining.

    Sometimes theories precede their application. Sometimes phenomena precede their theory.

    6 years in physics academia tought me at least one thing: physicists can be viciously bigoted towards any outside/creative/competing ideas. Einstein knew all about such bigotry as it was aimed at him until he shut the naysayers up.

    • Corey S. Powell

      I think you and I are in total agreement, actually. From my article above:

      “Nobody claims that our current understanding of physics is complete, and the things we do not know could be vast. At the same time, the important point here is that the things we do know are also vast. Overthrowing centuries of well-established ideas about how the world works is not something to be done lightly—certainly not on the basis of a single paper that has yet to be vetted by any independent researchers.”

      The objections from Baez and Carroll had nothing to do with new and untested ideas–they deal in such things every day. Pretty much Carroll’s entire career is based on new and untested ideas! What they objected to–and what I do, too–is giving the Cannae Drive a free pass from the normal standards of “prove it” because the idea sounds cool and it would be fun if it works. Believing in something without adequate evidence because you like it is no better than disbelieving in something because you don’t like it. Either way, it’s not a path to intellectual progress.

      The onus is on Shawyer, Fetta, and those testing the devices to perform open, meticulous tests that others can then repeat and validate. The tests and results reported by the NASA team are a start, but only a very small and incomplete one.

  • PacificMaelstrom

    I can fly from Europe to the Caribbean in hours, but does that mean I am disrespecting Columbus? Conventional methods are safe and proven, but expensive and inefficient. But imagine if this really does work… how much money will we waste on “safe” before we spend the money to get it off the ground? Simply put, good engineering is all about finding and taking that “easy way out” which the author scoffs at.

  • Leon Ball

    IMO this kind of outrage is only caused because of money, if money was no object when results like this came out scientists wouldn’t laugh at it, they would want to try and replicate the results themselves.
    However I feel the monetary system dictates scientists and engineers responded in that manner as funding is hard to come by and you don’t want to lose it or your research job.

  • donald scott

    “… You know, the ones that result from the hard work of large teams, not the tinkering of lone inventors….” You mean like those lone inventors Tsiolksovski and Goddard, who produced nothing of value because they weren’t working with a huge corporatized team?

    Of course, DISCOVERY, as a Hearst publication, is never going to support anything that threatens the current corporate state, is it? So begone, lone inventors. Fade away, Tsiolkovski and Goddard.

  • Skunkworks_FTW

    The quality of the evidence was not even submitted to the public, for obvious reasons. It’s all been redacted. The full scope of experimentation on this device obviously has been redacted as well… don’t be stupid. These large bodies are not going to just release every nuance of their findings to the public. What they do want to create is wonder and amazement, and interest in new ideas, that have the potential to “ACTUALLY WORK”. You think these companies are going to invest in inventions that are completely hot air?? I just don’t see why NASA and Lockheed Martin would be willing to risk sinking themselves and their reputations all for this little tiny project.


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Out There

Notes from the far edge of space, astronomy, and physics.

About Corey S. Powell

Corey S. Powell is DISCOVER's Editor at Large and former Editor in Chief. Previously he has sat on the board of editors of Scientific American, taught science journalism at NYU, and been fired from NASA. Corey is the author of "20 Ways the World Could End," one of the first doomsday manuals, and "God in the Equation," an examination of the spiritual impulse in modern cosmology. He lives in Brooklyn, under nearly starless skies.


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