Woodward Effect

Charles Platt at BoingBoing has a nice article about Dr. James Woodward’s investigation into exploiting Mach’s Principle for propellantless propulsion.

Unlike all the “free energy” scams that you see online, Woodward’s device does not violate basic physical laws (it does not produce more energy than it consumes, and does not violate Newton’s third law). Nor is Woodward withholding any information about his methods. He has written a book, published by Springer, that explains in relentless detail exactly how his equipment works–assuming that it does, indeed, work. He published his theory in Foundations of Physics Letters, vol. 3, no. 5, 1990, and he even managed to get a US patent — number 5,280,864, issued January 25, 1994.

I first heard about him in 1997, when I interviewed him for Wired magazine. His results were tentative, then, and he was cautious about making claims. “I have biweekly paranoia attacks,” he told me, “and then I try something else to see if I can make this effect go away.”

Almost twenty years later, the situation has changed. Dr. Heidi Fearn, a theoretical physicist who specializes in quantum optics at Fullerton, has done the math that she believes can justify Woodward’s experimental evidence. Wikipedia now has a substantial entry about the Woodward Effect. The Space Studies Institute is championing the cause, inviting tax-deductible donations.

I have followed Dr. Woodward’s work for well over 15 years, and I have actually played a small part in facilitating some of his experiments, by doing a bit of hunting around for a supplier of a particular dielectric material he was looking for.

While there have been several claims of propellantless drives over the years, most of them smell of snake oil. Dr. Woodward’s does not — he is an excruciatingly careful and honest experimentalist, and it took a lot of persuasion to get him to allow the current modest funding initiative, as he is reluctant to ask for money unless he can convincingly demonstrate the effects he is working with, which, ironically, will require some updated equipment that is beyond his private means.