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New Discovery Disproves Quantum Theory? 933

An anonymous reader writes to tell us the Guardian is running a story that has quite a few physicists up in arms. From the article: "Randell Mills, a Harvard University medic who also studied electrical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, claims to have built a prototype power source that generates up to 1,000 times more heat than conventional fuel. Independent scientists claim to have verified the experiments and Dr Mills says that his company, Blacklight Power, has tens of millions of dollars in investment lined up to bring the idea to market. And he claims to be just months away from unveiling his creation." The only problem is Mills' theory is supposed to be impossible when using current rules of quantum mechanics.
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New Discovery Disproves Quantum Theory?

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  • Like They Say... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stuffman64 ( 208233 ) <stuffman@gmai l . com> on Sunday November 06, 2005 @07:32PM (#13965499)
    Like they say: "I'll believe it when I see it."

    Still, it would be nice to have some major shakeup in physics... there really haven't been any in my lifetime.
  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @07:36PM (#13965529)
    Covered here [].

    Something that NASA is going to get involved with, per TFA(s). Basically, if you can get the electron to "orbit" the proton nucleus of a hydrogen atom at a lower level, you've produced a lot of energy.
  • "Cautious optimism" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by quanminoan ( 812306 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @07:44PM (#13965586)
    I've actually been following Dr. Mills for some time now. This theory of his, as well as his claims of energy production have been around for quite some time. Slashdot even covered it before: 59.shtml?tid=126 [] 10.shtml?tid=134 []

    What makes this case interesting is the length of time this "hoax" has persisted. The funding means nothing; a company with a large budget doesn't care to gamble with the amounts claimed. The validations of his energy claims are the most significant. Many laboratories have found anomalies in reproduced experiments (and some have failed). His theory does not have nearly as much support - nearly every qualified physicist I have given his book to has politely said he's wrong. His derivations just don't make sense.

    Some of the more open minded physicists then said that doesn't mean he's wrong. There may be energy produced that current physics can account for, and at worst QM would need amends. This speculation is really irrelevant if he is claiming a product- all we have to do is wait a while and see how it pans out.

    Company website: [] (download theory book for free)

  • Keeping Score (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Paul the Bold ( 264588 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @08:18PM (#13965809)
    While we are on this trip down memory lane, I will point you to a very old "What's New" piece. [] To quote Bob Park, "there is no claim so preposterous that a Ph.D. can't be found to vouch for it." When reading claims that "will turn physics on its head!", I like to think of all of the devices in our modern world that verify basic principles of quantum mechanics with their reliable operation. What follows is a very incomplete list of things whose invention relied upon the very principles of quantum mechanics that Mills claims to disprove with his power generator. These are technologies or devices that are very common.

    transistors (FET, BJT, etc.)
    giant magnetoresistive (GMR) heads (read heads in your hard drive)
    atomic clocks
    nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

    This list is not complete. Please feel free to add to it. If I were keeping score, quantum mechanics is ahead 6-0 (remember, Blacklight has yet to market a product).
  • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @08:45PM (#13965961)
    This is a variant on the zero-point-energy scam that TLC and the Discovery Channel always cover in breathless interviews with crackpots. Basically this guy is saying you can make your electrons fall further into the nucleus from their ground state and pocket the energy as they go in. And all these billions of years, these electrons haven't bothered to make this energy transition until you came along because...?

    This is actually related to a legitimate, clever idea that would be really cool if it actually worked: muon catalyzed fusion. You introduce muons into cold hydrogen and get them into covalent bonds between hydrogen nuclei. Muons are 200 times heavier than electrons so this means the orbital is small and tight, placing the nuclei so close to each other that they tunnel through a barrier and fuse into helium, releasing the muon to take part in further reactions. It isn't economical because muons are expensive to make (about 100 MeV) and decay in two microseconds into an electron and two neutrinos (which are notorious energy sinks- their energy is not even recoverable via thermalization, it's just gone). To become economical, the muon has to catalyze over a hundred reactions before it decays, but its lifetime is only a few percent of what is needed. Fusion is one bummer after another.
  • by div_B ( 781086 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @08:47PM (#13965970)
    From the wiki: Mills' hydrino theory was inspired by a physics paper by MIT electrical engineering professor, Herman Haus. This paper used classical physics to model radiation arising from the free electron laser. Mills reasoned that if classical physics could model radiation of the free electron it should be able to model radiation and non-radiation of the bound electron in an atom.

    OK, so essentially, because the classical approximation to the quantum mechanical model largely reproduces the observed experimental results in the free electron laser, it must apply to a bound electron also. This guy is fucking clue-repellent. You can model atomic radiation classically (certain aspects of, up to a point), but the quantum mechanical description is much more accurate, ridiculously accurate in fact, and there are inherently quantum mechanical effects that arise only in a formal QED treatment, and are commonly observable.

    Making crude approximations to the complete quantum mechanical description and getting a reasonable description of the system is what a whole lot of theoretical physics is about. Finding exactly how truthful the model must be to predict the correct (experimental) results is half the game.

    Here's a clue: a free electron is often essentially particulate in behaviour, and quantum mechanics (largely) provides no correction to the classical calculations. When you bind an electron in a potential, is when it starts to behave quantum mechanically (i.e., wavefunction wrapped around the nucleus). That's why it's OK to model it classically in the one regime, but not the other, geddit?
  • by kjots ( 64798 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @08:54PM (#13966010)

    > Quantum Theory has many, Many, MANY experiments showing that it correctly predicts the results.

    Yeah, but so does Newtonaian Physics (think the Voyager probes). So QM clearly isn't actually wrong, but it might be inaccurate.

    Personally, I hope he's right: it would be a magnificent opportunity for some significant scientific discoveries. I never could understand how a real person of science would object to such a thing (probably an ego thing).

  • by Belseth ( 835595 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @09:01PM (#13966047)
    Why do all these stories seem to have a rubber stamp quality? Always has something revolutionary that breaks physical laws, they have millions availible from investors and they aren't quite ready to unviel but they have already had independent verification. It's like saying I have CU photos of Bigfoot but it'll take a few weeks to get them back from the one hour photo shop. There's always a delay in providing the goods to drag things out. Inspite of their "investors" I'm sure in the meantime they are willing to take additional investment dollars. 'Never mind the cord plugged into the wall we are actually pumping electricity back into the grid'. I thought Snake Oil went out in the 1800s?
  • by Oink ( 33510 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @09:04PM (#13966063)
    Ha! He mentions that he has 65 peer-reviewed citing and discussing his theory. Search for RL Mills. The second entry is his book. Click on the Cited link, and you'll notice that there are indeed many papers citing his work. And sir Mills himself is first author on just about all of them.

  • Photon Interference (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JambisJubilee ( 784493 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @10:02PM (#13966338)
    Here's an interesting trick that demonstrates the interference of light:
    Hold you hand out with your fingers together in front of some light source. Squeeze your fingers together until they make a tiny slit. Look at a source of light through the slit. You will notice bands between your fingers. They are interference fringes due to the wave nature of light.
  • Re:Like They Say... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by samkass ( 174571 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @10:12PM (#13966388) Homepage Journal
    I'd venture to say that QM has come too far to be "disproved"... it could certainly be refined or integrated into a superset of a theory. But it simply describes too many observations with too great a precision and accuracy for it to be wholly wrong. Even if there exists new and unaccounted for forces, states of matter, or effects, QM describes too accurately what we've measured so far that QM would probably become the starting point for the next bigger theory.
  • by Latent Heat ( 558884 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @10:18PM (#13966408)
    When you think of it, the Sun is really not all that effective of a fusion reactor.

    While the Sun's core is really, really, really hot, and yes, fusion takes place in the Sun an accounts for the current temperature and physical state of the Sun, the reaction rates are really, really, really low. Think of it -- the Sun has lasted about 5 billion years in its present mode of fusion and is predicted to last another 5 billion years before it goes red giant. And it won't go red giant because it has exhausted all of its hydrogen -- because it has a non-convective core, it just needs to exhaust enough hydrogen in the core to start hydrogen shell burning, which turns it into a red giant.

    Not only is the core of the Sun enormously hot and dense compared to even the inside of a Tokomak fusion reactor experiment, the Sun is so freaking huge and massive that even a very low reaction rate that allows it to stretch out its fuel for 10 billion years allows it to put out massive amounts of energy. Of course it is doing hydrogen fusion instead of deuterium or tritium, but when you think of a hydrogen bomb, the H-bomb is doing something quite unlike what happens in nature -- it is burning up its exotic fuel in the blink of any eye -- a hydrogen bomb is more supernova-like than star-like.

    What got me thinking along those lines was supposedly the cold fusion thing got going when this Steve Jones fellow was working on some theory about very low rates of fusion happening inside the Earth to account of geothermal heat. I was wondering that these must be very low rates of fusion indeed, but I was going through an astronomy textbook talking about the Sun, and I thought, hey, wait a minute! The Sun is actually doing fusion at very low rates indeed, although whether fusion is taking place in the solid state inside the Earth is another matter to consider.

  • by mikael ( 484 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @10:35PM (#13966484)
    That brings to mind the following web page on the great airship UFO flap of 1897. []

    We are looking into the Dellschau manuscripts and further researches on this mysterious N.B. gas. From the work of Walter Russell and his development of the Octave Periodic Progression of elements, there would appear to be somewhere on the order of 26 elements BELOW HYDROGEN. This is TOTALLY CONTRARY to any modern understanding of chemistry.

    Airship inventors originally tried pumping all of the air out of their balloons figuring the vacuum would be lighter than air, but then they realized they had to fill it with something other than air otherwise the container would just collapse. So they had to start looking for different types of lighter than air gas (Hydrogen, Helium, etc...).
  • by EriktheGreen ( 660160 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @10:59PM (#13966579) Journal
    ... that the best measure of opposition to their new theory isn't the correctness of the old theory it replaces, but rather the degree to which other scientists have invested themselves in the old theory, be it intellectually, emotionally, or reputation wise.

    This is why I didn't go into anthropology (other than the money sucked)... the only time a new theory in anthro is accepted is after the major proponents of the old theory die off, and I didn't want to be part of such a backward profession. Unfortunately, I'm starting to realize that humans in general do the same thing in all areas of life... political parties, office politics, professional football... we all seem to want to be part of a "winning team" because of the emotional boost we get when "we" win something.

    I'm almost certain there's a biological reason for this, but I won't investigate further because there's no way to change current anthropological theory anyway.


  • Been there, seen it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Omega Blue ( 220968 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @11:51PM (#13966801)

    This is not the first time somebody claims to have made some major scientific breakthrough, leading to almost limitless energy. As usual, nothing ever came out of these claims.

    I suggest everbody heads straight to James Randi's website [] to look at some of these claims. I am also not surprised that if some of these scientists looked at this particular claim were fooled by chalatans. It's not the first time this happened, either. You need a magician to see through these tricks.

  • Who is Rick Maas? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday November 06, 2005 @11:59PM (#13966842) Homepage
    From the article:
    Rick Maas, a chemist at the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNC) who specialises in sustainable energy sources...

    From the UNC catalog:
    Richard Preston Maas (1987) Professor of Environmental Studies B.A., Bucknell University; M.S., Western Carolina University; M.S.P.H., Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    "M.S.P.H." is "Master of Science in Public Health". His field is water quality. [] He's been an expert witness on lead leaching from bronze parts of water systems. []

    And where are the "65 peer reviewed papers"?

  • Re:Like They Say... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by EternityInterface ( 898741 ) on Monday November 07, 2005 @12:04AM (#13966864)
    Education: you learn that you should remember.

    "It's said that the meaning of school is to make kids stop asking questions. To those that this fails, they become scientists"

    "To use the same words is not a sufficient guarantee of understanding; one must use the same words for the same genus of inward experience; ultimately one must have one's experiences in common"

    You should learn to relate things - relativity. Connect neurons. Otherwise you are just a harddrive.

    "We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality"
  • by bladesjester ( 774793 ) <slashdot@jamesh[ ... m ['oll' in gap]> on Monday November 07, 2005 @12:19AM (#13966943) Homepage Journal
    The theory of evolution vs intelligent design debate gets me. I'm one of those people who doesn't see why it couldn't be somewhere in the middle. I'm not talking *poof*, there's a dog and that's how it started, but more along the lines of nudging conditions to be more favorable.

    I look at it as kind of like dealing with a boulder rolling down a hill - it takes more effort than it's worth to try and stop it outright (which is comprable to either ID or absolute evolution arguments) than it does to nudge it along its trip to try and get a favorable outcome.

    This is also true in a lab because we do not really *make* things as create favorable conditions for the things to form themselves.

    The problem is that so many people take these *theories* as gospel and set out purposely to make anything that might contradict them in the least fail, ignoring evidence or worse. Theories are ideas, not hard fact. A lot of people have lost sight of that and seem to be trying to turn science into the new religion.
  • by wpmegee ( 325603 ) < minus poet> on Monday November 07, 2005 @12:31AM (#13966991)
    It also has the distinction of being the ugliest, least elegant, most complex theory ever invented, with totally arbitrary quantum numbers, numbers of particles, and other insanity. There is no rhyme or reason whatsoever behind quantum mechanics. It simply is and we have no idea why or how. We have no idea what it means as far as physical reality. Don't even get me started about parallel universes, sum-over-histories, and other lunacy. Quantum mechanics *can't* be the ultimate theory of the universe. It's totally counter-intuitive that God's left hand works differently than his right. God isn't schizophrenic. The only thing quantum mechanics has going for it is that it's unquestionably correct, mathematically speaking.
  • by Gzorn ( 642256 ) on Monday November 07, 2005 @12:54AM (#13967101)
    You do realize that the stability of the atom (the fact that it does not collapse due to radiative damping) was one of the great successes of quantum mechanics, don't you?

    There had to be some non-Newtonian model to avoid the electron death-spiral. Ironically, Mills argues (along with E.H. Lieb) that Schrodingers Equation does not address the stability of matter and Feynman's argument for the hydrogen ground state using the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle is flawed. pg. 11 (+/- 4 pages) of rs/Fallacy_Feynmans_Argument_030705.pdf

    Your statement about the hydrogen atom is completely incorrect, as far as I can make sense of it. Schroedinger's equation itself does not predict radiative damping directly.

    I read another post that argued Mills was incorrectly applying his supervisor's work - which was valid on "classical" scales but invalid at QED scales. My inference is that Mills tries to poke holes in quantum theory so that his GUT might be given some consideration.

    A blurb from there: "This modifies General Relativity to include conservation of spacetime and gives the origin of gravity, the masses of fundamental particles, the acceleration of the expansion of the universe (predicted by Dr. Mills in 1995 and since confirmed experimentally), and overturns the Big Bang model of the origin of the universe."

    However bogus that may or may not be, the interesting thing is the thing that doesn't fit theory - which, as the independent testing mentioned elsewhere in this forum indicates, seems to describe his fuel cell. If the cell behaves as advertised, I wonder if the functionality was derived from his theories, or if his theories were conjured up to explain the functionality. Maybe they're completely separate.

    Futhermore, one must ask why, when the vast majority of the baryonic mass of the universe is Hydrogen, this effect has never before been noticed in the emission and absorption lines of materials either in the lab by physics or anywhere else in the Universe by astronomers.

    He posits that the Hydrino is Dark Matter - or at least, that's the inference I get from what little I've read so far. I agree that attacking QED puts him on pretty shaky ground (to say the least) but his arguments regarding what the ground state of might have some validity. Perhaps you could peruse the Feynman.pdf quoted earlier and give your take on it?
  • by wanax ( 46819 ) on Monday November 07, 2005 @01:53AM (#13967347)
    This is the most intelligent post that I've read on this issue..

    If Mills is right, then not only QM but also Maxwell-Boltzman and our entire understanding of thermodynamics is thrown out the window.. and if he's saying that Maxwell-Boltzman is wrong then he has not only to re-explain QM, but just about everything in chemistry and (micro-)biology. All of both those fields are predicated on the essential correctness of Maxwell-Boltzman, which implies that matter, nearly all the time, must exist in its lowest energy state.

    If that is incorrect, then among other issues, Mills also has to re-explain diffusion, kinetic theory, Nernst-Planck, etc, etc, etc.. that haven't been under any type of serious debate for over 50 years.
  • by arminw ( 717974 ) on Monday November 07, 2005 @02:07AM (#13967397)
    .....He's asking us to believe nearly every atom in the universe is not in its lowest energy state. Well, why not?....

    Perhaps a related question to this is: Why don't the orbiting electrons of the atoms radiate all their energy away and the electrons "fall" into the nucleus and the atom self destructs? When an electron from an accelerator is subject to acceleration by deflecting it by a magnetic or electric field from a non-linear path, it radiates energy called Cerenkov radiation. This does not happen when the electrons travel nonlinearly around a nucleus. It is not known how electrons "know" they are traveling in a curved path as required by the electric fields of an atoms vs when they are deflected by a magnetic or electric field in a vacuum. Some theories posit that this energy loss does happen, but that the energy the electrons lose this way is made up by an exactly equal energy input from the "zero point energy" of space itself. Zero point energy is the energy left in space that has been cooled to absolute zero temperature.

    The amount of energy needed to keep the electrons of all atoms in orbit has been calculated to be truly astronomical. So far, in all our technology, we have only managed to exploit DIFFERENCES in energy. In a heat engine for example it is the difference in pressure and temperature that enables it to do useful work. In a hydroelectric station it is the difference in the potential energy of the water at the two elevations that is utilized by the turbine to do useful work. It is the difference in voltage that drives electrons through a circuit that provides power.

    This zero point energy is rather evenly distributed in all of space. It is not easily available to be used as an energy source. However, if a way could be found to utilize even some tiny differences in this unfathomably huge energy, the results would be amazing. Perhaps changing or re-arranging the energy of the orbital electrons of atoms may be a way to extract some this energy in a useful form without violating any well established quantum physics.
  • by ChuckleBug ( 5201 ) * on Monday November 07, 2005 @04:23AM (#13967856) Journal
    You can argue with this all you like, but the fact is

    This sounds a lot like "La, la, la, I can't hear you."

    f you think you can disprove intelligent design, you don't understand the 'theory.'

    I don't have to disprove it. The burden of proof is on the proponent of a theory. ID isn't a theory, anyway. It's just throwing up one's hands and saying "God^H^H^HSome really smart being must have done it." That ain't science.

    ID posits that life didn't just appear, but was orchestrated/designed/set-into-motion by some intelligent source while evolution declares that it just happened.

    "Just happened" is an absurd summation of what evolution is about.

    (Really, what science means by this is that they don't know, but it obviously happened, and these materials are needed, so they must have been there when it happened. But we weren't there when it 'happened' so we can't say for sure if anyone was stirring the pool with a stick or not, but we'll say there wasn't.

    Direct experiment is not the only means of verifying scientific theories, and the claim that it is is a canard dreamt up by ID/Creationism proponents. If the theory predicts that certain things should be observed in nature, then those observations are confirming factors. You can disprove evolutionary theory: Just find, say, hominid fossils in strata older than dinosoaurs.

    The whole "you weren't there" thing is nonsense. I notice that the religious never find that a problem with their creation stories. If science is only restricted to what happens in a lab, say goodbye to astronomy and geology.

    -this being taught as 'fact' in schools is what irks many, especially when the scientific community insists evolution is solid and doesn't give any credence to any other ideas, even when they are just as possible/probable.)

    But these other ideas aren't as possible or probable. The theory of evolution is supported by actual, real evidence. ID isn't even a scientific theory. People like Behe keep saying it is, but when pressed, all they can say is, "Well, it looks to us like it was designed." End. No more investigations. He even admitted in court that ID is only scientific if the definition of science were extended so broadly that it included astrology!

    If their theory is scientific, how can it be falsified? What experiment or observations could show it is wrong? ID can be confirmed by anything at all, so it's useless.

    Evolution happened. In that sense, it is a fact, and all that remains is to explain how it happened. Without evolution, modern biology makes no sense. It is the unifying principle of biology, and if you want to discard it, you have to discard biology as we know it. All those miraculous drugs, all the research on stem cells, all of it goes out the window.

    What really irks many about statements such as I just made is that the idea of evolution is odious to them for reasons having nothing to do with science. They just don't like it, and strain to find a "scientific" way to discredit it. Problem is, none of them have. I dare you to find anything, any evidence whatsoever in favor of creationism/ID (yes, they are the same thing). Even if you consider them as separate ideas, all their champions do is try to say evolution is wrong for this or that reason.

    How about this: State the scientific theory of Intelligent Design. Give us something that can be confirmed by evidence or disproven. There is no such thing.

    Imagine if all science was done the way ID proponents want it done. We'd see a phenomenon, like, say, gravity. Then we'd say, "Hmm. It's really hard to see how this could be. So God or Elvis or some alien makes it go." Then it would be settled. Great.

    Quantum physics, on the other hand, can be disproved here and now, if and only if, something outside the 'laws' of quantum theory is discovered to work..

    And all that has to happen is that something has to be demonstrated and replicated. Hasn't happened yet.

    I don't have time to keep going around about this. If you want the last word, be my guest.

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury