Feynman Physics / The Feynman Lectures on Physics

Brilliant and controversial, Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988), winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1965, found himself involved in the public demonstration of a near-perpetual engine: especially energized at the time of its production, it was able to push a car at 80 km/h for at least six months. The demonstration set up by the inventor, the Hungarian Joseph Papf or Papp, was held in Los Angeles in 1966 and ended with the explosion of the engine, one man dead, another seriously injured and an accusation of sabotage against Feynman, which was soon withdrawn. Since then, nothing else has been heard about the incredible engine. Feynman was always critical of mysterious phenomena, including occult energy sources. In his Lectures on Physics (Reading, Mass., 1963), a revised transcription of the courses held at Caltech from 1961 to 1963, he himself presents a device that might be labelled “perpetual motion”: a bicycle wheel whose metal spokes are replaced by elastic bands. Two powerful lamps illuminate half of the wheel, which turns very slowly. The surprising motion depends on a particular property of the rubber bands, which contract with the heat and relax with the cold. The mysterious energy source of the wheel is therefore the heat radiated by the lamps. The device has nothing transcendent about it; on the contrary, since most of the heat is lost, has minimum efficiency.