Perpetual Motion

24 Sep, 2015 530 Physics

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the rise of the idea of perpetual motion and its decline, in the 19th Century, with the Laws of Thermodynamics. For hundreds of years, some of the greatest names in science thought there might be machines that could power themselves endlessly. Leonardo Da Vinci tested the idea of a constantly-spinning wheel and Robert Boyle tried to recirculate water from a draining flask. Gottfried Leibniz supported a friend, Orffyreus, who claimed he had built an ever-rotating wheel. An increasing number of scientists voiced their doubts about perpetual motion, from the time of Galileo, but none could prove it was impossible. For scientists, the designs were a way of exploring the laws of nature. Others claimed their inventions actually worked, and promised a limitless supply of energy. It was not until the 19th Century that the picture became clearer, with the experiments of James Joule and Robert Mayer on the links between heat and work, and the establishment of the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics.

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  • Ruth Gregory 4 episodes
    Professor of Mathematics and Physics at Durham University
  • Frank Close 15 episodes
    Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Oxford
  • Steven Bramwell 2 episodes
    Professor of Physics and former Professor of Chemistry at University College London

Reading list

  • James Joule: A Biography
    Donald S. L. Cardwell (Manchester University Press, 1991) Google Books →
  • Neutrino
    Frank Close (Oxford University Press, 2012) Google Books →
  • Physics, the Human Adventure: From Copernicus to Einstein and Beyond
    Gerald Holton and Stephen G. Brush (Rutgers University Press, 2006) Google Books →
  • Julius Robert Mayer: Prophet of Energy
    Robert Bruce Lindsay (Pergamon Press, 1973) Google Books →
  • Perpetual Motion: The History of an Obsession
    Arthur W. J. G. Ord-Hume (Adventures Unlimited Press, 2005) Google Books →

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Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. Perpetual Motion has intrigued some of the greatest names in science as they try to invent machines that could power themselves endlessly.