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Monday June 2 2014 / Science & Technology - Art & Design - Horology

Science has given us great power over the natural world but at the same time also exposed our limitations when it comes to the laws of nature.

Biology dictates that we cannot live forever, chemistry says we cannot turn lead into gold and the laws of physics state that perpetual motion is impossible.

Apparently Norwegian artist Reidar Finsrud hasn’t received the memo. He claims to have created a perpetual motion sculpture that defies the laws of physics and could one day provide us with free energy.

Finsrud’s installation – called Perpetuum Mobile – appears to use a combination of gravity, magnets and pendulums to keep a metal ball in constant motion.

Watch the video below to see the mechanism in action:

While Finsrud accepts that his sculpture is not yet 100 per cent efficient – and therefore not yet a perpetual motion machine – he plans to work on it until it becomes one.

Nobody has been able to explain the high efficiency of 80 to 90 per cent achieved by the sculpture in the 18 years of its existence – not even the artist himself!

Astonishingly, he eventually hopes to achieve an efficiency of over 100 per cent, thus creating surplus, free energy for mankind to enjoy, raising the possibility of a paradise with no energy bills, no dirty fossil fuels, no pollution and no climate change.

Well, that’s the dream anyway…

In the real world, there are a lot of things working against him. The biggest obstacle is the second law of thermodynamics that states that no system can convert all of its energy into work – i.e. achieve 100 per cent efficiency – let alone generate free energy.

Some energy will always be lost due to friction and air resistance. In addition, the magnets will eventually lose their magnetism over time (usually at a rate of one per cent over 10 years) due to the effect of heat, radiation and other magnets.

Another obstacle to the credibility of the sculpture is the heavier pendulum hidden in the main brass stem.

While the rest of the rest of the sculpture is exposed to view, this part remains hidden, raising the suspicion among sceptics that a secret, external power source could be lurking inside.

If that were the case, it would not be the first time such a deception was attempted.

In 1815, Jean and David Geiser, a father and son team of clockmakers in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, presented a clock that they claimed was a real perpetual machine.

It appeared to be powered by a wheel with 24 small brass weights at its rim, each containing a complex trigger mechanism.

The whole system was modelled on a perpetual motion pretender that had been around for centuries – the over-balanced/unbalanced wheel, a.k.a Bhaskara wheel or Arabian wheel.

However, later examination revealed that the Geisers’ clock was driven by a spring concealed in the wheel's hub that could be wound with a wind-key by detaching the seconds hand. You can’t fool everybody all the time!

All the same, horology has still given us probably the closest thing so far to a perpetual motion machine.

The Beverly Clock at the University of Otago in New Zealand has been running since 1864 without ever being wound.

The clock’s mechanism is driven by a variation in atmospheric pressure and temperature inside an airtight compartment.

However, the clock can still stop if there is insufficient fluctuation in temperature on a particular day.

For now, then, it seems that an energy paradise remains out of reach.

But that does not mean that the so-called perpetual motion machines like Finsrud's have nothing to bring to the table.

They take us back to a time when the human imagination was not restricted by the rigours of science. Even if they are extremely unlikely to stand the test of time, they are often beautiful and fascinating objects in themselves.

To discover more about Reidar Finsrud and his work, please visit:

Suggested by
Philippe Martin