Perpetual Motion Isn’t Possible, But Inventors Can Create Its Illusion

Perpetual motion machines are impossible, right? They violate the laws of thermodynamics. And yet people have been trying to engineer one for centuries. YouTuber gzumwalt posted a video of what looks like a marble moving in a perpetual loop. But there’s more than meets the eye and the creator is clear that it only looks like a perpetual motion machine. He also shared the plans to 3D print and assemble the components, so you too can fool people into thinking you’re a genius inventor.  

The device, which we saw on Boing Boing, looks simple. Just a plastic base with a slightly sloped track on top. The video shows a marble going round and round. But how? It turns out there’s an infrared transceiver in the base that detects the marble. It activates a small magnet, which pushes the ball up the slope. And the loop continues.

If you’re more of a viewer than a do-er, just watching the video on loop is a pleasing ASMR experience. The audio track includes only the sound of the metal marble going around and around the plastic track. There’s also lots of marble races on YouTube to keep you amused. Or mentions in pop culture, like when Lisa Simpson invents a perpetual motion machine.

A Simpsons GIF related to an infinite marble loop that seemingly defies the laws of thermodynamics.

Last year, a different video showed another simple perpetual marble motion loop. But it also doesn’t qualify. In the video below, science communicator Dianna Cowern, a.k.a. Physics Girl, shares a few of the more common perpetual motion machine designs. And points out why they don’t fit the definition.

As Physics Girl says “perpetual motion machines are the snake oil of physics.” But that doesn’t mean you can’t wow your friends and family with this 3D-printed device. 

Featured Image: gzumwalt

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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