The physicists eyes start to sparkle when he talks about "his" project. "It is science's latest Holy Grail! If we could get around to manipulating gravity, it would be the kick-off for a second industrial revolution!", explains Dr. Martin Tajmar, leader of the department for space power systems at the "Austrian Research Centers". "We could start developing new kinds of metal alloys, synthetic materials and medications. The fact of weight would not be of importance anymore in the process of mixing. The computer industrie could grow enormous silicon monocrystals that right now can't be created because of the Earth's gravity. One could even construct dampers for centrifugal forge that would come into effect in car accidents or simply in driving along sharp turns. There would be a list of neverending possibilities."
Outwit gravity? We have gotten so used to gravitation on Earth that the scientist's ideas seem to be exaggerative. Since the time of our birth, we have been caught in our planet's gravity trap, drudgingly learning to walk on to legs in order to fool gravitational forces that would much rather see us sticking to the ground. We even develop anxiety of flying due to the constant fear of gravity getting back at us much faster than we want it to. We admire sportive records that prove people to have lifted themselves a few metres into the air with the help of a pole, just to watch them get jerked right back down to the ground as if they were fastened to an elastic band.
On the other hand side, if something manages to float in the air after all, we are constantly looking for thin wires explaining the apparent reversal of gravity. And since we don't believe in magic, it can only be a strong magnetic field - or a large fan, for that matter - that affronts gravity.
What would happen, though, if we didn't need a magnet or a fan in order to float? If one of those rockets weighing 100 tons could just float away, as if an anti-gravity shield protected it from falling? It is all just an idea out of the British author H. G. Wells' science fiction novels?
Not at all! Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, that will celebrate its 100-year anniversary this year, describes gravitational waves that could be used for such a vision. They even come into existence together with electrical and magnetic waves in every common transformator station. Dr. Tajmar: "Unfortunately, those waves are too weak to be measured; we can only calculate them. For experimenting with those "gravitomagnetic fields", though, one would need the mass density of a neutron star, rotating with close to speed of light."
Since kings in medieval times had alchemists working for them in order to find the formula for gold, the system hasn't changed a lot: The "kings" nowadays go by names such as NASA, Boeing, British Aerospace or simple "the Chinese". The "alchemists" are today's scientists; just like in medieval times some of them not even knowing what they are talking about. Instead of gold, they deal with gravitational waves that still wait to be artificially created. Just as "insane" as back then: The only thing to motivate the scientists working on the projects is the tiny hope that it could just work against all odds.
|Picture by Evgeny Podkletnov|
Among experts, the most famous of these "alchimists" is Dr. Evgeny Podkletnov, a Russian physicist who is said to have made a sensational discovery in 1992 (see sketch). Dr. Tajmar: "I was still at university when he allegedly managed to manipulate gravity with a rotating superconductor ring in an experiment." Up to today, the experiment is marked a Russian KGB hoax that was created to upset the Americans. It was never plausibly repeated in professional circles, and Podkletnov still owes proof that it worked one time.
Dr. Podkletnov, who lateron worked for the NASA and leads a testing laboratory in Moscow today, stated in an interview: "Yes, I actually found the experiment to work. Experts, though, reacted to this sensation like the Inquisition to a heretic. Give me 100 million euros, ten high-class scientists and ten years of time. I will build you a rocket that will float into space weightless due to anti-gravity. How come there are no pictures of my experiments? Even in every car factory, it is forbidden to take pictures. Just like in those highly secured research laboratories..."
Although Dr. Podkletnov fires our imagination: In professional circles, he is still considered a hoax. Up front with this idea is Dr. Martin Tajmar, who is one of the worldwide leading scientists in this field and has often tried to re-enact the Russian's experiments. Every single time with a negative result: "If my name was Podkletnov, and I managed to prove a manipulation of gravity, why would I not call CNN and have them report it live instead of turning it into a little mystery for myself?"
Nevertheless, Dr. Tajmar and his team are in good spirit in the research center Seibersdorf in Lower Austria: "I think that the track Podkletnov was following was the right way to go. We have recently developed a theory and we are currently trying to prove it in an experiment."
If "modern alchimists" should some day actually manage to create artificial gravity fields, there is still a number of hurdles to overcome: Today, gold can already be created artificially with modern techniques, but it is simply too expensive to be worth the effort...