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Eric Laithwaite

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  • Eric Laithwaite

    Dr. Eric Laithwaite, PhD, DSc was an English scientist who invented the mag-lev train system among other things. Towards the end of his life he noticed something that is not spoken of publicly and has been commented on by only a few others that I know of (Bruce DePalma comes to mind), namely objects with significant centrifugal force - heavy things spinning fast - require a modification to Newtonian mechanics. Dr. Laitwaite came to this conclusion from the observation of the behavior of gyroscopes and really with out any long winded BS, why doesn't a child's spinning top fall over? Being a respected, credentialled and groundbreaking scientist Dr. Laithawite chose to present his observations concerning gyroscopes to the English Royal society noting that spinning objects required a modification to Newtonian mechanics. As I understand it, this lecture was the first time in the society's 200+ year history that it did not archive any meeting minutes from the presentation. Showing his genius once again, Dr. Laithwaite took an unusual tack and represented his findings again, this time to a bunch of school children some month's later at the Royal Society's Christmas lecture series.

    I've now watched that lecture 3 times and think it is one of the if not the best and most profound scientific lecture I've ever seen. The first time I watched it I thought, well that is incredible but he is probably dumbing it down a bit for the children. The second time I though that is incredible, he is not dumbing it down, but I don't know why he is talking about some of the these things, why is he bringing in the artist M.C. Escher? I think by this third time I am starting to get more of what he is talking about. Yes, he clearly demonstrates that spinning objects exert forces which are not at all expected or predictable from Newtonian mechanics. He demonstrates that they exhibit "anti-gravity" if you will, that their weight can be seen to decrease (he shows this in a number of ways not least with the example with the spring when there is a forced precession). He shows that this can be clearly demonstrated not with some billion dollar particle accelerator but with a child's toy. However, he is also getting at something even more incredible if you can believe it. He makes the distinction at the start of the lecture between gravitational mass and inertial mass, i.e. inertial mass will exist independantly of any gravity field. He then demonstrates through a number of ways that inertial mass is also absent. It is not so much that there is an "anti-gravity" force as that the mass is no longer there when spinning. If you watch his experiments on at least half of them you can ask yourself, where did the mass go, not simply gravitational weight, but the actual mass of the spinning thing? One of my undergraduate majors was philososphy so I feel I can say that is pretty, pretty deep. The thing is still there in terms of the senses of sight and sound yet it is easily demonstrated that the mass is either greatly diminshed or absent as seen from its' inertial behavior, but isn't mass what makes something "there"? He also goes to great lengths to point out that under slightly different conditions there is tremendous even lethal energy in these spinning objects, hence his discussion of Escher's use of perspective in art. He also gave a demonstration of a gyroscope hanging from the ceiling and I'm still not entirely certain why, but I noticed once it started orbiting he mentioned it seemed like a spinning electron, and after all the grief he'd been through I think he didn't bother to mention the other much more macroscale analogy.

    Anyways it's great family fun, G rated, and two thumbs up. Running time is about 70 minutes, 7 parts and starts here Eric Laithwaite's lecture on gyroscopes part 1/7 - YouTube the experiments get rolling in part 2. Hope you enjoy it.

  • #2
    Hi ZPDM

    Thanks for the link , and for you comments . Very intresting indeed