Johnson, who has been coping with disbelievers for
decades, can be very persuasive in a face-to-face encounter because he
can not do more than merely theorize; he can demonstrate working models
that unquestionably create motion using only permanent magnets. When this
writer was urged by the editor of SCIENCE & MECHANICS to make a thousand
mile pilgrimage to Blacksburg, Virginia, to meet with the inventor, he
went there as an "open-minded skeptic" and as a former research Scientist
determined not to be fooled. Within two days, this former skeptic had
become a believer. Here's why.
Doing the Unthinkable. Howard
Johnson refuses to view the "laws" of science as somehow sacred, so doing
the unthinkable and succeeding is second nature to him. If a particular
law gets in the way, he sees no harm in going around it for a while to
see if there's something on the other side. Johnson explains the persistent
opposition he experiences from the established scientific community this
way: "Physics is a measurement science and physicists are especially determined
to protect the Law of Conservation of Energy. Thus the physicists
become game wardens who tell us what laws' we can't violate. In this case
they don't even know what the game is. But they are so scared that I and
my associates are going to violate some of these laws, that they have
to get to the pass to head us off!"
The critics say Johnson offers a "free lunch" solution to
energy problems, and that there can be no such thing. Johnson demurs,
reminding repeatedly that he has never suggested that his invention provides
something for nothing. He also points gut that no one talks about a "free
lunch" when discussing extraction of enormous amounts of atomic power
by means of nuclear reactors and atom bombs. In his mind, it's much the
Johnson is the first to admit he doesn't actually know where
the power be has tapped derives. But he postulates that the energy may
be associated with spinning electrons, perhaps in the form of a "presently
unnamed atomic particle." How do other physicists react to Johnson's suggestion
that there may be an atomic particle so far overlooked by nuclear physicists?
Says Johnson: "I guess its fair to say that most of them are revolted."
On the other hand, a few converted scientists, including some who are
associated with large and prestigious research laboratories, are intrigued
enough to suggest that there should be a hunt for the answer, be it a
"particle" or some other as yet unsuspected characteristic of atomic structure.
This article is prefaced with the foregoing brief summary
of the ongoing controversy so that, in fairness to the inventor, we might
all view his claims with open minds, even if it means temporary setting
aside of cherished scientific concepts until more complete explanations
are forthcoming. The main question to be answered here and now is this:
Does Johnson permanent magnet motor work?
Before providing the answer, we need to face up to
another question that undoubtedly nags in the minds of many readers: Is
Johnson a bona fide researcher, or merely a "garage mechanic" mad inventor?
As the following brief summary suggests, the inventor's credentials appear
to be impeccable. Following seven years of college and university training,
Johnson worked on atomic energy projects at Oak Ridge, did magnetics research
for Burroughs company, and served as scientific consultant to Lukens Steel.
He has participated in the development of medical electrical products,
including injection devices. For the military he invented a ceramic muffler
that makes a portable motor generator silent at 50 feet; this has been
in production for the past 18 years. His contributions to the motor industry
include: a hysteresis brake; non-locking brake materials for anti- skid
application, new methods of curing brake linings; and a method of dissolving
asbestos fibers. He has also worked on silencers for small motors, a super
charger, and has perfected a 92-pole no-brush generator to go in the wheel
of Lincoln automobiles as a skid control; that last item reduced the cost
to one-eighth of the cost of an earlier design by utilizing metal-filled
plastics for the armature and field. In all, Johnson is connected with
more than 30 patents in the fields of chemistry and physics.
Sticky Tape Scientist. Despite
his impressive credentials, this amiable and unpretentious inventor likes
to characterize himself as a "Sticky tape" scientist. He sees no virtue
in wasting time building fancy, elaborate equipment when more simple assemblies
serve as well to test new ideas. The prototype devices shown in the photographs
in this article were assembled with sticky tape and aluminum foil, the
later material being used mainly to keep individual, permanent magnets
packaged together so that they do not fly apart.
Perhaps the best way to describe what these three gadgets
do is by reciting this writer's personal experiences during the interview
demonstration. That way I will not merely be telling what the inventor
says they do, but I will reveal what happened when I tried the experiments
myself. When we start talking about how and why the things work as they
do, well have to rely on the inventors explanations.
The first item consists of more than a dozen foil-wrapped
magnets assembled to form a broad arc. Each magnet is extended upward
slightly at each end to form a low U-shape, the better to concentrate
magnetic fields where they are needed. The overall curvature of the mass
of magnets apparently has no particular significance except to show that
the distance between these stator magnets and the moving vehicle is not
critical. A transparent plastic sheet atop this magnet assembly supports
a length of plastic model railroad track. The vehicle, basically a model
railroad flatcar, supports a foil-wrapped pair of curved magnets, plus
some sort of weight, in some cases merely a rock. The weight is needed
to keep the vehicle down on the track, against the powerful magnetic forces
that would otherwise push it askew. That 'is all there is to the construction
of this representation of a "linear motor."
I was prepared to develop eye strain in an effort to detect
some sort of motion in the vehicle. I need not have been concerned. The
moment the inventor let go of the vehicle be carefully placed at one end
of the track, it accelerated and literally zipped from one end to the
other and flew onto the floor! Wow!
I tried the experiment myself, and could feel the powerful
magnetic forces at work as I placed the vehicle on the track. I gently
eased the vehicle to the critical starting point, taking great care not
to exert any kind of forward push, even inadvertently. I let go, Zip!
It was on the floor again, at the other end of the track. Knowing that
I would be asked if the track might have had a slant, I reversed the vehicle
and started it from the opposite end of the track. It worked just as effectively
in the reverse direction. In fact, the vehicle can even navigate a respectable
upgrade. In light of these tests, and considering the remarkable speed
of the vehicle, you can discount any notion that this was a simple "coasting"
Incidentally, the photograph
shows the vehicle about half ways along the track. It was "frozen" there
by the electronic flash used to make the picture; there is no way of "posing"
the vehicle in that position short of tying it down.
The second device has the U-shaped magnets standing on end
in a rough circular arrangement oddly reminiscent of England's Stonehenge.
This assembly is mounted on a transparent plastic sheet supported on a
plywood panel pivoted, underneath, on a free turning wheel obtained from
a skateboard. As instructed, I eased the 8-ounce focusing magnet into
the ring of larger magnets, keeping it at least four inches away from
the ring. The 40 pound magnet assembly immediately began to turn and accelerated
to a very respectable rotating speed which it maintained for as long as
the focusing magnet was held in the magnetic field. When the focusing
magnet was reversed, the large assembly turned in the opposite direction.
Since this assembly is clearly a crude sort of motor, there's
no doubt that it is indeed possible to construct a motor powered solely
by permanent magnets.
The third assembly, which looks like the bones of some prehistoric
sea creature, consists of a tunnel constructed of rubber magnet material
that can be easily bent to form rings. This was one of the demonstration
models Johnson took to the U.S. Patent Office during his appeal proceedings.
Normally the patent examiners spend only a few minutes with each patent
applicant, but played with Johnsons devices for the better part
of an hour. As the inventor was leaving, he overheard one sideline observer
remark: "How would you like to follow that act?!"
It took Johnson about six years of legal hassling to finally
obtain his patent, and he has been congratulated for his ultimate victory
over patent office bureaucracy as well as for his inventiveness. One sign
that he left the patent office more than a little shaken by the experience
was the inclusion of diagrammatic material in the printed patent that
does not belong there. So if you look up the patent, pay no attention
to the "ferrite" graph on the first page; it belongs in some other patent!
The tunnel device of course worked very well in the inventor's
office during my visit although Johnson observed that the rubber magnets
are perhaps a thousand times weaker than the cobalt samarium magnets used
the other assemblies. There's just one big problem with the more powerful
magnets: they cost too much. According to the inventor, the magnets used
to construct the Stonehenge rotating model are collectively worth more
than one thousand dollars. But there's no need to depend solely on mass-production
economies to bring the cost down to competitive levels. Johnson and U.S.
Magnets and Alloy Co. are in the process of developing alternative, relatively
low cost magnetic materials that perform very well.
How do they work? The
drawing that shows a curved "arcuate" armature magnet in three successive
positions over a line of fixed stator magnets provides at least highly
simplified insights into the theory of permanent magnet motive power generation.
Johnson says curved magnets with sharp leading and trailing edges are
important because they focus and concentrate the magnetic energy much
more effectively than do blunt-end magnets. These arcuate magnets are
made slightly longer than the lengths of two stator magnets plus the intervening
space, in Johnson's setups about 3+1/8 inches long.
Note that the stator magnets all have their North faces
upward, and that they are resting on a high magnetic permeability support
plate that helps concentrate the force fields. The best gap between the
end poles of the armature magnet and the stator magnets appears to be
about 3/8 inch.
As the armature north pole passes over a magnet, it is repelled
by the stator north pole; and there's an attraction when the north pole
is passing over a space between the stator magnets. The exact opposite
is of course true with respect to the armature South pole. It is attracted
when passing over a stator magnet, repelled when passing over a space.
The various magnetic forces that come into play are extremely
complex, but the drawing shows some of the fundamental relationships.
Solid lines represent attraction forces, dashed lines represent repulsion
forces, and double lines in each case indicate the more dominant forces.
As the top drawing indicates, the leading (N) pole of the
armature is repelled by the north poles of the two adjacent magnets. But,
at the indicated position of the armature magnet, these two repulsive
forces .(which obviously work against each other), are not identical;
the stronger of the two forces (double dashed line) overpowers the other
force and tends to move the armature to the left. This left movement is
enhanced by the attraction force between the armature north pole and the
stator south pole at the bottom of the space between the stator magnets.
But that's not all! Let's see what is happening simultaneously
at the other end (S) of the armature magnet. The length of this magnet
(about 3+1/8 inches) is chosen, in relation to the pairs of stator in
magnets plus the space between them, so that once again the attraction/repulsion
forces work to move the armature magnet to the left. In this case the
armature pole (S) is attracted by the north surfaces of the adjacent stator
magnets but, because of the critical armature dimensioning, more strongly
by the magnet (double solid line) that tends to "pull" the armature to
the left. It overpowers the lesser "drag" effect of the stator magnet
to the right. Here also there is the added advantage of, in this case,
repulsion force between the south pole of the armature and the south pole
in the space between the stator magnets.
The importance of correct dimensioning of the armature magnet
cannot be over-emphasized. If it is either too long or too short, it could
achieve an undesirable equilibrium condition that would stall movement.
The objective is to optimize all force conditions to develop the greatest
possible off-balance condition, but always' in the same direction as the
armature magnet moves along the row of stator magnets. However, if the
armature is rotated 180 degrees and started at the opposite end of the
track, it would behave in exactly the same manner except that it would,
in this example, move from left to right. Also note that once the armature
is in motion, it has momentum that helps carry it into the sphere of influence
of the next pair of magnets where it gets another push and pull, and additional
Complex Forces. Some very complex magnetic
forces are obviously at play in this deceptively simple magnetic system,
and at this time it is impossible to develop a mathematical model of what
actually occurs. However, computer analysis of the system, conducted by
Professor William Harrison and his associates at Virginia Polytechnic
Institute (Blacksburg, Va.), provide vital feedback information that greatly
helps in the effort to optimize these complex forces to achieve the most
efficient possible operating design.
As Professor Harrison points out, in addition to the obvious
interaction between the two poles of the armature magnet and the stator
magnets, many other interactions are in play. The stator magnets affect
each other and the support plate. Magnet distances and their strengths
vary despite best efforts of manufacturers to exercise quality controls.
In the assembly of the working model, there are inevitable differences
between horizontal and vertical air spaces. All these interrelated factors
must be optimized, which is why computer analysis in this refinement stage
is vital. It's a kind of information feedback system. As changes are made
in the physical design, fast dynamic measurements are made to see whether
the expected results have actually been achieved. The 'new computer data
is then used to develop new changes in the design of the experimental
model. And so on, and on.
That very different magnetic conditions exist at the two
ends of the armature is shown by the actual experimental
data displayed in the table and associated graph. To obtain this information,
the researchers first passed the probe of an instrument used to measure
magnetic field strengths over the stator magnets and the intervening spaces.
We shall call this the "Zero" level although there is a very tiny gap
between the probe and the tops of the stator magnets. These measurements
in effect indicate what each pole of the armature magnet "sees" below
as it passes over. the stator magnets.
Next the probe is moved to a position just beneath one of
the armature poles, at the top of the 3/8-inch armature-to-stator air
gap. Another set of magnetic flux measurements is made. The procedure
is repeated with the probe positioned just beneath the other armature
Now "Instinct" might suggest, and correctly so, that the
flux measurements at the top and bottom of the air gap will differ. But
if "instinct" also suggests that these differences are pretty much the
same at the two armature pole positions, you would be very much in error!
First study the two tables that show actual flux density
measurements. Note that in this particular experiment the total magnetic
flux amounted to 30,700 Gauss (the unit of magnetic strength) when the
probe was held at the "Zero" level under the north pole of the magnet,
and a total of 28,700 Gauss when the probe was moved to the top of the
3/8-inch air gap. The difference between these total 'measurements is
Similar readings made at the air gap between the south pole
of the armature and the stator magnets indicates a total flux at "Zero"
level of 33,725 Gauss, and 24,700 Gauss at the top of the air gap. This
time the difference is a much larger 9,025 Gauss, or four and one half
times greater than for the north pole! Clearly, the magnetic force conditions
are far from identical at the two ends of the armature magnet.
The middle five pairs of figures from each table hive been
plotted in graphic form to make these differences more obvious. In the
top "South Pole" graph the dashed line connects, the "Zero" level readings
made over the stator magnets and over the intervening air spaces. Points
along the solid line indicate comparable readings made with the probe
just beneath the armature south pole. It is easy to see that there is
an average 43 percent reduction of the attraction between the armature
and stator magnets created by the air gap. Equally true, but perhaps not
so obvious, is the fact that there is an average 36 percent increase of
repulsion when the south pole of the armature passes over the spaces between
the stator magnets. The percentage increase only seems smaller because
it applies to a much smaller "Zero" level value.
The second graph shows that the changes are much less dramatic
at the north pole of the armature. In this case there's an average 11.7-percent
decrease of attraction over the spaces, and a 2.4 percent increase, of
repulsion when the armature north pole passes over the stator magnets.
As you study the data, be sure to note that the columns
are labeled differently. In the case of the north pole data, the stator
magnet areas repulse the armature north pole while the spaces between
the stator magnets attract. The conditions are exactly the opposite for
the south pole of the armature magnet. When the south pole passes over
a magnet, there is strong attraction; when it passes over a space, there
The Ultimate Motor. A motor based on Johnson's
findings would be of extremely simple design compared to conventional
motors. As shown in the diagrams developed from Johnsons patent
literature, the stator/base unit would contain a ring of spaced magnets
backed by a high magnetic permeability sleeve. Three arcuate armature
magnets would be mounted in the armature which has a belt groove for power
transmission. The armature is supported on ball bearings on a shaft that
either screws or slides into the stator unit. Speed control and start/stop
action would be achieved by the simple means of moving the armature toward
and away from the stator section.
There is a noticeable pulsing action in the simple prototype
units that may be undesirable in a practical motor. The movement can be
smoothed, the inventor believes, by simply using two or more staggered
armature magnets as shown in another drawing.
Whats Ahead? For inventor Howard Johnson
and his permanent magnet power source there's bound to be plenty of controversy,
certainly, but also progress. A 5000 watt electric generator powered by
a permanent magnet motor is already on the way, and Johnson has firm licensing
agreements with at least four companies at this writing.
Will we see permanent magnet motors in automobiles in the
near future? Johnson wants nothing to do with Detroit at this time because,
as he puts it: "Its too emotional - wed get smashed into the
earth!" The inventor is equally reluctant to make predictions about other
applications as well, mainly because he just wants time to perfect his
ideas and, hopefully, get the scientific establishment to at least consider
his unorthodox ideas with a more open mind.
For example, Johnson argues that the magnetic forces in
a permanent magnet represent superconductance that is akin to phenomena
normally associated only with extremely cold superconducting systems.
He argues that a magnet is a room temperature superconducting system because
the electron flow does not cease, and because this electron flow can be
made to do work. And for those who pooh- pooh the idea that permanent
magnets do work, Johnson has an answer: "You come along with a magnet
and pick up a piece of iron, then some physicist says you didn't do any
work because you used that magnet. But you moved a mass through a distance.
Right? That's work that requires energy. Or you can hold one magnet in
the air indefinitely by positioning it over another magnet with like poles
facing. The physicist will argue that because it involves magnetic repulsion,
no work is done. Yet if you support the same object with air, they will
agree in a minute that work is done!"
There's no doubt in Johnson's mind that he has succeeded
in extracting usable energy from the atoms of permanent magnets. But does
that imply that the electron spins and associated phenomena that he thinks
provide this power will eventually be used up? Johnson makes no pretense
of knowing the answer: I didn't start the electron spins, and I don't
know an way to stop them - do you? They may eventually stop, but that
is not my problem."
Johnson still has many practical problems to solve to perfect
his invention. But his greater challenge may be to win general acceptance
of his ideas by an obviously nervous scientific community in which many
physicists remain compulsive about defending the law of Conservation of
Energy without ever wondering whether that "law" really needs defending.
The dilemma facing Johnson is not really his dilemma but
rather that of other scientists who have observed his prototypes. The
devices obviously do work. But the textbooks say it shouldnt work.
And all that Johnson is really saying to the scientific community is this:
here is a phenomenon which seems to contradict some of our traditional
beliefs. For all our sakes lets not dismiss it outright but take
the time to understand the complex forces at work here.