WTF is an EM Drive?? w Greg Smithwick from the Solocal Pasco Podcast

Update 1: Link to the German teams results that found that it worked per Shawyers estimates in 2015

UPDATE 2:   I found a guy who figured out just how fast we might go if we could achieve constant 1g (1 earth gravity) acceleration!  And Holy Shit!!

w a constant 1g acceleration (and flipping and burning to de-accelerate it would take just 2 freaking days to get to mars at its closest. 2 days????

The Moon / Luna: Closest to Earth (Supermoon): Travel time  3h 20m 24s

Mars: Closest to Earth: 65 million km Travel time :  1d 21h 13m 1s

Jupiter: Closest to Earth: 588 million km Travel time : 5d 16h 2m 2s

Its also estimated we could get up to .5 C (thats half lightspeed) in about a year.   Tougher to go faster because mass starts increasing exponentially.  But still.   Interstellar travel in dozens of years instead of hundreds or tens of thousands.

So this is a first.  Following in the footsteps of the man i’m about to thank in the most epic way possible, i’m going to start writing blog posts to go along w the podcast.  This is a tad intimidating since the BaboonRoom usually lasts at least an hour, but so what???  This blog post is a long re-cap of the FB video cast that can be found above. Or HERE.  Having no real clue how to begin, lets just… y’know…. Begin.


Today’s guest is Greg Smithwick from the increasingly popular Solocal Pasco Podcast.  We discussed briefly that though his numbers fluctuate daily, month over month things are getting real serious in the best possible way!!!   I wanted to thank him for taking the Baboon Room under his wing and helping me get my shiz together!   The best way i could think of to do that was to read him a slightly edited version of this:

I highly recommend finding someone you really like and reading this to them out loud 😉

Being more awesome than a monkey wearing a tuxedo made out of bacon riding a cyborg unicorn with a lightsaber for the horn on the tip of a space shuttle closing in on mars, while engulfed in flames… is… in point of fact Pretty Dang Sweet!  

We then ran through some basic Hurricane safety planning; as it turns out Kayaking is not included.   



In this episode we spend ALOT of time nerding out on the EmDrive.  


Basically this guy Roger Shawyer in England (funded by the UK govt) produced a silly contraption that he said produced thrust (like a rocket) but had no exaust (very unlike a rocket), and in fact was just a copper cone that he fired X-Rays into, these rays bounced around and VOILA!   THRUST!!!  

This sounded crazy to everyone who thinks about physics stuff, since what he describes is basically like standing inside a room and saying you can make the room go forward by pushing on the inside wall.   Or even something as dumb as pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps.  


Physicists and engineers were (and some still are) calling it Snake Oil… because duh!… right??

There was only one problem with all the naysayers and grumpy pants calling this guy out as a loon.   The thing works.   A bunch of countries like china, the UK and Germany as well as some private groups have re-produced Shawyers results.  They forgot to get hung up on the ‘fact’ that it was impossible and they just tried it.     

This is EXACTLY the kind of story nerds live for!!   An honest to goodness game changing technology that spits in the eye of our most up to date understanding of physics?!?!?!   Oh hells yes!!  

The first link we discuss is about the fact that NASA’s EagleWorks has been testing this thing (we knew about this a year ago but it seemed clear NASA was just trying to prove that the other experiments were faulty, that it was some environmental intrusion or measuring error that was causing the results).    The leak out of NASA now is that it absolutely works.    It’s getting grams of thrust out of firing light (x-rays) into a closed copper cone.    Grams doesnt sound like a lot, but the next best thing we have is the Ion Drive,  (at least it looks cool) ->

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which is going into use this decade, which can run for months of in-space acceleration which is AWESOME, but has the same thrust force as a single piece of paper resting on your hand.   Over time that builds up huge speed in space.

Over time grams of force would build up WAY WAY MORE.    

Think of dropping the time it takes to get to mars from 6 months to less than 1 month!!!

It’s a big deal.   Oh and it proves there’s something super weird going on in the physics dept.  More on that later.

We speculate that @ElonMusk has to be looking into this right?? There’s gotta be plans to send one of these things to the ISS stat, right??  

Oh, and incidentally Shawyer is now saying NASA is a decade behind, he is now working with some private UK Aerospace companies on the EmDrive 2.0 which he says will be able to produce TONS of thrust.    Which is INSANE.   He also was allowed to release ten year old scientific papers kept secret for a decade by UK law on his website recently.  @

Tons of thrust is a game changer for everything that moves!!  Flying Cars, no problem.   Heck we wouldn’t need a space elevator any more!! If a flying car is possible with an engine that doesn’t require propellant OR wings, then getting 5 feet off the ground or 5 miles off the ground will only depend on the ammt of battery storage you have!!!  Oh and your trip to Mars?   A couple weeks.  Here is our collective reaction to this news:



At tons of thrust headed to Mars we would probably aim to maintain 9.8 m/sec squared which would perfectly mimic earth normal gravity.   Which means we are speeding up A LOT the whole time, then once we get half way we flip the ship, YAY WEIGHTLESS DAY, then turn the EmDrive back on and slow down all the way to Mars feeling exactly the same as we would on Earth.   Interestingly this solves many of the health issues that go along with long term space travel, nevermind that it won’t be long term anymore, at least in terms of heading to Mars.     

Greg then recommends an awesome series from Kin Stanley Robinson, Red Mars, Blue Mars and Green Mars.    A great exploration of what it will actually be like to leave earth and all its sociological baggage and start to terraform a planet and try to build a new society from scratch.  

We then went right back to brainstorming about what might be possible because how could we not??

Greg asked what might be possible outside just propulsion, and i remind him that thrust is all it does so probably nothing, but…. Who knows??

This seemed like a good time to get into the science.  

Shawyer. The original inventor (discoverer??) of the EmDrive says, “People all around the world have been measuring thrust. You’ve got guys building them in their garages and very large organisations building cavities too. They’re all generating thrust, there’s no great mystery. People think it’s black magic or something, but it’s not. Any physicist worth his salt should understand how it works, or if they don’t, they should change their profession.”

Bold?   Bold.   

Now we get into the second article from the MIT Review.  

The beginning is a really good review of what the actual crap the EmDrive is supposed to be/do.  

Where it gets interesting, and admittedly way in the weeds, is the stuff from Mike McCulloch.   Here’s a bit from the article that is highly relevant.

“First some background. Inertia is the resistance of all massive objects to changes in motion or accelerations. In modern physics, inertia is treated as a fundamental property of massive objects subjected to an acceleration. Indeed, mass can be thought of as a measure of inertia. But why inertia exists at all has puzzled scientists for centuries.

McCulloch’s idea is that inertia arises from an effect predicted by general relativity called Unruh radiation. This is the notion that an accelerating object experiences black body radiation. In other words, the universe warms up when you accelerate. (Basically moving thru nothing but Space/Time creates a kind of Friction)

According to McCulloch, inertia is simply the pressure the Unruh radiation exerts on an accelerating body.

That’s hard to test at the accelerations we normally observe on Earth. But things get interesting when the accelerations involved are smaller and the wavelength of Unruh radiation gets larger.

At very small accelerations, the wavelengths become so large they can no longer fit in the observable universe. When this happens, inertia can take only certain whole-wavelength values and so jumps from one value to the next. In other words, inertia must quantized at small accelerations.

McCulloch says there is observational evidence for this in the form of the famous fly by anomalies. These are the strange jumps in momentum observed in some spacecraft as they fly past Earth toward other planets. That’s exactly what his theory predicts.


Ok, i had no idea what these FlyBy Anomalies were.   Apparently we have measured spacecraft experiencing jerky acceleration while coming by the earth’s gravity well during gravitational assist maneuvers.   We bring spacecraft close to planets all the time to slingshot them farther out into the solar system at greater speeds.   But we get to measure their speeds very accurately in close to Earth and for some reason they would get extra boosts of inertia seemingly out of nowhere.

This is what McCulloch originally set out to explore, because WTF??

So Mike does some maths (he’s British) and sorts out that at very low acceleration levels the wavelength of the Unruh Radiation is TOO LARGE to fit in the universe.   So it skips those wavelengths entirely.   They cannot exist…. So they don’t.   He suggests that’s why the FlyBys appear to gain extra speed as they skip over certain Unruh Radiation wavelengths to their whole number values that can actually exist in the observable universe.   Because of course.

This is, he says, what might be making the EmDrive work.   You know what has small acceleration values?  Photons of x-rays bouncing off the inside of metal cones.   So the suggestion is that at the big end they will round UP to the nearest available wavelength, and at the small end they will round down, and that change in energy gets expressed as a change in inertia, aka thrust, also aka Zoom, aka Go Juice, aka whatever cause that noise the Jetsons car makes.  

Read:   a weird trick of small particle physics makes it go!    Greg called it Quantum Lift, and while that’s misleading because the more gullible among us are now thinking about Deepok Chopra quotes, its maybe a fair description.

One of the elements that really gets my attention suggesting all of this might actually be TRUE (never mind that NASA is testing positive and China built one etc etc) is that McCulloch offered a few tests to predict the level of force that the EmDrives SHOULD produce if it’s actually his weird new inertia physics at play.  AND…  All of the published results fit the order of magnitude that his equations suggest PERFECTLY.   Thats a frickin big deal!!!!!   CAPS LOCK JUSTIFIED!!!

He also suggests that changing the shape of the cone should affect the force produced in some predictable ways and there are murmurings that NASA tested that and found it to match his predictions as well.  

We are miles away from snake oil town here people!!!

McCulloch predicts that placing a Dielectric (huh?) inside the cavity should increase thrust, since we have no idea what that means Greg is going to ask a smart person he knows for some info on that.  Exciting!!  Greg remember to ask him about the potential for the speed of light changing inside the cavity as well.  

Which reminds me of a joke i just heard.    “A man walks into a bar, the bartender says we don’t serve faster than light particles here.  A tachyon walks into a bar.”

Its funny as hell, trust me.  😉

Greg brings up at this point how it’s often other fields of science that will confirm massive new discoveries, eg people studying how to advance radio technology found the cosmic background radiation proof.   The big bang is real people!! It will be amazing if it turns out that anomalies in how our interplanetary robots get flung around planets to gain speed end up explaining the way the EmDrive works.  Entertaingly those same robots will look like horse and carriages once the EmDrive is flinging things around the solar system.  

We talked briefly about God a bit after this, since it seems like Religion only exists in the tiny (and shrinking) island of ignorance left to us.

Also Greg reminded us about a quote “If you’re religious you’re a shit thinker and no one should listen to you.”    Which of course also reminds us that yours truly is a bit of dick, since i’m the one who said it.  

Between the EmDrive potential discoveries, the inevitable advance of AI, Crispr Cas9 and frankly the feeling that we really are at the knee of the curve of exponential technological growth (seriously, click that it’ll blow your effin mind.  Ray Kurzweil Ted Talk)  i postulate that we could wake up a mere 18 months from now to a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WORLD!!   I don’t know about you but this excites the hell outa me!

The deeper part of this exploration of the EmDrive is that it cracks open new fields of study in applied physics because we had no idea this was possible.   Greg and i discuss the possible implications of this technology, such as live lobsters on Mars.  Assuming that we can carry enough electricity power (big if) Shawyer’s suggestion that he is working on a drive w TONS of thrust would mean you could take his flying car idea to space.     The reason planes cant is they require air for lift.   This requires NOTHING.  Again, if you can get 5 feet off the ground, with enough battery power you could get to orbit.   And essentially, if we are right about this, anyone who can machine a brass cone and can build a microwave could in theory build one of these things.  Like THIS GUY maybe?

Greg has one stipulation for an EmDrive flying car, it must make the same noise as the Jetsons car.   Because of course.   I made him repeat the noise because he’s very good at it.   @ 43 min on the FB video.

Throughout this discussion we were watching Hermine.   Since we are posting the blog post and audio-cast the week after…    My house almost flooded!!

Here’s some video of the least big storm surge at our house.  

We spent some time talking about the mechanics and history of big storms circa 50minutes of the video.   As well that NASA just released a new study that Climate Change is causing warming at rates WAY above anything in the last thousand years.  

Proxy-based temperature reconstruction.

Hottest years ever last 3 years, hottest months ever this year.   

Since we recorded this episode there is also extremely alarming news about OCEANIC WARMING.     And interestingly i’m optimistic we can start solving this, but it won’t be fun.   Once the environmental situation starts failing it’s becoming way more likely we will see cascading failures.   For example,   air climate warms, causes the oceans to heat up, which causes faster ice cap melt, which decreases reflectivity, which causes faster air climatewarming, which makes more ice melt… etc etc.  

Al Gore likes to talk about an orderly retreat inland, i think mostly to make people feel better about the fact that ocean levels are now GUARANTEED to increase.   With cascade failures in the climate homeostasis (ha big word!) we could see double digit feet of ocean level rise in a couple years!!!   

You think the wars and refugee crisis is bad now??

Ps.  confirmed we will be interviewing Ash Gallagher about her work on the refugee crisis in the middle east at the end of Sept.  

Towards the end we make the logical pivot to discussing Colin Kaepernick, because of course.  We are renaissance men dammit!   Also, frankly… the infinite random regression is one of my favorite parts of the BaboonRoom Ethos,   you just never know what’s gonna happen!

There’s too much to say about this, and we don’t digg into it extensively, but take a few seconds and look at this.  

Google pic of walgreens lunch counter.


If you have found yourself complaining about this sports personality protesting by sitting, you are EXACTLY like the white assholes in the picture above.

How DARE a black person protest!?!?!    It amazes me that so many people just don’t think minorities have any reason to be upset.   Institutionalized racism is a fucking THING people.   Take the time to listen to SpareRoom studios newest podcast Miko Grime’s episode with her father.   He talks about some of the insane things they went through in the past.   And it’s not easy to listen too, just like its not easy to listen to or read about shit that’s going down in the here and now.   

Greg’s killer quote  “If you’re mad at Colin Kapearnick for making America worse, why are you wearing a hat that says “Making America Great Again”

To wit, you shit thinkers already think America is awful and you have the fucking gall to be angry at a black man also suggesting there are areas for improvement?!?!?!?  



Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Alli…. They were all vilified in the same way for stepping out of line and protesting inequality.   We see them as heroes now, but the same types of assholes complaining about Kapearnick now were the loudest voices then too.    History laughs at them.   And if you are mad @ Kapearnick, you can bet your ass history will laugh at you.   

We went on to discuss the real numbers on minority police brutality and profiling, as well as mortgage regulations being abused to effectively create ghettos.

@ The end of the day what we could really use is better information we could all trust.   Guess what, google’s working on just that.  

Google Knowledge Based Trust – the white paper

Also… 5 things we need to know that are real challenges to this idea, but not insurmountable considering who’s working on it.

Ray Kurzweil, Google’s Director of Engineering, has been tasked with creating an artificial intelligence that can understand content itself without relying on third-party signals like links. Knowledge-Based Trust, a way to determine the accuracy of facts, appears to be a part of this trend of moving away from link signals and towards understanding the content itself.

There’s only one problem: The research paper itself states that there are at least five issues to overcome before Knowledge Based Trust is ready to be applied to billions of web pages.”

Imagine a world where you could watch fox news with an app running on your TV that called BULLSHIT in real time every time they lied?!?!?!    Hell, any cable news outlet would suffer.   Further Hell, even if they were WRONG, which happens all the time.   And maybe even, down the road, when the AI gets really good, it can fill in when these corporate slaves tell us only half truths, so we know what they ARENT telling us, which i believe is often the greater problem.  

Another potential example, the App could flash DOGWHISTLE every time anyone on Fox news uses the word THUG.  Because it’d be nice for dimwits to start finding out they are getting played.   

@ About 1hr:03min (fb video) we start talking about connecting Google’s truth engine to electric wristbands that shock you every time you hear something that isnt true.   

Ahem.    Thats worth listening too.  For sure do not make us dictators.   Of anything.  😉

The rest of this Cast was talking about upcoming interviews and weekend shows.

If you have read to the bottom of this post PLEASE message me w any comments, criticisms, thoughts, ideas…  

Is this level of written deep dive worthwhile?  It was kinda fun.  

If you liked this and you havent started reading  the WaitButWhy Blog…  DO IT.  




NASA EmDrive Paper Passes Peer Review


The Science:  What the crap is going on??


5 thoughts on “WTF is an EM Drive?? w Greg Smithwick from the Solocal Pasco Podcast

  1. Corey James Cottrell, I absolutely loved reading this. The physics part was particularly head spinning for me. I was so glad when you got to the joke about… A man walked into a bar….I thought, okay, I’ll get this part. HA! I didn’t get the joke, not even a little bit.
    Thankfully you moved on from physics to things I could actually understand. So, I love your writing – always have. It is clear that you love writing. I think you should keep doing it. It looks slick, is laid out well, good little graphics to give us a giggle, well written, engaging, and mostly understandable for me. How did I not know that you are such a big huuuuuuge nerd?

    1. Regarding the joke, tachyons move backwards in time comma so they also kind of go faster than the speed of light comma get it?

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