Sunday, December 27, 2009

Should you be remembered for an invention that never actually worked?

Reading a review on the book Firepower: The most spectacular fraud in Australian History, I came across the story of engineer Ralph Sarich and his orbital engine.

I first heard of the Sarich Orbital Engine back in the 1970's from our neighbour who talked about it enthusiastically and, I believe, was an investor. Since I had an interest in mechanical/electrical inventions even back then, I kept my eyes and ears open for news on this engine which made some impressive claims. It claimed to have more power and have less emissions. Sarich won numerous awards because of this engine. The company created to make the engine raised millions of dollars on the stock exchange.

You may ask in which cars is the engine being used right now and why haven't you heard about this great Australian invention. During the research and development of the engine, it was found that it was difficult to lubricate and it suffered from overheating. These technical problems were so limiting that no production model could ever be successfully developed. But there was some good news. In the research process, the company did invent a new fuel injection method which is currently used in motor boat engines.

Now, Sarich ain't no fool and must have seen the writing on the wall, and by 1992 had sold all his shares and intellectual property in the engine for about $200 million. By 2004 the company had accumulated losses of around $480 million.

So what did Sarich do with all this cash. Invest in research and development of other technologies? No. He bought real estate and is now one of the richest in Australia. In this article about his real estate investments, he says that retiring and playing golf is a "waste of the brain". What, and real estate investing during a boom is rocket science????????

It's interesting to note that in the above mentioned article it makes even more claims about the engine saying it "was 40 per cent lighter, 60per cent smaller and 35 per cent more efficient than standard car engines. Why it never took off in cars remains in dispute". Why it never took off in cars remains in dispute????? It's only in dispute from conspiracy theorists. It didn't take off because it was not feasible. Even Sarich knew that and got out back in 1992. Why else would he get out? Why didn't you ask him in the interview?

Anyhoo, he now plans to get into green technologies. As he said, "At the moment we haven't done much (but) it's an area that I really like. I think there's great potential in it". Why has it taken him 15 or so years from 1992 to be interested in green tech? Wasn't one of the reasons for inventing the orbital engine back in 1972 to decrease fossil fuel use because of the environmental concerns back then? If he was really keen on green issues surely when he got his $200 million he would have put some of the into that area. Call me cynical, but I doubt this guy has got any environmental concerns. It's cash, cash, cash, and more cash. Which really means me, me, me, and more me. It seems that he is only interested in something if it can make him a crap load of money. The environment is just a means to achieve that goal.

But, you may say, he just donated $20 million to build a neuroscience wing in WA. Doesn't that show he's not just thinking about himself? Hmmm, as a young man he was involved in a car accident and severely injured his back. Maybe he's thinking that those injuries may come back to haunt him later in life and he needs appropriate facilities to deal with that.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

High Brow Time

I've been watching a bunch of talks given by Nobel Prize winners on the history of particle physics, both experimental and theoretical. They are fairly technical but I did like the talks by Glashow, Veltman, t'Hooft, Cronin and Myers.

Myers talked about some of the problems of LEP which were caused by some strange situations. If you thought that a baguette was a strange thing to shut down a machine, what about two deers shagging!