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Last September, New Scientist magazine published a story about the “EmDrive,” a machine designed and built by the British engineer Roger Shawyer, who claimed that his contraption could produce a net forward acceleration by bouncing microwaves around inside a metal cavity. Onward to the stars, etc. Now, nobody else has been able to reproduce what Shawyer claims he’s seen, and Shawyer’s assertion that standard relativity and electromagnetism predict such an acceleration is, to put it mildly, nonsense. The conservation of momentum is built deeply into the mathematical structure of these principles, and so whatever the fine details of Shawyer’s machine, his claim is wrong.

It’s always possible that some new physics came raining out of the sky and landed in Shawyer’s garage, but if nobody can reproduce his “result,” there’s no reason to speculate about it.

Although basic tenets of E&M imply that radiation pressure can’t impart a net thrust to a closed cavity, it’s fun to see the details for how this works out, particularly in the sort of asymmetric conical shape which Shawyer built. Greg Egan has written up the details, in an essay I didn’t know about till now:

He has pictures, too!

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