Activities of Jupiter Technologies
Does Jupiter have new bolts?
LOOK at it this way: an outfit founded and paid for by a Texan fried-chicken
magnate hires (among others) a physicist who has done government-sponsored
work on extra-sensory perception. After nine years of secretive research it
says it has discovered that one of the basic laws of electronics can be
breached and that its ideas can revolutionise the world of high technology.
That is how sceptics would describe the activities of Jupiter Technologies
of Austin, Texas.
Now look at it another way: a pioneering inventor and technologist with a
distinguished track record claims a breakthrough in his field. After
preliminary investigations, scientists and officials from the CIA, America's
armed forces and the departments of energy and commerce convene a special
meeting in Washington to look at his ideas. Put that way it sounds less
cranky. Next week an assessment group set up by the defence department will
try to distinguish crankiness from truth.
The group will be investigating what Jupiter's chief inventor, Mr Kenneth
Shoulders, calls condensed-charge technology. Mr Shoulders, who was for
four years a staff scientist at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in
California, has invented and developed an extraordinary mixture of gadgets,
ranging from tiny radios to backpack flying machines. He is best known as
the father of vacuum micro-electronics, the technology that seeks to
miniaturise old-fashioned vacuum tubes to a scale where they can compete
with the tiny transistors on silicon chips.
Mr Shoulders thinks he can use simple vacuum micro-electronic components to
compress electric charge in such a way that hundreds of billions of
electrons can be packed into spheres one millionth of a metre across. That
should not be possible. Particles with the same charge are meant to repel
each other. It normally takes a great deal of force to persuade negatively
charged electrons to cluster together against their natural urges. Powerful
magnetic fields can do the trick. But it takes relatively large and heavy
equipment to generate the fields.
Mr Shoulder's compression devices are, he says, simple and economical. His
tiny nuggets of pure charge, as dense as a solid, zip around at one-tenth
the speed of light. For Mr Shoulders, the patterns of tiny bullet holes
that are sometimes produced when electrons are fired at various materials
are marks of the impacts of charge-clusters (or EVs, as he also calls them).
He thinks that EVs are in fact quite common--notably in the form of
lightning, which he considers to be made of them.
How might charge clusters overcome the forces of repulsion? One theory
(which Mr Shoulders himself is not wholly convinced by) has been proposed by
Jupiter's resident theoretician, Dr Harold Puthoff. Dr Puthoff used to
teach at Stanford University and work at SRI, spending a little of his time
on extra-sensory perception but most of it on pastimes that are more usual
for a physicist. He is the co-author of a widely used standard text on
lasers. He thinks that the secret might lie in the Casimir effect.
The Casimir effect depends on a paradoxical finding of quantum physics: that
empty space is full of energy, in a form that cannot be used or even--under
normal circumstances--observed. This vacuum energy exerts a certain
pressure on all matter. Since the pressure is normally the same in all
directions, it tends not to be noticed. However, when two metl plates are
placed a few millionths of a metre apart, they can shield each other from
the pressure, at least to a degree. That means that the pressure is greater
on the outside surfaces of the plates than on their inward, facing surfaces,
with the result that the plates get pushed together. The force on the
plates gets greater the closer they come. That is the Casimir effect.
Dr Puthoff is much taken by vacuum energy. He has suggested that a variant
of the Casimir effect may be familiar to everybody as the force of gravity.
On a less cosmic scale, he suggests that the electrons in a ball of
condensed charge may be acting like Casimir plates, shielding each other
from the vacuum pressure. The vacuum pressure would squeeze electrons into
an EV ball, which would be stopped from collapsing altogether by their
Dr Puthoff's explanation has some plausibility, but--as he realises--would
need much more detail to become enticing. However, leaving aside the whys
of the EVs' existence, the hows of their use would certainly be interesting.
An electronic device that was based not on the movement of individual
electrons (as today's devices are) but on the flow of dense packets of
charge should be far faster and more efficient. The EVs would not need to
travel along wires; they would simply follow grooves etched in insulating
materials. Circuits and other basic electronic devices should therefore be
relatively easy to make, according to Mr Shoulders. The grooves would be as
straightforward to fashion as those etched in today's compact discs.
Jupiter Technologies has a wish-list of applications for EVs. They include
medical X-ray machines the size of a pencil (a company called CBI Labs in
Schenectady, New York says it has already made an X-ray device using EV
technology), flat-panel high-definition television displays and all sorts of
high-speed communications devices and computers. One reason that military
agencies seem especially interested is that electronic devices using EVs
should withstand the debilitating electromagnetic pulses created by nuclear
The company, which was founded in 1974 by Mr William Church (of Church's
Fried Chicken), a rich and retiring amateur scientist and chess enthusiast,
does not want to manufacture anything. It wants to license the ideas that
it is trying to parent. Will it find any takers? If this month's
investigation goes well, Jupiter will probably have to fight back the
applicants, and Mr Shoulders will one day be as famous as the inventor of
the transistor. If it flops, EVs could end up as merely the strangest twist
in the history of the fried chicken business.