Duct Tape Proves There’s Nothing It Can’t Do

Duct tape is so powerful, it can even prove Richard Feynman wrong:

By building a machine that uses 2,000 bouncing beads to spin a paddle and perform work, researchers from the University of Twente have finally realized a long-debated thought experiment.

A similar machine was first proposed in 1912 by the Polish physicist Marian Smoluchowski. In his thought experiment, he suggested that tiny moving particles could generate enough force to spin a windmill-type paddle. A locking mechanism such as a pawl could prevent backward motion, forcing the wheel to move in the forward direction only.

However, several years later, physicist Richard Feynman argued that, in reality, the bouncing beads would not be capable of doing meaningful work. Feynman showed that, since the entire system operates at the same temperature, a pawl would occasionally slip off the wheel. As a result, the system would generate zero net movement.

Now, physicist Devaraj van der Meer from the University of Twente and his colleagues have demonstrated that such a machine can in fact spin the paddles forward only, generating a positive net movement.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Science & Technology
Dodd Harris
About Dodd Harris
Dodd, who used to run a blog named ipse dixit, is an attorney, a veteran of the United States Navy, and a fairly good poker player. He contributed over 650 pieces to OTB between May 2007 and September 2013. Follow him on Twitter @Amuk3.


  1. sam says:

    A friend of mine always carries a roll of duct tape in the trunk of his car. He swears he was able to tow a car once using only one roll of duct tape connecting the two vehicles.