Anybody up on this?



     EVERY year, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics awards 
prizes for the best papers presented at its annual conference. Last year's 
winner in the nuclear and future flight category went to a paper calling for 
experimental tests of an astonishing new type of engine. According to the 
paper, this hyperdrive motor would propel a craft through another dimension at 
enormous speeds. It could leave Earth at lunchtime and get to the moon in time 
for dinner. There's just one catch: the idea relies on an obscure and largely 
unrecognised kind of physics. Can they possibly be serious?

     The AIAA is certainly not embarrassed. What's more, the US military has 
begun to cast its eyes over the hyperdrive concept, and a space propulsion 
researcher at the US Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratories has 
said he would be interested in putting the idea to the test. And despite the 
bafflement of most physicists at the theory that supposedly underpins it, 
Pavlos Mikellides, an aerospace engineer at the Arizona State University in 
Tempe who reviewed the winning paper, stands by the committee's choice. "Even 
though such features have been explored before, this particular approach is 
quite unique," he says.

     Unique it certainly is. If the experiment gets the go-ahead and works, it 
could reveal new interactions between the fundamental forces of nature that 
would change the future of space travel. Forget spending six months or more 
holed up in a rocket on the way to Mars, a round trip on the hyperdrive could 
take as little as 5 hours. All our worries about astronauts' muscles wasting 
away or their DNA being irreparably damaged by cosmic radiation would disappear 
overnight. What's more the device would put travel to the stars within reach 
for the first time. But can the hyperdrive really get off the ground?

     ?A hyperdrive craft would put the stars within reach for the first time?

     The answer to that question hinges on the work of a little-known German 
physicist. Burkhard Heim began to explore the hyperdrive propulsion concept in 
the 1950s as a spin-off from his attempts to heal the biggest divide in 
physics: the rift between quantum mechanics and Einstein's general theory of 

     Quantum theory describes the realm of the very small - atoms, electrons 
and elementary particles - while general relativity deals with gravity. The two 
theories are immensely successful in their separate spheres. The clash arises 
when it comes to describing the basic structure of space. In general 
relativity, space-time is an active, malleable fabric. It has four dimensions - 
three of space and one of time - that deform when masses are placed in them. In 
Einstein's formulation, the force of gravity is a result of the deformation of 
these dimensions. Quantum theory, on the other hand, demands that space is a 
fixed and passive stage, something simply there for particles to exist on. It 
also suggests that space itself must somehow be made up of discrete, quantum 

     In the early 1950s, Heim began to rewrite the equations of general 
relativity in a quantum framework. He drew on Einstein's idea that the 
gravitational force emerges from the dimensions of space and time, but 
suggested that all fundamental forces, including electromagnetism, might emerge 
from a new, different set of dimensions. Originally he had four extra 
dimensions, but he discarded two of them believing that they did not produce 
any forces, and settled for adding a new two-dimensional "sub-space" onto 
Einstein's four-dimensional space-time.

     In Heim's six-dimensional world, the forces of gravity and 
electromagnetism are coupled together. Even in our familiar four-dimensional 
world, we can see a link between the two forces through the behaviour of 
fundamental particles such as the electron. An electron has both mass and 
charge. When an electron falls under the pull of gravity its moving electric 
charge creates a magnetic field. And if you use an electromagnetic field to 
accelerate an electron you move the gravitational field associated with its 
mass. But in the four dimensions we know, you cannot change the strength of 
gravity simply by cranking up the electromagnetic field.

     In Heim's view of space and time, this limitation disappears. He claimed 
it is possible to convert electromagnetic energy into gravitational and back 
again, and speculated that a rotating magnetic field could reduce the influence 
of gravity on a spacecraft enough for it to take off.

     When he presented his idea in public in 1957, he became an instant 
celebrity. Wernher von Braun, the German engineer who at the time was leading 
the Saturn rocket programme that later launched astronauts to the moon, 
approached Heim about his work and asked whether the expensive Saturn rockets 
were worthwhile. And in a letter in 1964, the German relativity theorist 
Pascual Jordan, who had worked with the distinguished physicists Max Born and 
Werner Heisenberg and was a member of the Nobel committee, told Heim that his 
plan was so important "that its successful experimental treatment would without 
doubt make the researcher a candidate for the Nobel prize".

     But all this attention only led Heim to retreat from the public eye. This 
was partly because of his severe multiple disabilities, caused by a lab 
accident when he was still in his teens. But Heim was also reluctant to 
disclose his theory without an experiment to prove it. He never learned English 
because he did not want his work to leave the country. As a result, very few 
people knew about his work and no one came up with the necessary research 
funding. In 1958 the aerospace company Bölkow did offer some money, but not 
enough to do the proposed experiment.

     While Heim waited for more money to come in, the company's director, 
Ludwig Bölkow, encouraged him to develop his theory further. Heim took his 
advice, and one of the results was a theorem that led to a series of formulae 
for calculating the masses of the fundamental particles - something 
conventional theories have conspicuously failed to achieve. He outlined this 
work in 1977 in the Max Planck Institute's journal Zeitschrift für 
Naturforschung, his only peer-reviewed paper. In an abstruse way that few 
physicists even claim to understand, the formulae work out a particle's mass 
starting from physical characteristics, such as its charge and angular momentum.

     Yet the theorem has proved surprisingly powerful. The standard model of 
physics, which is generally accepted as the best available theory of elementary 
particles, is incapable of predicting a particle's mass. Even the accepted 
means of estimating mass theoretically, known as lattice quantum 
chromodynamics, only gets to between 1 and 10 per cent of the experimental 

     Gravity reduction

     But in 1982, when researchers at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in 
Hamburg implemented Heim's mass theorem in a computer program, it predicted 
masses of fundamental particles that matched the measured values to within the 
accuracy of experimental error. If they are let down by anything, it is the 
precision to which we know the values of the fundamental constants. Two years 
after Heim's death in 2001, his long-term collaborator Illobrand von Ludwiger 
calculated the mass formula using a more accurate gravitational constant. "The 
masses came out even more precise," he says.

     After publishing the mass formulae, Heim never really looked at hyperspace 
propulsion again. Instead, in response to requests for more information about 
the theory behind the mass predictions, he spent all his time detailing his 
ideas in three books published in German. It was only in 1980, when the first 
of his books came to the attention of a retired Austrian patent officer called 
Walter Dröscher, that the hyperspace propulsion idea came back to life. 
Dröscher looked again at Heim's ideas and produced an "extended" version, 
resurrecting the dimensions that Heim originally discarded. The result is 
"Heim-Dröscher space", a mathematical description of an eight-dimensional 

     >From this, Dröscher claims, you can derive the four forces known in 
physics: the gravitational and electromagnetic forces, and the strong and weak 
nuclear forces. But there's more to it than that. "If Heim's picture is to make 
sense," Dröscher says, "we are forced to postulate two more fundamental 
forces." These are, Dröscher claims, related to the familiar gravitational 
force: one is a repulsive anti-gravity similar to the dark energy that appears 
to be causing the universe's expansion to accelerate. And the other might be 
used to accelerate a spacecraft without any rocket fuel.

     This force is a result of the interaction of Heim's fifth and sixth 
dimensions and the extra dimensions that Dröscher introduced. It produces pairs 
of "gravitophotons", particles that mediate the interconversion of 
electromagnetic and gravitational energy. Dröscher teamed up with Jochem 
Häuser, a physicist and professor of computer science at the University of 
Applied Sciences in Salzgitter, Germany, to turn the theoretical framework into 
a proposal for an experimental test. The paper they produced, "Guidelines for a 
space propulsion device based on Heim's quantum theory", is what won the AIAA's 
award last year.

     Claims of the possibility of "gravity reduction" or "anti-gravity" induced 
by magnetic fields have been investigated by NASA before (New Scientist, 12 
January 2002, p 24). But this one, Dröscher insists, is different. "Our theory 
is not about anti-gravity. It's about completely new fields with new 
properties," he says. And he and Häuser have suggested an experiment to prove 

     This will require a huge rotating ring placed above a superconducting coil 
to create an intense magnetic field. With a large enough current in the coil, 
and a large enough magnetic field, Dröscher claims the electromagnetic force 
can reduce the gravitational pull on the ring to the point where it floats 
free. Dröscher and Häuser say that to completely counter Earth's pull on a 
150-tonne spacecraft a magnetic field of around 25 tesla would be needed. While 
that's 500,000 times the strength of Earth's magnetic field, pulsed magnets 
briefly reach field strengths up to 80 tesla. And Dröscher and Häuser go 
further. With a faster-spinning ring and an even stronger magnetic field, 
gravitophotons would interact with conventional gravity to produce a repulsive 
anti-gravity force, they suggest.

     ?A spinning ring and a strong magnetic field could produce a repulsive 
anti-gravity force?

     Dröscher is hazy about the details, but he suggests that a spacecraft 
fitted with a coil and ring could be propelled into a multidimensional 
hyperspace. Here the constants of nature could be different, and even the speed 
of light could be several times faster than we experience. If this happens, it 
would be possible to reach Mars in less than 3 hours and a star 11 light years 
away in only 80 days, Dröscher and Häuser say.

     So is this all fanciful nonsense, or a revolution in the making? The 
majority of physicists have never heard of Heim theory, and most of those 
contacted by New Scientist said they couldn't make sense of Dröscher and 
Häuser's description of the theory behind their proposed experiment. Following 
Heim theory is hard work even without Dröscher's extension, says Markus Pössel, 
a theoretical physicist at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics 
in Potsdam, Germany. Several years ago, while an undergraduate at the 
University of Hamburg, he took a careful look at Heim theory. He says he finds 
it "largely incomprehensible", and difficult to tie in with today's physics. 
"What is needed is a step-by-step introduction, beginning at modern physical 
concepts," he says.

     The general consensus seems to be that Dröscher and Häuser's theory is 
incomplete at best, and certainly extremely difficult to follow. And it has not 
passed any normal form of peer review, a fact that surprised the AIAA prize 
reviewers when they made their decision. "It seemed to be quite developed and 
ready for such publication," Mikellides told New Scientist.

     At the moment, the main reason for taking the proposal seriously must be 
Heim theory's uncannily successful prediction of particle masses. Maybe, just 
maybe, Heim theory really does have something to contribute to modern physics. 
"As far as I understand it, Heim theory is ingenious," says Hans Theodor 
Auerbach, a theoretical physicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology 
in Zurich who worked with Heim. "I think that physics will take this direction 
in the future."

     It may be a long while before we find out if he's right. In its present 
design, Dröscher and Häuser's experiment requires a magnetic coil several 
metres in diameter capable of sustaining an enormous current density. Most 
engineers say that this is not feasible with existing materials and technology, 
but Roger Lenard, a space propulsion researcher at Sandia National Laboratories 
in New Mexico thinks it might just be possible. Sandia runs an X-ray generator 
known as the Z machine which "could probably generate the necessary field 
intensities and gradients".

     For now, though, Lenard considers the theory too shaky to justify the use 
of the Z machine. "I would be very interested in getting Sandia interested if 
we could get a more perspicacious introduction to the mathematics behind the 
proposed experiment," he says. "Even if the results are negative, that, in my 
mind, is a successful experiment."

     >From issue 2533 of New Scientist magazine, 05 January 2006, page 24

     Who was Burkhard Heim?

     Burkhard Heim had a remarkable life. Born in 1925 in Potsdam, Germany, he 
decided at the age of 6 that he wanted to become a rocket scientist. He 
disguised his designs in code so that no one could discover his secret. And in 
the cellar of his parents' house, he experimented with high explosives. But 
this was to lead to disaster.

     Towards the end of the second world war, he worked as an explosives 
developer, and an accident in 1944 in which a device exploded in his hands left 
him permanently disabled. He lost both his forearms, along with 90 per cent of 
his hearing and eyesight.

     After the war, he attended university in Göttingen to study physics. The 
idea of propelling a spacecraft using quantum mechanics rather than rocket fuel 
led him to study general relativity and quantum mechanics. It took an enormous 
effort. From 1948, his father and wife replaced his senses, spending hours 
reading papers and transcribing his calculations onto paper. And he developed a 
photographic memory.

     Supporters of Heim theory claim that it is a panacea for the troubles in 
modern physics. They say it unites quantum mechanics and general relativity, 
can predict the masses of the building blocks of matter from first principles, 
and can even explain the state of the universe
13.7 billion years ago.

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