Sunday, April 1, 2012

Surfing the microwave

Local scientist working to harness wasted radio energy

"There is no such thing as silence," Dr. Ronald Jonathan said in a recent interview, "and that is certainly true of radio silence, since the time of Marconi."

To demonstrate this principle, Dr. Jonathan had this reporter lay perfectly still in the padded cell off the back of his Yellow Springs laboratory where he sleeps when the exhaustion of his work overcomes him.

"If you listen, even in an environment of what you believe to be one of perfect silence, you will hear a hissing sound," he said. "The more you listen, the louder it will get."

Testing his theory in what was purported to be a sound-proof room, I discovered that he was absolutely correct. The silence was almost deafening.

"What you are hearing is what I call the white noise of random energy," he said when he reentered the room after several minutes.

According to Dr. Jonathan, we are constantly being bombarded by energy packets comprised of what he calls flux particles. This is the byproduct of all the radio transmissions, especially on the microwave frequency, that are an invisible but constant part of our lives.

"I was taking a nap in the back room one afternoon, when I awoke to this loud hissing sound," he said. "When I tried to block it out, I found that I couldn't. It only got louder. So I searched the whole lab, even went outside, seeking the source. But I couldn't find it, at least not on a sensory level. So I turned on my radio spectrometer and found the noise was ubiquitous across the entire spectrum of radio frequencies. But, it was especially high on the microwave-length."

"Were you then able to pinpoint the source?" I asked.

"No. You see, that's the point. The source is all around us, cell phones, cell phone towers, satellite communications, radio, television... It has no specific direction. In a sense, microwaves are not like waves in the ocean that have a direction. If you wanted to surf the microwaves, you would have to come up with a different kind of surfboard."

Having been raised in Cocoa Beach on Florida's Space Coast, surfboards are something he knows about. According to Jonathan, he was "frittering his life away" as a college drop-out, surfing from morning till night until he started getting serious about the dynamics of his sport. So, he went back school, ultimately earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT).

He moved to Yellow Springs with his wife Jenny, some 20 years ago, because there were other scientists doing good work here, some of them in obscurity, he said.

"FIT has a fine marine biology/oceanography program. Through that, I heard about YSI's water quality monitoring and, later, Vernay and the other unique science-based businesses that were the product of the Antioch think tank of the fifties," he said. "There were guys working on pressure-less spacesuits, harnessing renewable energy from insects, looking into cosmic mirrors... Their imaginations were limitless. It seemed like the kind of place where I could work without being thought of as an odd duck."

As it turns out, few people in this town of 3,500, where everyone seems to know everyone, have heard of Dr. Jonathan or "Ron Jon" as he likes to be called.

"Until now, my work has been top secret," he said. "You have to be careful who you are talking to when you are working on a device used to capture flux particles."

The device he referred to with the unfortunate name of "flux capacitor" was getting him some unwanted attention early on as a kook. He readily acknowledges that poor choice, but stands by his theory that the flux capacitor of "Back to the Future" fame, really does have a basis in science, but less for time travel than for actual travel. Last month he published his findings in an article in the Journal of the Flat Earth Society.

Dr. Jonathan produced a disk about 18 inches in diameter and about two inches thick. It seemed to be made of Styrofoam, but lighter, almost weightless. At the center of the disk was a circular black hemisphere about two inches in diameter. This being the flux capacitor.

"It's my own invention, fluxfoam," he said. "Ten times lighter and ten times stronger than Styrofoam."

According to Jonathan, this is the surfboard of the future, the surfboard to catch the energy of the microwave.

"Since the microwave energy all around us is, for the most part, directionless, traditional surfboard design would be useless," he said. "A circular design of dimensions tuned to the microwave-length is the only design I have tried that works."

When asked to give a demonstration, however, he demurred.

"We are both too heavy to ride the microwave frequency, at least at this point in my research," he said. "I would take someone much lighter than you or I."

A sad look crossed his face when he was asked if he had ever been able to get the device to work. "Yes, once."

The first time he tried device, he tested it on his 20 lb. Jack Russell Terrier Augie.

"How did that go?" I asked.

"The problem with Augie was that he didn't know how to steer it. The rider has to apply his weight to different areas of the flux board to control his speed and direction. Augie just didn't get that. When I turned it on, it shot straight across the cornfield where we were testing it. Augie jumped off and ran away when it came to rest a couple hundred yards from the launch point."

Next he tried to get his 5'0" 90 lb. wife to try it. But she was too heavy. Ultimately, she left him, too.

"I've sacrificed a lot for my science," he said. "But, believe me, this thing works. My demonstration with Augie proves that. I regret not filming that. I just have to build a bigger more powerful flux capacitor."

Meanwhile the work goes on in the tiny lab next to a cornfield. Dr. Jonathan has asked us not to disclose the exact location of his laboratory, so he can continue his work undisturbed. Anyone willing to donate a young chimpanzee of about 20 lbs. in weight can contact him by emailing the Blog.

Harry Kresge
Science Correspondent


Anonymous said...

This is an April fool article, right? In Yellow Springs its hard to tell.

Di Eats the Elephant said...

I was thinking this would make a great story by the time I got to the end of it - Ron Jon?? Surfing dude? But of course. Glad to see it; too bad he doesn't really exist. Thanks for a good tale.