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Trying to get more info on a machine I remember

  1. Nov 3, 2011 #1
    OK, so at some point in my life, I recall either reading about this, watching a history/discovery/national geographic/other program about it, or maybe just being told about it in a math/physics class or something ... I don't really remember where I heard about it but I guess that isn't the important part.

    I'll describe what I do remember about this: there was some very elaborate setup of gears that are possibly enclosed in a museum piece, or maybe at an engineering building, or something. There is a crank leading to the outside of the machine that people / passers-by can turn. There may be something that is at the end of all these gears that's like in the way to be crushed or something (that part I may just be mis-remembering or making up entirely, it might be a clock or something for all I can remember), but the bottom line is that the gear ratio is so outrageous that a human would have to turn this thing for eons to see any noticeable change in the final stage of the machine.

    If anybody knows what I'm talking about, I'd be delighted to be informed about it again and see a youtube of it or something. This randomly came up in a convo I was having with an engineer friend of mine and it's been haunting me for a few days because I can't remember anything exact about it.

    so if anybody knows what I'm talking about and can answer: where is it? what is the machine's name? who built it? when was it built? what does it ultimately do? ... well it would remedy that haunting feeling you get from not being able to remember something that's bugging you.

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 3, 2011 #2


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    Hah! What a cool machine.

    It's like a bottomless pit for work. An infinite work sink. A work black hole.
  4. Nov 4, 2011 #3


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    I built one when I was a kid with an erector set. Haha. No seriously, I have seen something like this on the net but it was small. I believe it was powered by a small clock motor or something. The whole thing was easily displayed on a tabletop.
  5. Nov 4, 2011 #4
    Well, with just ten reductions of 100:1 (say, a 10 tooth gear and a 1000 tooth gear) you would get a reduction of 100^10:1 or 1e20:1
    Assuming a revolution of the lever takes 1 second, it would take approximately 3.2E12 years for the final gear to turn once.
  6. Nov 4, 2011 #5
    A penny press?
  7. Nov 4, 2011 #6


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    But man the torque!

    You could move the Earth by hand with one of those things!

    Stick that on a bicycle and you could cycle your way up the vertical side of a building in first gear!
  8. Nov 4, 2011 #7
    Ha! You'd make easy work of a vertical building that's a planck length high!
  9. Nov 4, 2011 #8
    Exactly, I mean I know in principle how it works and everything, and what you described is exactly what is going on with this machine. I just wish I could remember where it is. I think I remember it behind glass, which makes me think it's in a museum, but there's something that makes me think it's at some ivy league school in their physics or engineering building or something. My memory may be making this last detail up, but I have a feeling there is something funny going on at the final stage, like the machine ultimately crushes something or is pulling something apart, I don't know, arg, but at least a few people know the principle, so maybe somebody will know where it is and who made it.

    And yes, in theory it would deliver some insane torque, but it is of course limited by the materials it is made of ... eventually you'd experience some sort of deformation within the machine itself if you're exerting force on something that wouldn't normally be movable/compressible compared to the materials that this is made from.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2011
  10. Nov 4, 2011 #9
    I'm not sure I've ever heard of this. There are two things that sound similar to what you are describing, but neither meets all requirements

    The first is the Antikythera mechanism. Though it hardly takes eons to turn the driven gears.

    The second is The Long Now 10,000 year clock
    But visitors only wind it to keep it going. They don't actually turn the thing.
  11. Nov 4, 2011 #10
    Nope, neither of those are it, but thanks for trying. I know that it was small enough to fit inside a normal sized room, although I'm pretty sure it may have been around, I don't know, maybe the size of a van or a king sized bed or, you know. I would argue that it is more considered "art" than something that serves any real purpose.

    It's no big deal, I'm sure I'll just forget about it in another week anyway if nobody actually knows what it is. I'm guessing you'd probably have to had seen it yourself or seen the exact show or book or lecture (wherever I actually first saw it).

    I know I'm not being terribly helpful but I feel that If I knew even a single thing more about it, I'd probably have my answer anyway, so whatever, I'm not going to let it bother me much anymore.
  12. Nov 4, 2011 #11
    Oh man... I thought that clock was it haha
  13. Nov 16, 2011 #12


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    While granting your definition, I must ask how it furthers the discussion.
  14. Nov 16, 2011 #13


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    How does it further the discussion?
  15. Nov 16, 2011 #14


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    @OP, perhaps you are thinking of Babbage's difference engines, though the only thing that gets crunched are numbers. Very complex mechanical computers...
  16. Nov 26, 2011 #15
    My fiancee actually found this for me out of nowhere ... guess she just decided to do some sleuthing for me:

    http://video.answers.com/arthur-ganson-exhibits-a-machine-with-concrete-experiment-509917846 [Broken]

    So I wiki'd the man and read that he has his work in the Smithsonian, at MIT's museum, and at a museum in Germany ... which the specific thing could have been any of those since I've been to all three places in my life ... though details are so vague I can't recall specifically which piece of art is was and where I saw it, but I'm almost positive it's one of his works.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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