Force Fields

After reading this article, I thought I had heard of a force field being created in a 3M factory. The guy that discovered it was David Swenson.

There is currently two “artists” that are planning on creating another electrostatic force field and present the findings this month.

Does anyone have any information as to if this is really possible, and the forces behind it…


The engineers were supposed to reveal all on October 25, but I can’t find any reference to it.

Have any British Dopers seen an article on this?

If they have got any press coverage, then it doesn’t appear to have been in the national media.
It can’t be linked to directly, but the promised web log of their progress can be found on the ArtSway website. Though, after a couple of weeks, the entries peter out back in August …

Incidentally, is run by Bill Beaty, who’s a fairly regular poster on the SDMB.

I see an extraordinary claim. For extraordinary evidence, I see… Nothing. Not even a picture (which could be easily faked) of something leaning against this “invisible wall” (I’m not counting the “artists”, link, since there’s no evidence that it’s the same phenomenon, nor really even a claim that it’s real).

Given an extraordinary claim without extraordinary (or any) evidence, I know what to conclude.

Interesting you feel that way, from what I have been able to find on the 3M plant, I have yet to find anything to disprove this happened, David Swenson Is as far as I know employed with 3M and has also won several awards with some electrostatic group, he also has several articles and he is considered the formost expert in static electricity.

More info on Static.


You’ve probably also not found anything to disprove that aliens landed at the 3M plant, or that the CEO of 3M is actually a giant squid in disguise, or that a man working at 3M gave birth to a three-headed baby with bat wings. Why have you not bothered to look for such disproofs? Because there’s no reason to believe those things in the first place. If someone at least came up with a photo of that three-headed kid, then you might want to put some effort into checking it out, but just on a claim alone? No point.

Chronos I find it interesting that you dismiss things before you have a chance to find information about them. We will never be able to see a picture of the “Big Bang” but the evidence is there. If everyone dismissed things as suddenly as you have we would still be in the dark ages. ** Myself ** I choose to find out the answers before dismissing a very thought or comment. If you do not have any information to disprove my question then why even take the time to comment ?


Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, Zer0, glad to have you with us.

You might want to read a few threads to get a feeling for what we’re about here. Generally speaking, we don’t go around searching for evidence that something DIDN’T happen. That’s pretty much hopeless. I claim there is a zebra that is green and purple, and then ask you to go out and disprove it. How can you do that? Even if you lined up every known zebra in the world and they were all black-and-white, I’d claim you didn’t get my green-and-purple one.

In short, the burden of evidence lies with the person making the claim. Chronos’ point is that there is no evidence for this claim. In the absence of evidence trying to prove something happened, there is no way that we are going to waste time trying to prove that it didn’t happen.


A picture of the Big Bang

See, the difference between this and the Big Bang is that there is evidence for the Big Bang, but there is not any evidence for this 3M forcefield. When there is evidence, you can look at how good the evidence is, but what can you do when there isn’t any evidence?

I do understand where you all are coming from, but a case in point, static electrical energy can repel and attract objects. I am looking for a scientific explanation, as to is it possible to have such a strong static electrical force that it could repel a human being. I am not talking sci fi here or star trek… My thoughts are if the static electrical field is positively charged, and a human being is also positively charged wouldn’t the human being be repelled by the field… Simple enough, and even if there is little to no proof that this happen, isn’t it feasible that it could ???

If you’re just asking if it’s possible, then no, there’s no known way it could be possible. Even if you put a large charge on a person (humans, like most objects, are normally uncharged), and you had an electrostatic field strong enough to exert a significant force on the person, it wouldn’t be a wall-like effect. It’d be more like trying to walk up a steep hill. The force would extend over a large region, rather than being tightly confined. The only known way to confine such a field is to arrange charged particles around it in just the right way, in which case, as described in the Staff Report, you no longer have a “force field”, but a plain ordinary wall made of ordinary atoms.

Ok that is what I was getting at. Sorry if my question was taken the wrong way. Now I have one more for you. What about ionics, I know when using High voltage that you can make a “motor” of sorts, by just using voltage, with no motors. It is run by ions pushing against, my guess would be air. If this ionic force is strong enough could it stop a object coming towards it, needless to say it would most likely burst into flames, but could a concept like this be used to stop a moving object such as a baseball ???

I’ve seen little motors made by kicking ions off the back of some metal piece. This doesn’t push off of anything, but instead is the balancing reaction you get when you propel something away from you. More of a firehose effect.

By the way, you initial question wasn’t taken the wrong way. It was your reaction to the initial answers you got that indicated you weren’t understanding the point.

I understood the point form the beginning, I did not understand the point of not investigating something. If the case was being made by a unknown person even I would have dismissed it without a question. But if the information is coming from a reputable individual such as David Swenson. Shouldn’t we take the time to give it a thought that maybe this individual discovered something at all… Just becuase the information is not right there for you to see, such as a photograph, why suddenly dismiss it???

Chronas also made the comment “it wouldn’t be a wall-like effect. It’d be more like trying to walk up a steep hill” if this is the case wouldn’t that still be concieved as a type of force field. Like I stated before I am not talking SCiFi, like Star Trek, a invisible wall that stops anything. I am talking a controled environment where you could control the charges involved. ???

Thanks Curt on the ion info, I was not sure if it actually pushed against the air or the object it self. If it does work similar in fashion to a “Fire Hose” could you develop enough ion energy that would be able to effect a small object ?? Or are these forces to weak ?


<< Shouldn’t we take the time to give it a thought that maybe this individual discovered something at all… Just becuase the information is not right there for you to see, such as a photograph, why suddenly dismiss it??? >>

You’re more than welcome to investigate it and report back to us what you find. The general feeling of the others who have reported seems to be that they’re not interested.

There’s only so many things one can investigate and only so many things one can do with one’s time. One prioritizes, and this one just doesn’t seem to have got on anyone’s priority list except for yours. Don’t let that discourage you – we’d be delighted to hear the results of your research.

I was getting the same impression CK, thank you for the comments…I am still searching for information on this as we speak. And I am to the point that I am inclined to see what my chances are to actually speak with David Swenson himself… If I do get the chance and he is able to give me more information I will be more than happy to share … As far as the two “artists” I don’t know … the whole thing that they are doing seems a little more than strange…

Unless the charging mechanism only worked at close range. If there was a localized flow of highly ionized air, a person might get charged only when he came in contact with it. That might act like an invisible wall.

Of course I find it very hard to believe that the human body can accumulate enough charge to explain the reported phenomenon. Still, I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.

I put in a email to David Swenson and to a few people at Static and Electrical Static Discharge (ESD) Journal. I did find on there site the smae reference to the encounter with David Swenson. After the story they do have a theory of sorts by Peter Thomson.
The theory is at the bottom of the page and I found more than interesting, and seemingly holding up to the physics of it also.

Here is the link:

I have just sent the emails out, so hopefully I can find out even more information on this.

Thanks for the comments scr4 I tend to agree with you, about not dismissing it. It’s just a very interesting thought or occurance if it did happen …


According to the scientific definition, then yes, an electrostatic field is a clear example of a force field. It’s a property which has a value at every point in space, and it exerts a force. But most laymen don’t use the scientific definition of the term, and in conversation, if someone refers to a “force field”, then it’s usually safe to assume that they mean a Star Trek-style energy wall.

A force field in the scientific sense of the word is quite possible, and it’s conceivable that something of the sort could have been observed at 3M, but it’s still a huge stretch to suppose that both the field and the charge on a person were large enough to have the described effects.

I suspect all of us - Chronos included - are intregued by the stories, but that’s partly why we’re all wary of being convinced. Good stories are sometimes just good stories and little more, after all. But trying to find the details from Mr. Swenson directly is exactly a good way to go about investigating this sort of tale.

On the other hand, it can confuse the issue if people start theorising about an incident before everybody’s sure that that’s what actually happened. There are people who’re quite willing to spin out all sorts of explanations for things and so the fact that someone has proposed some theory doesn’t tell us anything by itself. It often just adds another layer of confusion to the situation.

In this instance, Peter Thomson appears to be using the story to publicise a pre-existing pet theory of his. About how tornadoes require electromagnetism to explain them. That’s a slightly odd claim to start from, so there’s grounds for being wary about his claim to be “explaining” the possible incident at 3M.
As a general rule, I take webpages that might be pushing kooky physics at face value until they make a completely elementary error about standard physics. Thomson already falls into just such a misconception in his message at the bottom of the original page.

This is basic physics, but he’s already dead wrong. He’s right that two similarly charged particles at rest will repel. He’s also right that two parallel currents in wires will, in contrast, attract each other. He’s even right that that’s because charged particles moving down the wires create magnetic fields. But that doesn’t mean that two similar charges moving in parallel will attract each other.
Why not? How’s that different from them moving down wires? Because wires also contain particles of the opposite charge. The magnetic force can only attract the wires because these (stationary) particles of opposite charge are completely cancelling out the electric repulsion between the charges generating the magnetic field. If those other charges aren’t there, then there’s no such “shielding” of the electric repulsion and similar charges moving in parallel always repel each other.
[The quickest way to prove this does require some undergraduate physics: just transform to the inertial frame where the particles are at rest.]

The rest of his explanations don’t get any better. But then, I think that tornadoes are already understood anyway.