A fascinating science project turned out to be a great wager

By Jelena Direct

August 27th, 2021


When Derek Muller had first started his YouTube channel Veritasium, he had no idea it would go viral and that a more significant sum of money could get involved. At the end of the video there is a fascinating discussion, and someone has to pay. No spoilers.

Big Money in Question

Derek Muller: A Physics Prof Bet Me $10,000 that I was Wrong

“Derek, can you just turn Veritasium into a gambling channel where scientists with opposing views put money on the table and face off to try to convince one another of the true answer? I’d watch that.” – is the text of the comment that got 74k likes under Muller’s YouTube video about a physical experiment.

Moves faster than the wind – with no engine

Spicing things up is always fun, right? Although excitement as this science bet on the favourite YouTube science and education channel doesn’t sound as exciting as sports betting, this was not an ordinary bet. Alex Kusenko, a physics professor from UCLA, has challenged Derek Muller to prove that his experiment works and the discussion went viral and brought out a bet from a scientist. However, Derek Muller went for a chance to have its 10 thousand dollars multiplied. That is a lot of money, but probably Muller couldn’t have said no to Kusenko while he claimed his YouTube channel was terrific.

It started in May when Muller published a video in which he is driving the Black Bird, a car powered only by the wind with no motor and no batteries. Additionally, Black Bird has a propeller at its back end. The propeller connects to the wheels over a gear system, and it turns the opposite way of the wind direction.

Fan Mechanism

The propeller on the Black Bird pushes air backward, so it functions as a fan. The wind is driving the propeller, but the wheels are turning. Because of this, it moves in the opposite direction to how the wind is pushing it. That accelerates the car.

Once Muller gets up to wind speed, there is no visible, apparent wind on the vehicle. If the propeller were spinning like a windmill, this would mean that there can be no more thrust. But, since it is operating as a fan, it can accelerate air backward, generating thrust.

The key to this car experiment is that the power is being harvested at a higher speed with lower force and deployed at a lower rate, higher strength. It’s possible due to the existence of a tailwind, and it wouldn’t have worked in still air.

Science Is (Not) All Fun and Games
Science videos are golden Internet content – they can be educational, inspirational, and motivating. Veritasium is one of those channels. That is probably the reason it has got more than 9.5M subscribers on YouTube.

Most people who had watched the first video with the Black Bird just had to watch the latest one, where the severe bet is in question.
When a respected scientist like Alex Kusenko challenges an idea (and the formula), and when he is a big fan of the channel, how could anyone say no to that?

Science can be fascinating, as well as profitable. Muller’s video is the best proof of that. However, when money gets involved, there is always a certain kind of tension. Watch the video yourself, and see for yourself how it all went.

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