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In the show Revolution, the world suffers a global blackout. However, the extent of this catastrophe goes far beyond a collapse of electrical grids. Any device that uses electricity stopped functioning (e.g. mobile battery-powered devices). Internal combustion engines stopped working. Jet turbines stopped working. Post-blackout, batteries didn't work. A character describes this event as "physics went insane".

My question is, is this possible? I understand an electro-magnetic pulse could disable existing electronics, but newly-manufactured ones would work fine. Is there some technology or device that could theoretically disable so many varied pieces of technology?

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    Waaaait a minute, Revolution doesn't start for nearly 2 more weeks. Is this the earliest we've ever had a question? – Izkata Sep 5 '12 at 2:50
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    Also, since this is an "is this possible with reallife physics" question, I have the feeling it might go better on physics.SE? – Izkata Sep 5 '12 at 2:51
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    @Izkata Hulu.com is showing many show pilots weeks before the air. (for USians, at least) – user1027 Sep 5 '12 at 2:58
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    WAY more data needed to answer that question in a SciFi environment. For instance, a minor Grey Goo scenario could do it, if it targeted copper and a few other metals. Or there's "The Men Return" by Jack Vance, where earth moves into a pocket of Non-Causality. Or, Jack Chalker's 'Well World' controls might have changed the setting for Earth to Non-Tech. Or any number of SciFi causes.. If you are looking for current RL possibilities, I've got to agree -- migrate to Physics.SE. – K-H-W Sep 5 '12 at 3:20
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    If you're willing to accept philosophical arguments, then I think it makes the most sense to assume the Revolution denizens are living inside an ancestor simulation. The post-humans want to see how humanity would evolve without a technological singularity, so they pulled the plug so to speak, to prevent a singularity from occurring within their simulation. Since reality for the Revolution denizens is a simulation, local physics is arbitrary and subject to change according to the whims of those running the simulation. – Kyle Jones Dec 3 '12 at 22:26
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No. There is no known physical technology currently capable of suppressing an electromagnetic field across the entire planet without suppressing the planet's protective magnetosphere. The operative word in this case is KNOWN technologies or electromagnetic phenomena.

Revolution Earth presupposes all forms of stored energy are impossible. Mechanical energy appears to be the law of the land. Water mills, wind mills may still work for mechanical efforts, but they do not generate electricity.

There is currently nothing currently known in science that can suppress:

  • Chemical energy: the ability to convert chemical energy to electrical energy for example does not happen on Revolution Earth. Technologies like chemical batteries do not work at all.

  • Electrical energy: No form of electrical energy is available to the average persons of Revolution Earth. You can neither create electricity, nor convert any kind of physical effort INTO electricity. Since the primary usable energy format for the modern world is electricity, this would be a catastrophic event.

  • Nuclear energy: Since Revolution Earth implies there is no electricity at all, this implies that nuclear reactors have also stopped working. Were there catastrophic meltdowns across the planet? I don't suppose nuclear power plants work well without electricity so we will have to wait to see how the show handles this potential catastrophic event.

The most curious thing about Revolution Earth, is whatever is suppressing the ability to generate electromagnetic fields and thus electrical energy, does not appear to affect living things like humans who also generate an electrical field within our brains and nervous systems.

Now the ultimate premise of the show indicates the possibility of a device or technology that allows electrical power to exist. This indicates a technological device or a technological level so far beyond ours as to resemble magic. Perhaps the premise of the show indicates alien intelligence or a new scientific breakthrough being leveraged and used for the domination of the human species.

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    Yes, if batteries stop working then I wouldn't put much hope in animal life still functioning, since that’s also based on chemical potential energy. – Nick Sep 5 '12 at 8:39
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The opening to Revolution 1x13 reveals the cause of the blackout, which is actually kind of plausible:

Nanotechnology. Robots the size of viruses, meant to cause localized blackouts by inhibiting electricity in electronics. Supposedly, something went wrong and they started multiplying out of control, escaping containment and spreading across the whole world. (But we know better, with Randall's backstory from 1x12)

This also provides an explanation for how the small pendants could power anything, despite their size: They're just inhibiting the nanobots, not actually providing the power.

But where does that excess energy go, if not turned into heat? And how are the pendants powered?

Well, in a prior episode, a flashback to before the blackout showed that the blackout technology is an offshoot/perversion of their original purpose: A form of wireless electricity. This actually implies that electricity isn't being inhibited in any way - it's being routed somewhere else before electronics can utilize it.

This also solves the problem of powering the pendants - since they have a similar technological origin (having been made by the same group of people), the nanobots can also route power to them, allowing them to turn on. The pendant itself is probably some sort of antenna and CPU, while the flash drive inside them contains the code/signal to control the nearby nanobots.

And when the pendants are active, the nanobots return to their original "wireless electricity" purpose, powering nearby devices. This gets around the problem that batteries would have depleted rapidly once the blackout happened, since power would've been constantly been drawn from them.

The amplifier that was made a few episodes prior now also makes sense: It's amplifying the signal, not the power generated.

  • not at all plausible, as those nanobots would themselves require electricity and thus shut themselves down, causing the whole thing to fizzle out. – jwenting Apr 12 '13 at 6:04
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    @jwenting Read the remainder of it. It's much more likely that they're sapping electricity from around them for themselves/the Tower, since flashbacks in prior episodes show that they can transmit electricity, rather than actually inhibiting it. – Izkata Apr 12 '13 at 12:11
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The only way I can imagine this is if some device was capable of altering the vacuum permeability constant of either free space or selectively different materials. This would have a direct effect on the electrical field properties of those materials. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vacuum_permeability

Such an effect would be far beyond any technology we have, being equivalent to altering the value of other fundamental constants such as the speed of light.

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My question is, is this possible? I understand an electro-magnetic pulse could disable existing electronics, but newly-manufactured ones would work fine. Is there some technology or device that could theoretically disable so many varied pieces of technology?

For this to even possibly be consistent, then the relationship between electricity and magnetism would have to break. Normally, we call those regions "superconductivity" because Maxwell's equations break down in that area. But somehow, in this fictional universe, something had to change to make this happen, and I'm not sure what could possibly do this. Vinge had regions of the galaxy (called "zones") do this, in his A Fire Upon The Deep series, where different rules of physics apply. In Vinge's universe, solar systems could drift through these zones and when things like computers and electricity stopped working, billions and trillions of people would die.

A very simplified view of Supersymmetry is that as the universe cooled down (after the Big Bang), that different fundamental forces froze out of the symmetric relationships they used to have. So at our temperatures, there is a relationship between electricity and magenetism, so we lump them together and call it "electromagnetism." At higher temperatures, the weak force merges into the 2 and the result is called "electroweak." My guess is that we'll need to get to Big Bang temperatures in order to merge gravity with the combination.

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There is a possibility, when a nuclear bomb explodes it sends out an EMP blast which is an electromagnetic pulse, this EMP will make all electrical things, even batteries stop working because it seizes the electrons inside the wires, any wires with current flowing through or electron moving, there is a way to overcome this, simply switch it off before the blast occurs and this will simply protect the electrons in the wires because they are not active and the EMP will have no effect, also doesn't a nuclear blast kill people, in nuclear testing with the military, humans who where close by any blast immediately died, this was unexplained untill the EMP was discovered, the EMP basically jolts your hearth and seizes all your neurons, in order to live you'll have to change the cables in this case your neurons which would be impossible. In the movie "Deja Vu" they simply restart his hearth with an electrocardiogram, that would never work in real life. New electrical components usually within a whole system can detect an EMP and automatically shuts off current flow to protect its electrons, this is advance electronics, hence new fighter aircraft are not affected by EMP blasts.

But a worldwide EMP would be impossible to make unless you set off nuclear bombs all over the cities killing mankind, plus i still dont know how humans can survive an EMP blast in the show "Revolution", they would other wise die. Plus an anti EMP does exits and that is to protect the device with very dense materials, lead is an option but research and you'll find that tungsten is far more dense as the second densest material on earth, but EMPs are difficult to stop, because any connection would kill the device even if it had a wireless antenna, it is a very difficult topic to discuss, also the stuff i said may seem bullshit but it is all true, if you study hard and do a dense research you'll see it, finally in the matrix the EMP should kill everyone but miraculously they survive.

In order for an EMP blast to kill a new device first you need to know what kind of protection it has, the power supply circuits must be designed to filter and absorb large transient pulses of energy deriving from the EMP, therefore a normal sized laptop or computer would end up being 12-13 times larger in size, such devices only exist in military facilities which protect all kinds of important data from any kind of attack, they even place very powerful permanent magnets to direct the EMP to the devices in such a way that the energy is dispersed, plus that thing tha i mentioned earlier that it will automatically shut off the device when the EMP is about to occur is also used, your laptop, cell phone and any new electronic device used in our real world doesn't have that kind of protection, so i'll conclude my answer by saying that if you have a normal new device it will be affected and if you try to kill the devices in the military facilities, an EMP blast would not work, leaving the military people the only ones capable of still using electricity, this protection is so complicated that in an aircraft carrier (example) there is only one small room which is lead lined and everything only to protect the database of the ship, military info, satellite info and some US information, even the captain of the ship needs special access and he is monitored all the time, the room can only take a few people, this kind of protection is very complicated and the devices especially are very complicated and very expensive to build.

The final answer is yes, it is possible, if for example (to show dimensions) you set off a nuclear bomb 30 miles above the US continent directly in the middle, it would set off an EMP covering the whole state plus a bit of canada and parts of south america.

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    Welcome to the site. You make a good case for the plausibility of a large number of EMPs possibly shutting down existing electronics, but your final answer of "yes" does not seem to really take the other part of the question into account. How would a set of EMPs somehow block NEW electronic devices from working - long after the EMP detonatoins? – phantom42 Dec 3 '12 at 18:20
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    Can you cite a source on the "deaths by EMP" you mention in the first paragraph? – user1027 Dec 3 '12 at 19:11
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There are many sources stating that EMP can kill humans but very difficult, i'll try and explain it simply, the human body has the neurons which send electrical impulses to move the muscles and to function the brain and spine, the heart requires electrical impulses from the brain through the neurons to tell it to pump as we cannot control our hearth, these electrical impulses do not happen every single second as the hearth as a frequency of beating therefore never in the human body is there constant electricity flowing, even when tensing the muscles there is a frequency much faster than the hearth beat which seems unnoticeable, the human body is way more complicated and sophisticated than any other device even alien devices (if any), the connections of the neurons are not as vulnerable as the wires containing the electrons, and the human body is flexible and the neurons are embedded in our skin which absorb and dissipate EMP blasts, which is why the electrons do not seize easily as in electrical devices.

But, if the EMP is very powerful usually the one deriving from a nuclear blast, it will stop your hearth because the transient pulse is too great and would cause serious damage by seizing the electrons, since that the neurons have a frequency, the EMP blast simply needs to be longer than a few seconds in order to stop a human heart, usually non-nuclear blast derived EMP last very little as it passes but covers great distances making a lot of people think it lasts long but a nuclear derived EMP lasts longer also travels through any electrical devices even telephone lines and is reflected by mountain faces. So, only a nuclear blast would be powerful enough to emit an EMP which will kill any human and animals.

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    In the future, when you wish to add to one of your existing answers, click the 'edit' link below your answer and modify it, instead of posting a new, separate answer. – user1027 Dec 3 '12 at 19:38
  • Also, none of this cites a source on the "death by EMP" issue. Can you link to anyone who has died due to an EMP? – user1027 Dec 3 '12 at 19:39
  • Ok, i am sorry for causing trouble, its difficult to find it but here's one nbcnewyork.com/news/local/… an old man died, police say from lighting strike but it did not hit him, the lighting strike sent off an EMP at the right moment of rhythm as his heart was beating and also at 71 the person may have had a weak heart. i hope this answers your question and i am sorry if trouble was caused due to my comments – Bruce Dec 3 '12 at 19:49
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    The very first sentence says he was struck by lightning. Your other answer claims that during early nuclear tests people mysteriously died, which was later attributed to EMP effects. Where's the documentation on that? – user1027 Dec 3 '12 at 19:53
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    This is all kind of moot since there is no EMP in the show. The only explosions depicted were various transformers and those from the planes crashing. Devices "fizzled" and then just lost power. The event is referred to as 'the blackout' and seems to have been caused by a device which "inhibits" electricity. – phantom42 Dec 3 '12 at 20:27