Extraordinary as it was, Project Greenglow was in tune with its times. On the other side of the Atlantic, NASA was running a 'Breakthrough Propulsion Physics' programme which was similarly concerned with potential aerospace applications of new, as-yet-undiscovered physics. There were tantalising hints that such things might be just around the corner. In 1996 a Russian scientist named Evgeny Podkletnov made headlines with his announcement that a rotating superconductor could act as a kind of 'gravity shield'. One of the many strands of the Greenglow project was an attempt – an unsuccessful one – to duplicate Podkletnov’s experiment in a UK laboratory.
The driving force behind Greenglow was Dr Ronald Evans, a senior engineer in BAE’s Military Aircraft division until his retirement in 2005. His own expertise lay in the more conventional fields of aerodynamics and electronics, but the idea of 'gravity control' was something that had fascinated him since the 1980s. Dr Evans eventually succeeded in persuading his superiors at BAE Systems to set up a research project on the subject, before moving on to the equally difficult task of convincing academic researchers to take on what must have looked suspiciously like fringe science. The story of how all this drama unfolded, together with the ensuing highs and lows of Project Greenglow itself, would probably make a great book – but it’s only a relatively minor thread running through the book Ron Evans has actually written.
As I said at the start, this is an unusual book. It isn’t any of the things you might expect it to be. It isn’t a narrative history of Project Greenglow, although some of that does come across in passing. It can’t really be classed as a popular science book, because there are too many equations – although most of these can be skipped over without any great loss. It isn’t a textbook, because textbooks focus on what is known and understood, while this one repeatedly draws attention to what is not known or not understood. Most emphatically, however, this is not a crackpot’s book. It pushes on boundaries without going over them. The author points out gaps in current theories and describes other people’s speculations (rarely his own), but he doesn’t make any unsupportable assertions, or claim that such speculations are correct and that mainstream science is wrong.
So if the book isn’t aimed at the typical pop-sci reader, the typical textbook reader or the typical alternative science reader, who is going to enjoy reading it? The answer is all the above! The writing, if you’re prepared to skip over the (generally unnecessary) equations, is as lucid and well-structured as the best popular physics books I’ve read. The technical content, for the most part, really is textbook stuff – but presented in a fresh, innovative way (with crystal-clear diagrams) that draws attention to analogies and problems that many readers, even those with a solid grounding in physics, may never have encountered before. As for those alternative souls desperately looking for the next breakthrough or paradigm shift, this may not be the kind of glib, anti-establishment fare they’re used to, but they’ll certainly find plenty of food for thought.
Review by Andrew May