Science people tend to be pretty pragmatic. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is, unless you can prove otherwise. That was the spirit behind a $10,000 bet that captivated millions on YouTube, roped in celebrities like Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil deGrasse Tyson, and involved a high-tech land yacht going faster than the wind.
This May, Derek Muller, creator of the science-themed YouTube channel Veritasium, put out a video where he pilots the Blackbird, a wind-driven land yacht, whose creators say the low-slung, three-wheeled vehicle can use a turbine mounted on top of to travel faster than the wind without any additional power sources.
During the test drive, Mr Muller reached 27.7mph in a 10 mph wind in a dry lake bed.
This didn’t sit right with UCLA physics professor Alexander Kusekno, who argued such a feat wasn’t possible.
But Muller, as well as the creator of the Blackbird, former aerospace engineer Rick Cavallaro, maintained that the physics were sound.
The car, which looks a bit like a child’s pinewood derby car with a wind turbine strapped on top, gets power in two ways. When it’s driving into the wind, the turbine transfers power to the wheels, moving the car forward. When it has the wind at its back, as it does during the Veritasium video, a wind initially sets the car in motion, and the motion of the wheels in turn spins the turbine and turns it into a propeller which pulls the air and continues to accelerate the vehicle.
After trading data back and forth and arguing over the science, Mr Muller and Professor Kusenko decided to bet $10,000 that the Blackbird’s claims were full of hot air.
"I said, ‘Look, if you don’t believe this, let’s put some money on this,’" Mr Muller told Insider.
The YouTuber recruited science stars Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye to help settle the debate, and the professor eventually conceded that it was possible for the car to go faster than the wind for periods of time.
And of course, as is the way of all content creators, there was another video about it, which you can watch here.