Spoiler alert: Hutchison's claims are hogwash.

Ice Cream being allegedly levitated by the Hutchison Effect
Ice Cream being allegedly levitated by the Hutchison Effect

An inventor in Canada named John Hutchison is credited with one of science’s most unusual and controversial discoveries. It is described as a “highly-anomalous electromagnetic effect which causes the jellification of metals, spontaneous levitation of common substances, and other effects.” It is known as the Hutchison Effect, or the H-Effect for short.

What the H-Effect is purported to do is nothing short of extraordinary. It is said to cause objects to defy gravity, cause metal to spontaneously fracture, cause dissimilar materials to fuse (such as metal and wood), and other strange phenomena. Hutchison has captured the effect on video many times, and claims to have demonstrated it for scientists from U.S. Army intelligence. But the claims are mired in doubt because the effect is not reproducible, even by the discoverer himself.

Hutchison is a bit of an eccentric, conducting his experiments in his apartment using surplus Navy and Army electronic equipment. His living space is absolutely crowded with oscilloscopes, digital readouts, gauges, switches, lights, receiver dishes, chains, and all manner of hardware. His supporters often liken him to the brilliant scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, and in fact it was during an attempt to reproduce one of Tesla’s experiments that the H-Effect was said to have been accidentally discovered.

Hutchison’s experiments utilized multiple electrical coils called Tesla coils, as well as a static electricity machine called a Van de Graaf generator. How these high-voltage devices work in concert to create the H-Effect is uncertain, but supporters believe that a hypothetical electromagnetic wave called a scalar wave allowed Hutchison’s apparatus to tap an exotic energy called zero-point energy.

Zero-point energy is the energy present at zero degrees Kelvin zero Kelvins, the temperature at which all activity in an atom supposedly ceases. It is also called vacuum energy because it is descriptive of the energy in a perfect vacuum, where no light or matter is present. In this state, random electromagnetic oscillations can still be observed, meaning that there is still some amount of energy present. Essentially, the concept of tapping zero-point energy assumes that the universe is saturated in a constant background energy which we cannot observe because it is present everywhere, even within ourselves and our measuring devices. If such energy exists, it could be an enormous amount… it is theorized that there is enough energy in the volume the size of a coffee cup to completely boil away Earth’s oceans.

John Hutchison in his apartment/laboratory
John Hutchison in his apartment/laboratory

Much of the criticism of Hutchison’s work stems from the shortage of impartial third-party observations, and by the fact that the H-Effect has not yet been reproduced elsewhere. There are several demonstration videos supposedly showing the phenomena, including a few short videos online and some more involved footage which he sells by mail-order for up to $150. The online videos indeed feature close-up shots of objects which appear to be levitating and moving in strange ways, but many suspect that his levitation tricks are fakery.

One suggestion made by skeptics is that Hutchison uses an electromagnet on the ceiling, and places hidden pieces of metal inside objects so they will be attracted to the magnet. He could then film the objects with an upside-down camera as he powers down the electromagnet, making the objects on film appear to float up and out of the shot when in reality they are falling down to the floor. Many of the videos include conspicuous objects in the scene which do not move (such as an old broom), which could be deliberately attached to add to the illusion that the camera is not upside-down. Critics also point out that the videos do not show what happens to the objects after they levitate.

One particularly damning piece of evidence against him is a video he produced for a television special which shows a toy UFO levitating and jumping around wildly. A string is clearly visible in the upper left-hand corner of the video, wiggling in sync with the UFO’s movements. At first Hutchison claimed that it was a wire which was part of the apparatus, but later he confessed that he was “creative” with the footage because he has been unable to reproduce the effect since 1991.

Given that Hutchison’s claims are outlandish and his credibility damaged by admitted fakery, it is likely that the effect named for him is complete claptrap. Carl Sagan famously said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and Hutchison offers no such evidence aside from easily faked videos and unsubstantiated claims. But much valuable science has been done by eccentrics who are mocked by the rest of the scientific community in their time… so it is possible that his claims are indeed valid. Science is half skepticism and half open-mindedness, so as much as I doubt the veracity of Hutchison’s claims, at the same time I would be delighted to be proven wrong.