Dr. Jones’s ideas for a nuclear-powered pogo stick and a black-hole garbage disposal appliance probably struck most of his readers as far-fetched. But he actually produced several incarnations of physics-defying perpetual motion machines that baffled scientists. Moreover, some of the early innovations he proposed proved him prescient.
In 1966, for example, he suggested that scientists could stimulate the latticelike bonds of carbon atoms in graphite to form hollow balls. In 1985, scientists actually synthesized something like them as buckminsterfullerene molecules (a name inspired by the architect Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes). Their work earned them the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
In the 1960s, Dr. Jones envisioned a chemically powered laser that two decades later would become a crucial component of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, popularly known as Star Wars.
Ever curious, Dr. Jones also performed an X-ray analysis that led to the conclusion that arsenic discovered in Napoleon Bonaparte’s hair was not the residue of a deliberate poisoning while he was imprisoned on St. Helena in 1821.
Rather, it appeared to have been absorbed from fumes given off by the arsenic-based green pigment in the wallpaper of his bedroom (giving a whole new dimension to Oscar Wilde’s purported dying words, to paraphrase: Either that wallpaper goes, or I go).
Dr. Jones also experimented with whether plantlike forms could grow without gravity, putting them in a liquid solution of metal salt crystals and sodium silicate, known as a chemical garden. A prototype of it was rocketed into outer space, and complex forms did in fact develop.
“Daedalus never flagrantly posits impossibilities,” Dr. Jones was quoted as saying in The Telegraph. “Ideally, his fancies are ingenious, novel and even crazy, but they mustn’t break natural laws.
“On the other hand,” he added, “somewhere along the line, they do run off the rails.”
Still, he wrote in “The Aha! Moment: A Scientist’s Take on Creativity” (2011), “Despite my best endeavors, these mad Daedalian schemes kept coming true on me.”
Dr. Jones estimated that as many as 20 percent of his “fancies” turned out to be valid, “one way or the other.”
The musings of his alter ego could be tantalizing. Why, Daedalus wondered, are the world’s cities bestrewed with graffiti even though scientists, years ago, had perfected the porcelain enamel surfaces that make self-cleaning ovens possible?
And could breakthroughs in molecular biology not be applied to artificially accelerate the aging process of incarcerated convicts, shortening their mandated sentences and saving money on prisons?
Dr. Jones gamely explored the less tangible spiritual world, too.
He suggested that a tranquilizing and nondoctrinal “Theological Prozac” might be formulated by analyzing brain scans conducted on monks and nuns during prayer.
Getting goose bumps from chilling spectral apparitions could be explained by his theory that the spirit world is colder than the material one — the latter having been warmed by cosmic radiation from the Big Bang. Therefore, he posited, rambunctious ghosts could be thermodynamically exorcised by simply exposing them to an open microwave oven.
He even concocted a fanciful means of measuring the speed, spin and direction of a human soul, both when it leaves the body at death (“Traditional theology, perhaps, predicts that the soul of a sinner would depart downward, and would weigh less than that of a righteous believer”) and before birth (“If the soul turns out to enter the fetus quite late in pregnancy, the religious arguments against contraception and early abortion will be neatly disproved”).
David Edward Hugh Jones was born on April 20, 1938, in Southwark, a London borough. His father, Philip, was an advertising copywriter. His mother was the former Dorothea Sitters.
“While other boys were doing sensible things like playing football and chasing girls, I built rockets and steam engines and drew animated cartoon strips and played with amateur chemistry,” he recalled in “The Aha! Moment.” “My poor parents showed great heroism. They put up with my highly deviant and often destructive behavior. So did the neighbors, who often had to respond to pleas of ‘can I have my rocket back?’”
He received both a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in organic chemistry from Imperial College in London.
Besides writing his columns, Dr. Jones made television appearances in Britain and Germany, worked as a spectroscopist for Imperial Chemical Industries and became a research fellow and professor at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.
His only immediate survivor is his brother, Peter Vaughan Jones, who said Dr. Jones died of complications of prostate cancer.
Among Dr. Jones’s other books were “The Inventions of Daedalus: A Compendium of Plausible Schemes” (1982), “The Further Inventions of Daedalus” (1999) and “Why Are We Conscious?” (2017).
Daedalus was retired in 2002, the year after Dr. Jones was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize at Harvard by the Annals of Improbable Research for columns that, he said, navigated “a region of scientific humor whose appeal lay in its closeness to reality.”
His perpetual motion machines provided fellow scientists with abundant false clues to divert them from a concealed driving mechanism. (“The secret,” he told The Christian Science Monitor in 1984, “is not to conceal, but to confuse.”)
Similarly, his relentless research to build an unrideable bicycle was intended to discover precisely why a normal bike works.
“It seems a lot of tortuous effort to produce in the end a machine of absolutely no utility whatsoever, but that sets me firmly in the mainstream of modern technology,” Dr. Jones wrote in the journal Physics Today in 1970. “At least I will have no intention of foisting the product onto a long-suffering public in the name of progress.”
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