The `Molecule Sorter' They Said Would Never Fly

For more than a decade, inventor Norman Haber has trumpeted the discovery of a previously unknown subatomic phenomenon. He calls it electromolecular propulsion (EMP), and he believes it has sweeping potential in medicine and chemistry--anywhere substances are analyzed to determine their components. Last month, the founder of Haber Inc. in Towaco, N. J., unveiled a commercial product--a $12,500 instrument that separates liquid compounds into their constituent molecules much faster than EMP's rival technology, electrophoresis. What took so long? Haber's initial claims polarized the scientific community. EMP seems to work by momentarily blocking the random quantum-mechanical movement of electrons hopping from atom to atom. For an instant, atoms that have lost an electron can be nudged apart by a weak electrical current. Most scientists dismissed that notion out of hand, which made it rough to win financing and obtain patents. But Haber continued to argue his case with patent agencies, eventually winning 15 patents. Only then did he license a European company to produce his EMP system. Now, skeptics can buy a machine and see if EMP does harness a new phenomenon.

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