Science: A Stirling Performance

In 1816, a Scottish parson and part-time inventor named Robert Stirling patented a new engine for pumping water out of mines and quarries. It could run on almost any fuel, he boasted—including whisky. Indeed the parson had such faith in his engine that he often cut his Sunday sermons short to work on it. For all his enthusiasm, though, when Stirling died in 1878 at the age of 88, his engine was still unperfected. Soon it was totally overshadowed by the newer gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.

Now, as Detroit seeks fuel-saving, less-polluting alternatives to the modern auto engine, Stirling's machine has taken...

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