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Posts Tagged ‘electrons

“Electricity is really just organized lightning”*…

A diagram from Galvani’s De viribus electricitatis in motu musculari commentarius, 1791.

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written in 1818, the young Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with the idea that electricity is a kind of fluid that endows living things with their life force. This obsession leads to tragedy.

Shelley’s view of electricity was, in fact, not an uncommon perspective at the time: just a few decades earlier the Italian scientist Luigi Galvani had shown that a shock of static electricity applied to the legs of a dismembered frog would cause the legs to kick. Galvani concluded that there existed a kind of “animal electric fluid” that was responsible for the animation of living creatures.

In the two hundred years since Frankenstein our view of electricity has certainly evolved, as has our ability to generate and control electric currents. But do we really understand what we’re doing? Do we even know what electricity is?

Physicist Brian Skinner (@gravity_levity) explains “Here’s why we don’t understand what electricity is.”

Pair with “Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science.”

* George Carlin


As we plug in, we might send really fast birthday greetings to Leon Cooper; he was born on this date in 1930. A physicist, he shared the Nobel Prize in 1972 (with John Bardeen and John Robert Schrieffer) for contributing the concept of Cooper electron pairs which forms the basis of the BCS (their initials) theory of superconductivity. He is also one of the the namesakes and co-developers of the BCM theory of synaptic plasticity.

He went on to become a cofounder and co-chairman of Nestor, Inc., a company that applies neural-network systems to complex applications. The company built computer-based adaptive pattern-recognition and risk-assessment systems that could, for example, accurately classify complex patterns in sonar, radar or imaging systems. He also founded and was director of Brown University’s Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, which develops cognitive pharmaceuticals and intelligent systems for electronics, automobiles and communications.

The character “Sheldon Cooper” in Big Bang Theory is partially named for Cooper.


They Came from Outer Space!…

source:  NASA, via IEEE Spectrum

For years, scientists have known that satellites and astronauts are vulnerable to “space weather,”  more specifically to  geo-magnetic storms that generate “killer electrons” powerful enough to penetrate shielding, damage spacecraft, and injure spacemen.  But no one has been able to explain just how these nefarious particles are produced… so there’s been no trustworthy ability to predict– and avoid– them.

Now, as IEEE Spectrum and the European Space Agency report, scientists affiliated Los Alamos National Labs and a separate team at the ESA have begun to explain the phenomenon.   The details are referenced in the cited reports; here suffice it to say that the electrons (originating in the Van Allen Belt) are accelerated– to velocities approaching the speed of light– by a combination of Very Low Frequency and (higher amplitude) Ultra Low Frequency electromagnetic waves, themselves excited by the impact of solar storms on the earth’s protective electromagnetic bubble.

And not a moment too soon:  As Philippe Escoubet, an ESA scientist remarks, “These new findings help us to improve the models predicting the radiation environment in which satellites and astronauts operate. With solar activity now ramping up, we expect more of these shocks to impact our magnetosphere over the months and years to come.”

As we re-fit our tin foil helmets, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that Stephen Perry patented the rubber band. The milk of the rubber tree had been long used by folks who lived where the trees were native to make shoes, clothes, and “bottles”– which were brought back to England by returning sailors.  In 1820, Thomas Hancock sliced up one of the bottles to create elastic garters and “belts.”   Perry, who owned a rubber manufacturing company was sufficiently taken with Hancock’s idea to file a patent on the rubber band– the first of which were made from vulcanized rubber.  (They are now commonly made of a combination of rubber and latex.)

rubber bands

(It was also on this date in 1950 that Glenn Seaborg and a team of colleagues at UC Berkeley announced a new element, number 98– Californium– a radioactive element the isotopes of which have important medical and industrial uses, as they are powerful point sources of neutrons.)

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