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5 Reasons Michael Faraday Is as Cool as Tesla

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The Internet is obsessed with Nikola Tesla, with good reason. But I would argue that one of his predecessors, Michael Faraday, is just as worthy of all that attention. The son of a blacksmith, Faraday lived in 19th century London and eventually made some of the most important discoveries in physics and chemistry. Of course, there are plenty of other scientists who have made groundbreaking discoveries. So what's so special about Michael Faraday?

1. He was a self-made scientist.

Michael Faraday left school at 13 to work as an errand boy; by 14, he was an apprentice to a London book-binder. Though he had learned only basic arithmetic in school, young Faraday took an interest in the books he was binding. He began staying after hours to read, and it wasn't long until he was attending scientific lectures. In 1812, Faraday went to several lectures given by the chemist Humphry Davy. Faraday was so inspired by the lectures that he wrote to Davy and asked to be his assistant, despite having no formal science education. Although Davy at first turned him down, one of his lab assistants was later fired, and Davy gave Faraday the job. Everything that Faraday eventually discovered was a result of Davy's impeccable experimental style.

2. His lecture series are still running.

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Michael Faraday, the under-educated lab assistant, is responsible for two of the Royal Institution's longest-running traditions. The first is the Friday Evening Discourse, in which members of the Royal Institution dress very formally in order to hear a one-hour lecture from a selected scientist. The speaker traditionally is locked in a room 5 minutes before the appointed start, as one lecturer once fled before his time, forcing Faraday to give an impromptu lecture.

Faraday's second tradition within the Royal Institution is the Christmas Lectures. The Christmas Lectures began as a way of introducing science to children, at a time when science education was scarce at best. The lectures have continued since 1825, with the only interruption being World War II. Faraday himself gave 19 Christmas Lectures, mostly about chemistry and electricity, though his most famous lecture was “The chemical history of a candle.”

3. He made electric power possible.

One of Faraday's most important discoveries is that of electromagnetic induction. Basically, Faraday found that if you move a magnet through a metal loop, that metal loop will have an electric current running through it while you're moving the magnet. The discovery was enormous. Not only did it underscore the connection between electric and magnetic fields (now commonly referred to simply as electromagnetic fields), but it proved that electricity could be created with nothing more than a magnetized piece of metal and a metal loop.

Faraday used this knowledge to create the first transformer (the thing that's inside the big brick on your laptop charger) and the first electric generator. He went on to create devices that laid the groundwork for modern transformers, generators, and electric motors.

4. He's one of the fathers of electrochemistry—but it was kind of an accident.

Faraday was trying to prove that all electricity is the same electricity when he stumbled upon the first two laws of electrochemistry. These laws deal with the relationship between the amount of electricity used and the amount of substance converted through a chemical reaction. These principles are still used in electrochemistry today to make things like batteries, metal-coated objects, and purified metals.

5. He invented the Faraday cage.

His name's in the title, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he invented it—but what is it? A Faraday cage (or Faraday shield) blocks whatever is inside the cage from static electric fields. This principle, which Faraday discovered in 1836, has all kinds of cool applications. Not only are Faraday cages used to protect electronic equipment from lightning, but they can also protect people from electric death lightning. One of my physics professors demonstrated this effect (sadly, not on video) by climbing inside a Faraday cage and licking an exposed and functioning generator.

Sarah Frazier is a sophomore majoring in Physics at Rice University. She's part of our College Weekend extravaganza.

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Big Questions
Where Does the Word 'Meme' Come From?
Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group
Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group

By Jenna Scarbrough

Certain fads, catchphrases, dances, and songs bombard our society—nowadays, almost all of these are either born on or popularized through the Internet. Grumpy Cat, Rickrolling, Left Shark, the optical illusion dress—all of these ubiquitous cultural sensations have this in common. Some of these stick for a while, some don’t. Those that stick are branded as memes. But what exactly is a meme?

In 1976, Richard Dawkins, the English evolutionary biologist, proposed an idea in his book, The Selfish Gene: What if ideas were like organisms, where they could breed and mutate? These ideas, he claimed, are actually the basis for human culture, and they are born in the brain.

Dawkins’s research is primarily in genetics. He has argued that all life relies on replication. But unlike cells, ideas do not rely on a chemical basis for survival. They begin from a single location—the brain—and spread outward, jumping from one vessel to another, battling for attention. Some ideas are more successful, which may be due to an element of truth they carry, while others slowly die out. Some may not be accurate, but society has accepted these ideas for so long that they are just accepted (think about pictures of Jesus or George Washington; while these may not be what they actually looked like, almost all art now portrays these men in the same way).

Dawkins needed a name for this concept. He proposed calling it mimeme, from the Greek word meaning “that which is replicated.” He wrote in his book, “I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.” He felt the monosyllabic word would be more fitting because it sounds similar to "gene." “If it is any consolation,” he continued, “it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory,’ or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream.’”

Although he probably couldn’t imagine the possibility of Internet memes during his initial research in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Dawkins has now accepted the appropriation. Because it’s still viral, he said in an interview with WIRED, this popularity increase goes right along with his theory that ideas are similar to living things.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

25 Awesome Australian Slang Terms

by Helena Hedegaard Holmgren 

Australian English is more than just an accent, and the Aussie vernacular can easily leave both English speakers and foreigners perplexed. Australian English is similar to British English, but many common words differ from American English—and there are many unique Aussie idiosyncrasies, slang terms, and expressions.

The term for Aussie slang and pronunciation is strine, and it is often characterized by making words as short as possible; the story goes it developed by speaking through clenched teeth to avoid blowies (blow flies) from getting into the mouth. So if you plan to visit the world’s smallest continent, this list of some of the most commonly used slang expressions is for you.

1. Arvo: afternoon

2. Barbie: barbeque

3. Bogan: redneck, an uncultured person. According to the Australian show Bogan Hunters, a real bogan sports a flanno (flannel shirt), a mullet, missing teeth, homemade tattoos (preferably of the Australian Flag or the Southern Cross), and has an excess of Australia paraphernalia. This "species of local wildlife" can be found by following their easily distinguishable tracks from burnouts or the smell of marijuana.

4. Bottle-O: bottle shop, liquor store

5. Chockers: very full

6. Esky: cooler, insulated food and drink container

7. Fair Dinkum: true, real, genuine

8. Grommet: young surfer

9. Mozzie: mosquito

10. Pash: a long passionate kiss. A pash rash is red irritated skin as the result of a heavy make-out session with someone with a beard.

11. Ripper: really great

12. Roo: kangaroo. A baby roo, still in the pouch, is known as a Joey

13. Root: sexual intercourse. This one can get really get foreigners in trouble. There are numerous stories about Americans coming to Australia telling people how they love to "root for their team." If you come to Australia, you would want to use the word "barrack" instead. On the same note, a "wombat" is someone who eats roots and leaves.

14. Servo: gas station. In Australia, a gas station is called a petrol station. If you ask for gas, don’t be surprised if someone farts.

15. She’ll be right: everything will be all right

16. Sickie: sick day. If you take a day off work when you are not actually sick it’s called chucking a sickie.

17. Slab: 24-pack of beer

18. Sook: to sulk. If someone calls you a sook, it is because they think you are whinging

19. Stubbie holder: koozie or cooler. A stubbie holder is a polystyrene insulated holder for a stubbie, which is a 375ml bottle of beer.

20. Sweet as: sweet, awesome. Aussies will often put ‘as’ at the end of adjectives to give it emphasis. Other examples include lazy as, lovely as, fast as and common as.

21. Ta: thank you

22. Togs: swim suit

23. Tradie: a tradesman. Most of the tradies have nicknames too, including brickie (bricklayer), truckie (truckdriver), sparky (electrician), garbo (garbage collector) and chippie (carpenter).

24. Ute: Utility vehicle, pickup truck

25. Whinge: whine

Good onya, mate! Understanding the Aussies should be easy as now.

Additional Sources: Urban Attitude; All Down Under - Slang Dictionary; Australian Words - Meanings and Origins; Australian Dictionary; Koala Net; Australian Explorer; Up from Australia; YouTube, 2; McDonalds.


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