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The (New) New Einsteins: Marin Soljačić

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In the current issue of mental_floss magazine, Erik Vance profiled nine "New Einsteins"—visionaries who are discovering how to grow organs, peer into black holes, levitate food, cure plagues, and let blind men see. This week, Mr. Vance will be anointing five additional New Einsteins here on mentalfloss.com, one per day. Let's begin.

Who He Is: Marin Soljačić, assistant professor of physics at MIT

What He Did: Soljačić invented "WiTricity," the first steps toward wireless electricity. That is, moving electricity without cables. It all started when Soljačić awoke in the middle of the night for the umpteenth time to his chirping cell phone, reminding him to plug it in. It occurred to him that in this day and age, cell phones should be able to plug themselves in and save him the hassle.

There are two primary ways to transmit energy without wires. The first, electromagnetic radiation, is given off by charged particles. It's hugely wasteful when diffuse and potentially dangerous when concentrated (like in a laser). The second is electromagnetic resonance. This is a magnetic version of what happens when an opera singer blasts the right note and shatters a glass partially filled with water (similarly called acoustic resonance). The idea is if you can get a coil to magnetically resonate in the right way, another specially formatted coil across the room will pick that up, with no interference from whatever is in between. Using this technique in 2007, they were able to power a 60-watt light bulb from 7 feet away.

Why You Should Start Idolizing Him Immediately:

The short answer is, because Nikola Tesla is dead. Tesla was the guy who came up with AC power and was constantly bickering with Thomas Edison a century ago. He was the first to propose the idea that electricity could be transmitted without the use of wires. In fact, he even conducted several well-publicized experiments where he supposedly transmitted 100 million volts of power 26 miles using the resonance of the Earth. Sadly, he was less proficient as a manager/businessman and his secrets for wireless energy were either discredited or died with him.

So idolize Soljačić instead. If it works, wireless energy transfer would change everything. Imagine walking into your house after a hard day, watching a little wireless TV, turning off your wireless lights, and waking up the next day with you phone, laptop, and iPod fully charged. That's the first generation of wireless power. Now imagine using your laptop in a conference center or hotel without a battery. Then imagine powering the whole world without a single wire.

Although his work has just produced the first step toward the first step, the idea has quickly been broadly picked up and investigated by industry, using a swath of different platforms. Of course, with any wireless power technology comes health concerns. But most technology watchers agree that at some point, in some form, your Roomba will no longer need batteries.

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6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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Live Smarter
You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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iStock

After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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