Einstein's Design for a Fridge to Last 100 Years

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

After establishing the theory of relativity as a founding principle of modern physics, Albert Einstein turned his thoughts to higher matters: home appliances. In 1926, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist put his considerable mental energies towards developing the refrigerator to end all refrigerators—energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, and durable enough to last a century.

Einstein’s interest in consumer goods was initially piqued by a news story recounting the death of a family in Berlin from the poisonous fumes of their poorly sealed refrigerator—a danger which was growing increasingly prevalent as households exchanged their ice boxes for modern refrigerators containing volatile chemical coolants. He proposed a solution that avoided the use of deadly methyl chloride, ammonia, or sulfur dioxide, enlisting the aid and expertise of young Hungarian physicist, friend, and thermodynamics specialist Léo Szilàrd to draft a prototype of a safer, better “absorption refrigerator” instead.

In the traditional style of refrigerator, a mechanical compressor pressurizes potentially toxic gases to initiate the cooling process. So long as the fridge remains safely sealed, the risks to users are minimal, but a refrigerator’s moving parts often wear out its seal and expose its fatal contents to the air. Einstein and Szilàrd’s design would require no moving parts, instead using a heat source to naturally pressurize the gas contained within the series of circuits. With no immediate source of wear and tear, the Einstein-Szilàrd refrigerator would last as long as its external casing did—up to 100 years, experts estimate.

Over the course of their partnership, the two scientists took out 45 patents for refrigeration technology in six countries, eventually selling their key patents to appliance manufacturer AB Electro Lux. However, their design remained less efficient than compressor-type models, and the combined advent of the Great Depression’s effect on industrial budgets and the introduction of chlorofluorocarbons as less toxic chemical alternatives put an end to Einstein and Szilàrd’s domestic technology dreams—until a recent resurgence of interest by researchers at Oxford University, who have picked up on the idea of a fridge that can function without electricity or greenhouse gases as a green solution to our increased global dependence on cooling technologies. Though the remake of the original Einstein fridge has yet to make it to market, every kitchen might soon be keeping their drinks cold and their pie crusts chilled in Einstein’s new and improved brainchild.

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

iStock
iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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Virginia Woolf Calls D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce 'Overrated' in Newly Unearthed 1923 Survey

James Joyce
James Joyce
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Don’t feel too bad if you’ve ever struggled to get through James Joyce’s Ulysses or one of D.H. Lawrence’s long-winded books. Virginia Woolf and several other well-respected writers of the 20th century had a few choice words for Joyce and Lawrence, labeling them the "most overrated" English writers in a recently rediscovered 1923 survey.

As Smithsonian reports, these thoughts were recorded in a journal that was passed around British literary circles that included Woolf and nine other writers in the early 20th century. Within the “literary burn book,” as Vox dubbed it, writers recorded their answers to a 39-question survey about their thoughts on popular writers of the time, both living and dead. For example, they were asked to choose the greatest literary genius of all time, as well as the author most likely to be read in 25 years’ time. (In response to the latter question, author and poet Hilaire Belloc simply answered, “Me.”)

Titled Really and Truly: A Book of Literary Confessions, the book eventually ended up in novelist Margaret Kennedy’s possession. It was recently rediscovered by her grandson, William Mackesy, who, along with his cousin, is one of the literary executors of Kennedy's estate.

“Within were pages of printed questions with 10 sets of handwritten answers dated between 1923 and 1927,” Mackesy explained in The Independent. “Then the names came into focus and our eyes popped. Here were Rose Macaulay, Rebecca West, Hilaire Belloc, Stella Benson—and Virginia Woolf. And our granny.” It's unclear who originally wrote the survey.

In addition to taking jabs at Lawrence and Joyce, one unnamed respondent called T.S. Eliot the worst living English poet as well as the worst living literary critic. In response to a prompt to name the dead author whose character they most disliked, the participants name-dropped Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde, George Meredith, Marcel Proust, and Lord Byron. Woolf, for her part, answered, “I like all dead men of letters.” (If the respondents had known about the misdeeds of Charles Dickens, he may have ended up on the list, as well.)

“It is interesting how perceptions change, especially how little mention there is of now-most-celebrated writers from that era,” Mackesy notes. This little activity wasn’t entirely petty, though. Shakespeare, unsurprisingly, won the most votes for greatest literary genius. Homer, author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, received one vote.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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