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United States Army // Public Domain

Watch Richard Feynman Explain Fire

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United States Army // Public Domain

Physicist Richard Feynman was a master explainer. His physics lectures are a model of clarity. His specialty is explaining one concept in the context of another concept the listener already understands.

In the video below, Feynman tackles the seemingly simple question: What is fire? This is a hard question for many of us to answer without referencing fire itself. Fire is burning. Fire is what happens when you light a match. Fire is a reaction. But aside from our existing knowledge of its effects (like flame), what is it and how does it happen? What else is fire like that we understand already?

In 1983, Feynman answered this question (among others) for the BBC on its Fun to Imagine series. He starts like so:

The atoms like each other to different degrees. Oxygen, for instance in the air, would like to be next to carbon, and if they're getting near each other, they snap together. If they're not too close though, they repel and they go apart, so they don't know that they could snap together.

It's just as if you have a ball that was [rolling and] trying to climb a hill and there was a hole it could go into. Like a volcano hole, a deep one. It's rolling along, and it doesn't go down in the deep [volcano] hole, because it starts to climb the hill and it rolls away again. But if you make it go fast enough, it'll fall into the hole.

So if you set something like wood in oxygen...there's carbon in the wood from a tree. And the oxygen comes and hits the carbon, but not hard enough. It just goes away again. The air is always [moving but] nothing's happening. If you can get it fast enough, by heating it up somehow...a few of [the atoms] come past, a few of them go over the top, so to speak.

So there you have it. If you understand what a volcano looks like and how a ball rolls under normal earth gravity, you have the start of this mental image for how fire works. Feynman's explanation manages to convey chemical behaviors in terms humans intuitively understand—the way a ball rolls—because that's the world we live in. Watch this for a delightful explanation:

The BBC has more clips (in better quality) at this slightly vintage website. You can also download the entire hour-long lecture from the Internet Archive.

[h/t: Kottke.org.]

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Ikea
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Design
How IKEA Turned the Poäng Chair Into a Classic
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Ikea

IKEA's Poäng chair looks as modern today as it did when it debuted in 1976. The U-shaped lounger has clean lines and a simple structure, and often evokes comparisons to Finnish designer Aalto’s famous “armchair 406.” Its design, however, is ultimately a true fusion of East and West, according to Co.Design.

In 2016, the Poäng celebrated its 40th birthday, and IKEA USA commemorated the occasion (and the 30 million-plus Poäng chairs they’ve sold over the years) by releasing two short videos about the armchair’s history and underlying design philosophy. Together, they tell the story of a fateful collaboration between Lars Engman, a young IKEA designer, and his co-worker, Noboru Nakamura.

Nakamura had initially come to IKEA to learn more about Scandinavian furniture. But the Japanese designer ended up imbuing the Poäng—which was initially called Poem—with his own distinct philosophy. He wanted to create a chair that swung “in an elegant way, which triggered me to imagine Poäng,” Nakamura recalled in a video interview. “That’s how I came up with a rocking chair.”

“A chair shouldn’t be a tool that binds and holds the sitter,” Nakamura explained. “It should rather be a tool that provides us with an emotional richness and creates an image where we let go of stress or frustration by swinging. Such movement in itself has meaning and value.”

Save for upholstery swaps, a 1992 name change, and a new-ish all-wooden frame that's easily flat-packed, the modern-day Poäng is still essentially the same product that customers have purchased and enjoyed for decades. Devotees of the chair can hear the full story by watching IKEA’s videos below—ideally, while swinging away at their desks.

[h/t Co. Design]

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iStock
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Medicine
Why Haven't We Cured Cancer Yet?
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iStock

Walkathons, fundraisers, and ribbon-shaped bumper stickers raise research dollars and boost spirits, but cancer—the dreaded disease that affects more than 14 million people and their families at any given time—still remains bereft of a cure.

Why? For starters, cancer isn't just one disease—it's more than 100 of them, with different causes. This makes it impossible to treat each one using a one-size-fits-all method. Secondly, scientists use lab-grown cell lines cultivated from human tumors to develop cancer therapies. Living masses are far more complex, so potential treatments that show promise in lab experiments often don't work on cancer patients. As for the tumors themselves, they're prone to tiny genetic mutations, so just one growth might contain multiple types of cancer cells, and even unique sub-clones of tumors. These distinct entities might not respond the same way, or at all, to the same drug.

These are just a few of the challenges that cancer researchers face—but the good news is that they're working to beat all of them, as this TED-Ed video explains below.

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