10 Electrifying Facts About Michael Faraday

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This world-changing genius was born into poverty on September 22, 1791. Fortunately for us, Michael Faraday refused to let his background stand in his way.

1. HE WAS LARGELY SELF-EDUCATED.

In Faraday's boyhood home, money was always tight. His father, James, was a sickly blacksmith who struggled to support a wife and four children in one of London's poorer outskirts. At age 13, young Faraday started helping the family make ends meet. Bookseller George Ribeau (sometimes spelled Riebau) took him on as an errand boy in 1804, with the teen's primary job being the delivery and recovery of loaned-out newspapers.

Shortly after Faraday's 14th birthday, Ribeau offered him a free apprenticeship. Over the next seven years, he mastered the trade of bookbinding. After hours, Faraday remained in Ribeau's store, hungrily reading many of the same volumes he'd bound together.

Like most lower-class boys, Faraday's formal schooling was very limited. Between those bookshelves, however, he taught himself a great deal—especially about chemistry, physics, and a mysterious force called "electricity."

2. A 300-PAGE NOTEBOOK LAUNCHED HIS SCIENTIFIC CAREER.


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Sir Humphry Davy (above) left a huge mark on science. In the year 1808 alone, the man discovered no less than five elements, including calcium and boron. An excellent public speaker, Davy's lectures at the Royal Institution consistently drew huge crowds. 

Twenty-year-old Faraday attended four of these presentations in 1812, having received tickets from a customer. As Davy spoke, Faraday jotted down detailed notes, which he then compiled and bound into a little book. Faraday sent his 300-page transcript to Davy. Duly impressed, the seasoned scientist eventually hired him as a lab assistant. Later in life, Davy was asked to name the greatest discovery he'd ever made. His answer: "Michael Faraday."

Tension would nevertheless erupt between mentor and protégé. As Faraday's accomplishments began to eclipse his own, Davy accused the younger man of plagiarizing another scientist's work (this rumor was swiftly discredited) and tried to block his admission to the Royal Society.

3. IF IT WEREN'T FOR FARADAY, WE MIGHT NOT HAVE ELECTRIC POWER.

On September 3, 1821, Faraday built a device that ushered technology into the modern era. One year earlier, Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted had demonstrated that when an electric current flows through a wire, a magnetic field is created around it. Faraday capitalized on this revelation. Inside the Royal Society basement, he began what was arguably his most groundbreaking experiment by placing a magnet in the bottom of a mercury-filled glass container. Dangling overhead was a wire, which Faraday connected to a battery. Once an electric current was conducted through the wire, it began rotating around the magnet.

Faraday had just built the world's first electric motor. How could he possibly top himself? By building the world's first electric generator. His first experiment was comprised of a simple ring of wires and cotton through which he passed a magnet. By doing so, he found that a current was generated. To this day, most electricity is made using the same principles.

4. FARADAY INVENTED THE RUBBER BALLOON.


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By today's standards, his early models would look shabby. Made via pressing two sheets of rubber together, Faraday's balloons were used to contain hydrogen during his experiments. Faraday created his first in 1824 and was quick to praise the bag's “considerable ascending power.” Toy manufacturers started distributing these the following year.

5. HE'S ALSO THE GRANDFATHER OF MODERN REFRIGERATORS.

In 1823, Faraday sealed a sample of chlorine hydrate inside a V-shaped tube. As he heated one end and cooled the other simultaneously, the scientist noticed that a peculiar yellow liquid was starting to form. Curious, he broke open the tube. Without warning, a sudden, violent explosion sent glass shards flying everywhere. Mercifully uninjured, he smelled a strong scent of chlorine in the air.

It didn't take him very long to figure out what had happened. Inside the tube, pressure was building, which liquefied the gas. Upon puncturing the glass, he'd released this pressure and, afterwards, the liquid reverted into its gaseous state. This sudden evaporation came with an interesting side-effect: it cooled down the surrounding air. Quite unintentionally, Faraday thus set the stage for the very first ice-making machines and refrigeration units.

6. HE BECAME AN ANTI-POLLUTION CRUSADER.

Britain's industrialization came at a malodorous price. As London grew more crowded during the mid-1800s, garbage and fecal matter were dumped into the River Thames with increasing regularity. Naturally, the area didn't smell like a rose. In 1855, Faraday penned an oft-reproduced open letter about the problem, imploring the authorities to take action. “If we neglect this subject,” he wrote, “we cannot expect to do so with impunity; nor ought we be surprised if, ere many years are over, a hot season give us sad proof for the folly of our carelessness.”

Just as Faraday predicted, a broiling summer forced Londoners of all stripes to hold their noses. Dubbed “the Great Stink,” the warmer months of 1858 sent the Thames' rancid odor wafting all over the city. Parliament hastily responded with a comprehensive sewage reform bill. Gradually, the putrid stench began to dissipate.

7. HE STARTED THE ROYAL SOCIETY'S CHRISTMAS LECTURE TRADITION.


Alexander Blaikley, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Faraday understood the importance of making science accessible to the public. In 1825, while employed by the Royal Society, he spearheaded an annual series that's still going strong today. That holiday season, engineer John Millington delivered a set of layman-friendly lectures on “natural philosophy.” Every year thereafter (excluding 1939–1942 because of WWII), a prominent scientist has been invited to follow in his footsteps. Well-known Christmas lecturers include David Attenborough (1973), Carl Sagan (1977), and Richard Dawkins (1991). Faraday himself was the presenter on no less than 19 occasions.

8. BRILLIANT AS FARADAY WAS, HE STRUGGLED WITH MATH.

Towards the end of his life, Faraday's lack of formal education finally caught up with him. An underprivileged childhood had rendered him mathematically illiterate, a severe handicap for a professional scientist. In 1846, he hypothesized that light itself is an electromagnetic phenomenon, but because Faraday couldn't support the notion with mathematics, it wasn't taken seriously. Salvation for him came in the form of a young physicist named James Clerk Maxwell. Familial wealth had enabled Maxwell to pursue math and—in 1864—he released equations [PDF] that helped prove Faraday's hunch.

9. AS TIME WORE ON, HE STRUGGLED WITH MEMORY LOSS.

Michael Faraday
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At the age of 48, Faraday's once-sharp memory started faltering. Stricken by an illness that rendered him unable to work for three years, he wrestled with vertigo, unsteadiness, and other symptoms. Following this "extended vacation" [PDF], he returned to the Royal Society, where he experimented away until his early 70s.

However, Faraday was still prone to inexplicable spurts of sudden giddiness, depression, and extreme forgetfulness. “[My] bad memory,” he wrote, “both loses recent things and sometimes suggests old ones as new.” Nobody knows what caused this affliction, though some blame it on overexposure to mercury.

10. EINSTEIN KEPT A PORTRAIT OF FARADAY IN HIS BERLIN HOME.

Fittingly, the father of modern physics regarded Faraday as a personal hero. Once, upon receiving a book about him, Einstein remarked, “This man loved mysterious Nature as a lover loves his distant beloved.”

Ig Nobel Prizes Honor Self-Colonoscopies and Kidney Stone-Dislodging Roller Coasters

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Not all science awards are reserved for discoveries that revolutionize their fields. As the Ig Nobel Prize recognizes, sometimes a largely pointless, but wildly creative, study is just as worthy of accolades. On September 13, the Ig Nobel Prize continued its tradition of honoring achievements "that make people laugh, and then think" with its 28th annual ceremony.

The Ig Nobel Prize recognizes work across a variety of fields. This year, the medicine prize was awarded to Marc Mitchell and David Wartinger for their investigation of whether or not riding a roller coaster can dislodge a kidney stone. The answer: It can, at least if you're riding in the back car of the Big Thunder Mountain coaster at Walt Disney World. Other notable winners include a study detailing a self-administered colonoscopy and one that asks if using a voodoo doll of your boss is an effective way to manage workplace aggression (it is).

You can check out the full list of 2018 Ig Nobel Prize recipients below.

MEDICINE

"For using roller coaster rides to try to hasten the passage of kidney stones."

Winners: Marc Mitchell and David Wartinger

Study: "Validation of a Functional Pyelocalyceal Renal Model for the Evaluation of Renal Calculi Passage While Riding a Roller Coaster," published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association

ANTHROPOLOGY

"For collecting evidence, in a zoo, that chimpanzees imitate humans about as often, and about as well, as humans imitate chimpanzees."

Winners: Tomas Persson, Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, and Elainie Madsen

Study: "Spontaneous Cross-Species Imitation in Interaction Between Chimpanzees and Zoo Visitors," published in Primates

BIOLOGY

"For demonstrating that wine experts can reliably identify, by smell, the presence of a single fly in a glass of wine."

Winners: Paul Becher, Sebastien Lebreton, Erika Wallin, Erik Hedenstrom, Felipe Borrero-Echeverry, Marie Bengtsson, Volker Jorger, and Peter Witzgall

Study: "The Scent of the Fly," published in bioRxiv

CHEMISTRY

"For measuring the degree to which human saliva is a good cleaning agent for dirty surfaces."

Winners: Paula Romão, Adília Alarcão and the late César Viana

Study: "Human Saliva as a Cleaning Agent for Dirty Surfaces," published in Studies in Conservation

MEDICAL EDUCATION

"For the medical report 'Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons Learned From Self-Colonoscopy.'"

Winner: Akira Horiuchi

Study: "Colonoscopy in the Sitting Position: Lessons Learned From Self-Colonoscopy by Using a Small-Caliber, Variable-Stiffness Colonoscope," published in Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

LITERATURE

"For documenting that most people who use complicated products do not read the instruction manual."

Winners: Thea Blackler, Rafael Gomez, Vesna Popovic and M. Helen Thompson

Study: "Life Is Too Short to RTFM: How Users Relate to Documentation and Excess Features in Consumer Products," published in Interacting With Computers

NUTRITION

"For calculating that the caloric intake from a human-cannibalism diet is significantly lower than the caloric intake from most other traditional meat diets."

Winner: James Cole

Study: "Assessing the Calorific Significance of Episodes of Human Cannibalism in the Paleolithic," published in Scientific Reports

PEACE

"For measuring the frequency, motivation, and effects of shouting and cursing while driving an automobile."

Winners: Francisco Alonso, Cristina Esteban, Andrea Serge, Maria-Luisa Ballestar, Jaime Sanmartín, Constanza Calatayud, and Beatriz Alamar

Study: "Shouting and Cursing While Driving: Frequency, Reasons, Perceived Risk and Punishment," published in the Journal of Sociology and Anthropology

REPRODUCTIVE MEDICINE

"For using postage stamps to test whether the male sexual organ is functioning properly."

Winners: John Barry, Bruce Blank, and Michel Boileau

Study: "Nocturnal Penile Tumescence Monitoring With Stamps," published in Urology

ECONOMICS

"For investigating whether it is effective for employees to use voodoo dolls to retaliate against abusive bosses."

Winners: Lindie Hanyu Liang, Douglas Brown, Huiwen Lian, Samuel Hanig, D. Lance Ferris, and Lisa Keeping

Study: "Righting a Wrong: Retaliation on a Voodoo Doll Symbolizing an Abusive Supervisor Restores Justice," published in The Leadership Quarterly

Drones Rearrange This Canopy Prototype So You're Always in the Shade

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When they're not rebuilding the environment or exploring Mars, the drones of the future may help us avoid some of life's minor inconveniences. A group of masters students at the University of Stuttgart envisioned a fleet of drones that does just that for their thesis project: As New Atlas reports, the drones are part of a roaming canopy, responding to sunlight above and movement below to ensure you're always in the shade.

Without the drones, the prototype, dubbed Cyber Physical Macro Material, resembles a normal stationary structure. Tall black poles support panels that fit together magnetically, protecting whoever's beneath them from the sun's rays. But this design is only effective when the sun is in a certain part of the sky: As the day progresses, the canopy's shadow shifts, and people are forced to move with it if they want to stay out of the light.

But these panels don't stay in the same spot for long. They come equipped with special sensors that keep track of the orientation of the sun and a communications system that corresponds with autonomous drones nearby. If a panel is no longer keeping the ground beneath it shady, a drone will glide over, lift it up, and snap it into a different part of the canopy like a puzzle piece. Drones can also rearrange the panels in response to the size and location of the crowd beneath them, which means the same structure that shades a few pedestrians can also keep a larger party cool.

There are legal and logistical hurdles the project would need to overcome before becoming a system in a real-world, but the researchers behind it say that for now it's meant to get people thinking about the potential applications for drones. A press release from the university reads, "With its ability to continuously reconstruct during use, the system challenges pre-conceived ideas of robotic digital fabrication and sophisticated pre-fabrication for architecture."

You can see how the drone-powered canopy works in the video below.

Cyber Physical Macro Material as a UAV [re]Configurable Architectural System from ICD on Vimeo.

[h/t New Atlas]

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