Archive
Science
There’s plenty of room at the bottom (Nov, 1960)

This is a condensed version of a talk titled “There’s plenty of room at the bottom” that Richard Feynman gave in 1959. It is generally considered to be the first speech about nanotechnology.


There’s plenty of room at the bottom, says noted scientist as he reveals —
How to Build an Automobile Smaller than this dot -> .

At 42, Richard Phillips Feynman, Ph.D., enjoys world renown as a theoretical physicist, local fame as a “marvelous” performer on the bongo drums, and campus admiration as a man with a pixyish humor that turns a lecture on quantum electrodynamics into a ball. You’ll see why when you read his impassioned and witty plea to think small.

This tall, slim, dark-haired scholar helped importantly in developing the atomic bomb and watched its first test explosion. In 1954 he won the $15,000 Albert Einstein Award, one of the nation’s highest scientific honors.

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Information (Sep, 1952)

This article is the last in Scientific American series on Automatic Control. It covers Information theory and processing. It has some great tidbits such as primitive tagging system for books by Vanevar Bush that used binary coded descriptors on microfilm. Also I’d have to say the author deserves to gloat over this quote: “It is almost certain that “bit” will become common parlance in the field of information, as “horsepower” is in the motor field.”

Information

The surprising discovery that it is subject to the same statistical treatment as heat facilitates its storage and handling in automatic control systems

by Gilbert W. King

THE “lifeblood” of automatic control is information. To receive and act on information is the essential function of every control system, from the simplest to the most complex. It follows that to understand and apply automatic control successfully we must understand the nature of information itself. This is not as simple as it may seem. Information, and the communication of it, is a rather subtle affair, and we are only beginning to approach an exact understanding of its elusive attributes.

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High Voltage Engineering Corporation (Feb, 1953)

Whew, now I know where to go for all of my high-voltage ionizing radiation needs. Thank you High Voltage Engineering Corporation!

Here’s why
THE Van de Graaff IS UNSURPASSED
as a source of controlled, powerful, ionizing radiation energy

because . . .

The ionizing intensity of its electron beam, at 2 MeV, is several thousand-fold greater than the most powerful radioactive sources now available. The same accelerator will deliver 5000 roentgens per minute of x-radiation at 10 centimeters.

The cost of radiation energy from a Van de Graaff, in terms of gram-rep in the irradiated material, is only a tiny fraction of the costs associated with natural or artificial radioactivity.

The electron or x-ray beam from a Van de Graaff is fully controllable in direction and shape, permitting efficient utilization of energy output.

Your specific questions about Van de Graaff equipment will be answered fully and promptly. Our experience in applied radiation energy is at your disposal in planning your research program.

High Voltage Engineering Corporation

7 UNIVERSITY ROAD CAMBRIDGE 38, MASSACHUSETTS

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Growing Blanket of Carbon Dioxide Raises Earth’s Temperature (Aug, 1953)

Normally I don’t post articles without pictures, but this one just floored me. This little blurb from 53 years ago perfectly sums up the greenhouse effect and global warming.

Growing Blanket of Carbon Dioxide Raises Earth’s Temperature
Earth’s ground temperature is rising 1-1/2 degrees a century as a result of carbon dioxide discharged from the burning of about 2,000,000,000 tons of coal and oil yearly. According to Dr. Gilbert N. Plass of the Johns Hopkins University, this discharge augments a blanket of gas around the world which is raising the temperature in the same manner glass heats a greenhouse. By 2080, he predicts the air’s carbon-dioxide content will double, resulting in an average temperature rise of at least four percent. If most of man’s industrial growth were over a period of several thousand years, instead of being crowded within the last century, oceans would have absorbed most of the excess carbon dioxide. But because of the slow circulation of the seas, they have had little effect in reducing the amount of the gas as man’s smoke-making abilities have multiplied over the past hundred years.

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Bringing the Sun Indoors (Sep, 1938)

I’m not sure if they still do this at the new Hayden, or if they do elsewhere, but it’s really cool. Basically using a set of mirrors they project an image of the sun onto the roof of the planetarium, so you get 26 foot wide image that’s safe to stare at.

Bringing the Sun Indoors
AT the Hayden Planetarium in New York a huge 26-foot image of the sun is being projected on the interior of the dome every day that the sun shines. This is accomplished by means of a first system of moving and fixed flat mirrors for bringing the sun’s image indoors and a second system of mirrors and lenses for enlarging and projecting it.

The actual sun is shown at the top of the drawing. Its rays are caught by an eight-inch flat mirror mounted on an axis parallel with the earth’s axis. A clock-like mechanism slowly turns this mirror as the earth’s turning “moves” the sun. This image, after passing through an opening in the building, is kept constantly spotted on a second flat mirror which is permanently fixed in position. It in turn passes the image downward to the third element of the Jong optical train, a flat mirror fixed at a 45-degree angle which turns it horizontally. The sun’s image is now where it can be used but as yet it is neither magnified nor projected.

Magnification is done in an ordinary eight-inch reflecting telescope, just as it would be if that telescope were directed at the sun out of doors; and since it is possible with any telescope to view the image not alone by looking into the eyepiece but also by projecting it on a screen at some distance from the eyepiece, the same is done at the planetarium. Here the distance is long, hence the image is very large—larger, in fact, than any solar image previously projected by similar methods. All this apparatus—the coelostat, fixed flats, and telescope—is entirely separate from the regular planetarium apparatus and could be similarly used with any ordinary house or building.

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FUN with QUICKSILVER (Apr, 1939)

Last week we had an article on how to make Nitrous Oxide, today we have fun experiments you can do with mercury, a poison. Mercury is considered toxic enough that when it is spilled in schools they are routinely closed and decontaminated. The article does point out that it is a poison and should be handled with care, then goes on to explain how to build a little straw-device for picking up stray globs of mercury. While this device does prevent you from sucking up mercury, it does nothing about the fumes.

Just to be clear: Mercury is a poison, it can cause neruological damage, it can give you cancer, it can kill you. Do not do any of these experiments.

FUN with QUICKSILVER

Mercury, the Liquid Mystery Metal, Offers a Fascinating Field of Experiment to Amateur-Chemistry Enthusiasts

MERCURY seems to be nature’s joke on the scientist. The only metal that is liquid at ordinary temperaatures, it still outweighs most solid ones-lead included. Volume for volume, among all the substances you encounter in your everyday life, only a few such as platiinum, “gold, and tungsten are heavier than mercury. Though it runs like water, it does not wet objects, and a drop of mercury in the palm of your hand is so elusive that it defies you to pick it up with your fingers.

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The Gas That Makes You Laugh (Jun, 1949)

This is a Popular Science article from 1949 which teaches budding young chemists how to make nitrous oxide. It even helpfully explains that the gas produces “a feeling of exhilaration when inhaled”.

Other articles in this series include:

  • The crystal which eliminates the need for sleep.
  • The dust that lets you lift a car.
  • The weed that makes you feed.
  • The liquid that gives you control of time and space

The Gas That Makes You Laugh

Chemists call it nitrous oxide. You can generate this and other oxides of nitrogen in a home laboratory.

By Kenneth M. Swezey

AN ACHING tooth is never tunny, but i. the dentist who yanks it out may well first put you to sleep with a few whiffs of nitrous oxide, commonly known as “laughing gas.”

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Velocity of Light is Not Uniform (Nov, 1934)

The idea of a variable speed of light has been around for a while and is still an active area of research. However, I’ve always heard about it in regards to time frames measured in billions of years. I’m thinking that if the speed of light changed appreciably between 1911 and 1931 we might have noticed.

Velocity of Light is Not Uniform

MANY experiments to determine the speed of light have been made from time to time, but the results are not uniform. Yet scientists have said that this is the one uniform thing in the universe. Dr. M. E. J. G. de Bray has concluded that the variations are real, and that the speed of light does vary over a long period; having been at a minimum in 1911, and a maximum in 1931. This may reassure those who were alarmed by Soddy’s suggestion that light might cease to travel at all.

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John Chinaman – His Science (Mar, 1933)

This is a really odd article. The basic proposition seems to be, “Wow those stupid, plodding Chinese sure are smart. How is that possible?”

It is rather fascinating to conjecture on some of these things, to realize that plodding John Chinaman, who seems thick and slow and dense to modern Western culture, should have sought out these truths of nature, these mechanics that we today are using in the iron men of our machine age. And to realize that we haven’t yet extracted all of the value from their applications as in some instances John Chinaman has done with his science.

John Chinaman – His Science

WHERE there ain’t no ten commandments and a man can raise a thirst, there’s an ancient science extant that looks like the very first. We think we’re the only ones who know smelting and hydraulics and ceramics and printing and electricity. But old John Chinaman had a civilized working knowledge of them all so long ago that our ancestors appear to have been dumbells at the time. They were living in total ignorance of a civilization so advanced and so fundamental that even to this day John Chinaman is ahead of us in the application of many things mechanical he has known since Noah built the ark.

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Splitting the Atom (Oct, 1939)

This is pretty amazing. It’s a Scientific American Article from 1939 describing the splitting of the atom. It was written just after Einstien had written his famous letter to F.D.R and before the initiation of the Manhattan Project, yet it is obvious that scientists were well aware of the potential uses of atomic fission:

It may or may not be significant that, since early spring, no accounts of research on nuclear fission have been heard from Germany — not even from discoverer Hahn. It is not unlikely that the German government, spotting a potentially powerful weapon of war, has imposed military secrecy on all recent German investigations. A large concentration of isotope 235, subjected to neutron bombardment, might conceivably blow up all London or Paris.

Two Elements For One

The Most Important Scientific Discovery of the Present Year is also the Biggest Explosion in Atomic History … Splitting the Uranium Atom

THE Fifth Washington Conference on Theoretical Physics was sitting in solemn conclave when the news broke. Professor Nils Bohr of Princeton and Professor Enrico Fermi of Columbia rose to open the meeting with an account of some research going on in a Berlin laboratory.
Professors Bohr and Fermi are Nobel Prize winners both, and their names are as well known to scientists as Toscaninni’s is to music lovers. The Conference therefore expected something extra special. They weren’t disappointed.

It was January 26, 1939. A few wees before, at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, Dr. Otto Hahn, a distinguished German physicist, had obtained an utterly unexpected result from some more or less routine experiments. Following the original example of Professor Fermi, Dr. Hahn and his co-worker, F. Strassmann, had for many months been bombarding uranium with neutrons and studying the debris left by this atomic warfare.

It would not have surprised them at all to find radium as one of the products. In fact, they had done so before, or thought they had. Radium and uranium are near neighbors in the table of elements, and it is nothing new for scientists to transform one element into another close to it in weight and electric charge.

But it was news, and big news, to discover barium among the debris — barium, which is only a little more than half as heavy as uranium. It meant that the neutron bullets had succeeded not merely in knocking a few chips off the old block, but in blowing the whole atom asunder with a terrific explosion.

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