Feud: Tesla V Edison

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The titans. Nikola Tesla was the ultimate scientist, choosing his research over a spouse and improving lives via his inventions. But, he also lived at the same time as Thomas Edison, who was a bit of a knob (and didn’t even invent the light bulb, jeeze). Edison was pretty much just a great entrepreneur, hiring people to make stuff for him rather than being the idea factory he is assumed to be. It can be assumed that his best-friend was the patent.

Tesla’s invention of alternating current (AC) rivalled Edison’s less efficient direct current (DC) to connect electrical power America. DC requires power stations to be very close to their user which would mean lots of smelly plants close to areas you don’t want a big steamy coal fire. AC, however, is happy to travel without much loss of power. Edison kind of knew Tesla was right so started a big smear campaign against this better model by electrocuting animals and people using AC. “Look how dangerous it is”. Shut up, Edison.

Tesla had a hand (or more) in the technologies of radio, radar, hydroelectricity, transistors, the Tesla Coil, x-ray, electrical generators, spark plugs and so much more. By the end of it, he had 700 original patents. Oh, and he apparently built a death ray… Yet, Edison is still the more famous (and wealthier) of the two.

Tesla: I love you and that’s all that matters.

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Where are all of the Physics Startups/Entrepreneurs?

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I can’t help but think the above question. Where’s all the hype about upcoming, innovative physics based technologies? The romance between technology, business and physics is quite a cold one compared to the marriage between technology, business and engineering. Engineers have been pushing and battling their way into tech but physicists are less famous for it yet physicists are arguably just as adept.

Currently studying MSc Technology Entrepreneurship at UCL, I’m exposed to some exciting theories about modern entrepreneurship with the theories mimicking a scientific approach being most enticing. “Learn → Build → Measure” with a hypothesis in mind, eliminate uncertainty whilst making sure that tests are free(ish) of bias – that’s pretty scientific. For something as unpredictable as business, it’s beautiful to see that success is more likely for those that test any assumptions, scrapping any theories that are shown to be obsolete.

Especially as an experimental physicist, I am naturally inclined to do the above. If I have a theory, I want to test it. I dislike conclusions based upon bad data and make an effort to disprove my theories as the truth is more important than feeling like I have discovered something. Ultimately in science, a bad theory will be thrown out and the implications in entrepreneurship are similar: even with a bit of momentum, ignoring or being dishonest about results to testing will eventually be exposed with implications in the regions of rejection from investors and failed ventures. Creating solutions for problems that people do not have.

Physicists know that humankind will never know everything, that there is always something to learn and so, we should endeavour to keep learning. This comfort with humility is a key aspect of potentially brilliant entrepreneurs. For me, it is a crisis that this enormously talented group are not being encouraged to get stuck into solving the world’s problems outside of the (metaphorical if you’re a theorist) laboratory. We may even see a time where physics makes grand advances privately away from academic institutions. If this is a byproduct of the development of useful products then so be it! There is no single answer to the title question but any progress will be a massive positive. With enough support, tomorrow’s physicist will be tomorrow’s best and most innovative entrepreneurs.

GET READY FOR HALLEY’S COMET!

What dat?

The prettiest thing everrrrr. 1705 and Edmond Halley did what he did best, he looked at the night sky and observed. “Ooooooo” said a starry eyed Edmond. Comets are massive chunks of ice and rock flying around in the solar system.We only get to see it a few times as it embarks upon a huge elliptical orbit of our starry lifegiver – the Sun. The ice melts when near the hot star creating a glittery trail of magical wetbeautydust.

Halley had a look at some reports of a big shiny thing being visible from Earth in 1531, 1607 and 1682. Hypothesising that this was from the same comet, he predicted the return to be in 1758 but of course, he died before that happened. The poor guy didn’t even get to see his theory play out.

When’s it here?

This big massive shiny thing wasn’t supposed to visit until 2061 but midnight on October 21st or 22nd (2014) is set to gift us with a view of the ice dust trail. I’m planning on being alive in 2061 but for those that don’t like those odds, this is the only chance you get as it continues its orbit of the Sun. Importantly, you can strip off and get your liberated, naked eye involved – no telescope necessary.

We haven’t seen it for 30 years, I certainly haven’t as I was not a living entity until 1991. 1986 was the year of the Argentinian World Cup champions, Oprah Winfrey’s first TV show and Halley’s Comet.

What has Halley’s Comet seen?

BC – the Chinese astronomers saw it in 239BC, then by the Babylonians in 164BC and then 87BC.

1066 – England was invaded by the Norman’s in the Battle of Hastings just after the comet showed itself. William the Conqueror listened to his ego, believing the star was for him, and kicked ass to become the first Norman King of England and the last successful leader of an invasion of England.

1682 – Halley saw the comet as a 20something.

1759 – The British did what they do best – acquiring land. Thank you, France, for the West Indies and Guadeloupe. Britain and France were not good friends, with France losing their hold of Quebec. Us Brits love us some bagels and poitine. Madonna releases one of her earlier albums.

1835 – President Jackson survives an attempt on his life by the idiot Richard “Dick” Lawrence in the same year that their national debt was reduced to $0. Think there is more chance that Halley’s comet will fall out the sky than the USA will ever completely alleviate their astronomical debt. Charles Darwin was having a gap year in South America backpacking, taking selfies in the Andes and probably first thinking about evolution as a result of an enlightening round of ayahuasca in some bloke’s hut. He claimed just went to Chile and the Galapogas Islands…

1910, April – Wikipedia says that April’s big event was the comet’s visit. Not wrong. Mark Twain was satisfied to pass the day after the comet’s perihelion, leaving the way that he arrived in the world, in sync with the comet. Destiny. The comet was spectacular this time as it approached to the tiny distance of 13.9million miles away.

Look at this beauty. First image of the comet on camera #nofilter credit to: Lowell Observatory, Arizona

1986, February – Top Gun was the year’s film to see and, taking inspiration from William, Duke of Normandy, Whitney Houston battled her way to number one in the week after its apparation with this: 

Fitting, seeing as it was written by Boy Meets Girl, singers of Waiting for a Star to Fall. Some big tunes there.

So.

You will be asked if you witnessed it and you should make the effort to. It’s the space event of October. In all honesty, it might be a bit shit because it is just the trail that we will be seeing. However, there is a chance that there will be cosmic fireworks (woo!). This should look like a bunch of shooting stars, roughly once every two minutes.

NOTE: Londoners will probably not see it due to smog/light pollution/collapsing after a long day. Just lie and say you did see and that it looked really nice. Easy.

Was Newton a Little Bitch?

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Maybs. Maybs it was the other people being utter knobs. This guy is loved by the physics community but the scientific legend had a few arch enemies. Yeah he was the father of mechanics and this and that but seriously, he could be seen as a bit of a prick.

Newton had some big ol’ issues with Robert Hooke and Gottfried “Got Fried” Leibniz, almost wiping out the memory of Hooke whilst the argument with Leibniz also involved other people. Clearly, Newton liked a bit of conflict.

Newton’s beef with Leibniz was a classic tale of “I did it first”, as in, who formed what would now be integral (whey!) to a modern calculus class. Leibniz and Newton were actually exchanging letters so that they could work on some maths problems and it is possible that Leibniz got his hands on one of Newton’s manuscripts giving GL an advantage on the road of ‘discovery’. Kind of reminds me of visits to The Louvre where plaques claim that explorers “found” those treasures. Maybe Newton was badly done here.

On to Rob Hooke. Rob Hooke is best known for his work on springs. He did other stuff and was quite the scientist but I’m more bothered about discussing the juicy goss. According to Hooke’s biorgrapher, Hooke was a miserable bastard that might be a bit of a hypocrite in the sense that he probably nicked work and said it was his, and then got pissy that someone else tried to steal it. One of the people he had a dispute with was Newton and Newton did what we all would do if our enemy died and we became President of the Royal Society – you’d burn all evidence of them, including paintings.

My favourite thing Newton did just because it is so wonderfully sarcastic was to make a reference to Hooke’s vertical challenges, saying in a that Newton saw further because he was stood on the shoulders of giants – they were friends at this point but it’s much more fun to imagine him pointing out that Hooke was a hobbit. Hooke basically said that Newton’s work on light was shit so Newton, having none of it, sought to crush his reputation, doing a pretty good job of it. Next time you get a 1997 £2 coin, check to see whether the former Master of the Royal Mint’s Hooke directed height insult is present.

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Quantum Physics Part 1: Bit about Light Waves and the Electromagnetic Spectrum

So, quantum physics. Hear me out. Quantum physics is brilliant and not too difficult to conceptualise. Should probably go about it by splitting it up before we talk about cats and boxes.

Part 1: First little bit to know: light is a bit weird. If you ever hear “electromagnetic wave”, that is talking about light. Simply, light has an electric field AND a magnetic field. Skip to part 2 if you don’t care but for extra marks, know that those fields are perpendicular to each other and they are both perpendicular to the direction it travels in. Have a look at the world’s most diabolical drawing of that below (ignore any smudges), note that c refers to the speed of light and the arrows mean that those fields have not only a magnitude or size, but it’s also important to note that they have a direction:

EBC

I’ve tried to show that the red line is the electric field and is 90 degrees to that of the black electric field, and that together, it’s a light wave (woooo). This is what Mr Ray Ban uses to make his sunnies protect your retinas but we’ll talk about polarisation another time.

So far: Light is an electromagnetic wave. Check.

Part 2: Not all light is visible. Everyone’s heard of x-rays, microwaves (Rustler, anyone?) and radio waves, yeah? Sweet. They are different because they have different wavelengths/frequencies. Very quickly: Frequency is the speed of light divided by wavelength. Frequency being “how many times per”, so, how many oscillations per wavelength. See slightly better picture to see that wavelength is the distance between peaks (top bit of wave), the frequency might be how many wavelengths happen in 1 second. My point: we have different properties for waves because they all have different wavelengths – a statement that can be interchanged with “…because they all have different frequencies”.

WAVELENGTH

TL;DR: Different names for electromagnetic waves because of the frequency that it oscillates.

Part 3: Next step has to be to discuss the different properties due to the different frequencies but very simply: higher frequencies have higher energies (more oscillations in the same amount of time) whilst high wavelengths have low energies (less full waves in the same amount of time). High frequencies are stuff like x-rays and gamma rays whilst radio waves as microwaves are low frequency. That’s why you can point a TV remote at your face and not die… The light we can see is in middle between being high frequency and low frequency and goes from the low energy colour of red all the way up to violet at the more energetic side. How do we get white light? When green, red and blue light combine to make….white? It does though, Sir Isaac Newton played about with some glass prisms and showed the light splitting up into the different colours. Pretty neat.

The lazy picture below shows infrared on the left and x-ray on the right. X-rays being of a high energy mean that you can’t point it at your face as you might die.

Skull

In short: The higher the frequency that light oscillates, the higher the energy of that light. Also, infrared is much less energetic than x-rays. X-ray can burn your face off because the wave is higher energy.

All this jazz is a basic attempt at describing the Electromagnetic Spectrum. First little bit: done!

Who?

I want to write fun things about physics more than its most pioneering aspects, to host events that are overflowing with beer and pretty pictures of space rather than a headache of maths, to cater to those that would benefit most from enlightenment than those that already ‘get’ how awesome physics is. So, I’m slightly changing my aims – the blog is going to take physics less seriously. Think Prof. Brian Cox without the Professor.

Accessible, fun, cool, mind blowing, edgy – these properties of physics and astronomy are the reasons I got into the science. You’re here probably because you love or study physics. Let’s keep that going. Time for some physics lovin’.