The Western Lines

September 15, 2010

Understanding Electricity

Filed under: Alex Michael Bonnici,Benjamin Franklin,electricity,Nikola Tesla,Physics — ralphbuttigieg @ 7:05 am

Today on Discovery Enterprise we seek to understand the life force that is the impetus of our technological civilization – Electricity.

Our technological civilization depends on electricity, on the electrons in motion within copper wire. Electrons flow through countless switches and machines not unlike water through aqueducts and canals. Electricity also flows through our very bodies and brains as if it were the divine spark that gives us life. And, electricity may have indeed been the spark of life itself.

Electricity may even have helped in the genesis of life, when it provided the energy that synthesised the first organic compounds in the primordial oceans of our infant planet. These prebiotic compounds would eventually give rise to the first replicating molecules and ultimately the first living cells.
In 1996, electricity helped usher in a brave new world, when researchers successfully cloned a sheep named Dolly. A tiny spark of electricity was used to fuse cells and start the egg growing into an embryo.

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin stepped out into a storm armed only with an iron key, Leiden jar and a kite and showed that lightning was electrical in nature. The of ongoing work of Benjamin Franklin, along with that of his contemporaries Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta, helped humanity snatch lightning from the heavens and led us into a new Promethean Age, permanently keeping the darkness of night at bay.

And, through the later work of their intellectual heirs – André-Marie Ampère, Michael Faraday, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison our technological civilization came into being.

Understanding Electricity


July 31, 2010

Albert Einstein – How I See the World

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present a documentary from the highly acclaimed PBS series American Masters concerning the twentieth century’s greatest theoretical physicists – Albert Einstein.

Albert Einstein is considered one of the greatest scientific thinkers of all time. His theories on the nature of time and space profoundly affected the human conception of the physical world and set the foundations for many of the scientific advances of the twentieth century. As a thinker on the human condition, politics, and all issues of the day, he was as well-respected as anyone in his time.

Born in Ulm, Germany in 1879, Einstein was brought up in Munich. His parents were of Jewish German ancestry, and his father ran an electrical equipment plant. He did not speak fluently until after he was nine and was considered slow. Though his grades were fair in high school, he was eventually expelled for his rebellious nature. Always an individual, he traveled around before re-enrolling and completing school in his new home in Zurich, Switzerland.

After graduating from high school, Einstein enrolled in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, where he studied the works of classical physicists. By 1900 he graduated with a teaching degree and three years later married his college sweetheart, Mileva Maric. Unable to find a teaching job he tutored high school students until beginning work at the Swiss Patent Office. His job at the patent office allowed much time for independent work and it was during these seven years that he made his most important discoveries.

By 1905 Einstein had brought together much of the works of contemporary physicists with his own thoughts on a number of topics including the nature of light, the existence of molecules, and a theory concerning time, mass, and physical absolutes. The “Theory of Relativity” proposed a revolutionary conception of the physical world, suggesting that time, mass, and length were not fixed absolutes, but dependent on the motion of the observer. Two years later he presented his equation E=MC2 (Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared). With this early work Einstein unhinged the assumptions of the absolute within the physical world and set the course for the scientific investigations of the century.

Though the Theory of Relativity was to be his most famous, his other work that year was equally important. With his publication of the article, “On the Movement of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid Demanded by the Molecular-Kinetic Theory of Heat,” he abandoned Newton’s theory that light was made of particles, in exchange for one that presented light as being made of particles and waves. It was for this work with light that he was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize (1929) for physics.

Not immediately recognized for the important thinker he was, Einstein moved through a number of teaching jobs before being offered a research position at the University of Berlin in 1914. Soon after his move to Berlin, Einstein was divorced by his wife and married his cousin Elsa. During the 1920s Einstein’s fame grew and he spent much of this time traveling throughout the world with Chaim Weizmann, the future president of Israel, promoting the cause of Zionism. By the early 1930s the growing threat of Nazi fascism had made it impossible for Einstein to continue working in Germany, and he moved to Princeton, New Jersey. There, while teaching at Princeton University, he continued to elucidate his theory of relativity and work on new theories that brought together our understanding of other physical phenomenon.

It was from Princeton, in 1939, that Einstein signed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt discussing the possibilities of creating an atomic bomb. Though Einstein was never directly involved in the creation of the bomb, it was his earlier theories that had paved the way for its possibility. After its eventual use on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein became a constant and vocal activist for peace—spending much of the rest of his life speaking and writing on the subject. By the time of his death in 1955, Einstein was considered by many not only the most important scientist of his time, but the smartest man alive. It is impossible to understand how different the events of the last hundred years might have been without the work of Albert Einstein.
Copyright PBS

American Masters: Albert Einstein – How I See the World

July 26, 2010

The Quest to find the Higgs Boson: What are We Really Made of?

Today on Discovery Enterprise we join host Morgan Freeman in a quest that will take us into the very heart of matter to understand the basic building blocks of our material existence.

It is a quest that will also take us in search of the elusive Higgs boson, the particle thought to be the mediator of mass. Experimental detection of the Higgs boson would help explain the origin of mass in the universe. The Higgs boson would explain the difference between the massless photon, which mediates electromagnetism, and the massive W and Z bosons, which mediate the weak force. If the Higgs boson exists, it is an integral and omnipresent component of the material world. Which is why, some physicists have referred to the Higgs boson as “The God particle”. While this title may have captured the imagination of journalists and general public alike and aroused interest in the work being carried out at CERN and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), many scientists dislike it because, they feel, that it overstates the importance of the particle. In a recent renaming competition, a jury of physicists chose the name “the champagne bottle boson” as the best popular name.

Our understanding of the universe and the nature of reality itself has drastically changed over the last 100 years, and it’s on the verge of another seismic shift. In a 17-mile-long tunnel buried 570 feet beneath the Franco-Swiss border, the world’s largest and most powerful atom smasher, the Large Hadron Collider, is powering up. Its goal is nothing less than recreating the first instants of creation, when the universe was unimaginably hot and long-extinct forms of matter sizzled and cooled into stars, planets, and ultimately, us. These incredibly small and exotic particles hold the keys to the greatest mysteries of the universe. What we find could validate our long-held theories about how the world works and what we are made of. Or, all of our notions about the essence of what is real will fall apart.

Copyright Science Channel

Through The Wormhole – What are We Really Made of?

June 22, 2010

Carbon – Life’s Most Essential Building Block

Today on Discovery Enterprise we focus our attention on the sixth element of periodic table -Carbon. The element carbon forms the basis of all organic and biochemAdd Imageistry, the chemistry of life itself. Life on Earth is Carbon based and we humans, to use a phrase made famous by the late Arthur C. Clarke, are “Carbon Based Bipeds”.

So on behalf of my fellow co-bloggers Dennis Chamberland, Ralph Buttigieg and Michael Lombardi I bid you all – Greetings, fellow carbon based bipeds and any other sentient carbon based life forms that harbor nothing but good will towards our fellow inhabitants of planet Earth.Join us as we explore the one essential ingredient that links all life on Earth and perhaps elsewhere in the Cosmos.

All life forms, including us, are built upon atoms of carbon. But modern technology is also built on a foundation of carbon. Modern Marvels: Carbon explores how such a simple element burns hotter, cuts deeper, dies harder, insulates more thoroughly, and absorbs more fully than any other material.

From diamonds to coal, carbon fiber race cars to graphite pencils, you’ll see why carbon is not just the stuff of life, but the key to modern technology. You’ll also learn why “activated carbon” is the material of choice for absorbing everything from toxic heavy metals in your drinking water to funky odors in your shoes. And you’ll see how NASA is using carbon aerogel, the lightest, most insulating substance in the world, to search for clues about-you guessed it-carbon-based life forms.

Copyright: History Channel

Modern Marvels – Carbon

May 9, 2010

The History Channel’s – Einstein

Today on Discovery Enterprise we present a recent documentary that appeared on the History Channel concerning Albert Einstein.

It presents the extraordinary and remarkable story of Albert Einstein and his decades long battle to prove his Theory of General Relativity amid the violence of the First World War and the tumultuous events of his personal life.

In 1907, Einstein challenged two centuries of scientific belief and Sir Isaac Newton with a mind-boggling theory: Gravity is not pulling you down. Instead, massive bodies like the Sun and the Earth are bending space and time around you, pushing you down. He then had to prove his theory to unconvinced scientists. He figured that light from a distant star, as it passes right next to the sun and the sun’s gravitational field, will be bent. And the only way to see that would be to photograph a total solar eclipse.

Negative of the 1919 solar eclipse taken from the report of Sir Arthur Eddington on the expedition to verify Einstein’s prediction of the bending of light around the sun.

Fiercely competitive astronomers, foremost amongst them Arthur Stanley Eddington, raced each other to various exotic locations around the world to confirm or disprove Einstein’s prediction. Hardships, weather, and war foiled their expeditions until in 1919, first by Eddington and his team at Príncipe and later in 1922, with further confirmation at the Lick Observatory in California, the photographic proof was clearly, and without a doubt, captured. It launched Albert Einstein as a global icon celebrated around the world for his genius–and his humanity.

Author’s note: for those of you interested in the story of the remarkable war time collaboration of Arthur Stanley Eddington and Albert Einstein to prove the theory of General Relativity are invited to view “Einstein and Eddington: The Story of General Relativity” posted on Discovery Enterprise on Tuesday, November 24, 2009.

History Channel – Einstein (2010)

April 14, 2010

Einstein and the Annus Mirabilis of 1905

“I am sending you some papers which may be of interest,” wrote a young patent clerk named Albert Einstein to a friend in 1905.

The year 1905 will always be remembered as the “Annus Mirabilis” in the annuals of Physics and the year where a series of events would catapult a young Swiss patent clerk named Albert Einstein onto the world stage as the twentieth century’s greatest physicist fourteen years later.

In that year Einstein published four papers that were to substantially alter our views regarding the fundamental nature of space, time, and matter and lay the foundation of modern physics.

The first “Annus Mirabilis” in physics is linked to the year 1666 with Isaac Newton’s discoveries in calculus, motion, optics and gravitation culminating with the publication of Newton’s tour de force – the Principia, published on July 5th, 1687. Here Newton outlined his theory of Universal Gravitation.

Today on Discovery Enterprise we travel back to “Einstein’s Miracle Year” of 1905 and follow the events that would transform a young Albert Einstein from an obscure patent clerk into an icon – as scientific genius, pacifist and writer. This CBC Radio report explores Einstein’s life, loves and prolific career before he immigrated to the United States.

Einstein’s Miracle Year

March 14, 2010

The Universe – Gravity

Filed under: Alex Michael Bonnici,Astronomy,Gravity,Physics,The Universe — ralphbuttigieg @ 8:05 am

Today on Discovery Enterprise we take a close look at the most pervasive yet the weakest force in the Universe. It is an attractive force between all matter, and is very weak as compared to the other forces of nature.

In this episode of The Universe we will investigate the role gravity played in the formation of the universe and the part it will play in its future evolution.

The Universe – Gravity

February 13, 2010

Sci Fi Science – Designing a Lightsaber

Today on Discovery Enterprise we are going to look at the possibility of designing a working light saber. The lightsaber, as every science fiction fan knows, is a weapon which has a key role in the Star Wars movies and the franchise’s expanded universe.

The lightsaber consists of a polished metal hilt which projects a blade of energy about one meter long. The lightsaber is the signature weapon of the Jedi order and their Sith counterparts, both of whom can use them for offence, or to deflect blaster bolts. In today’s episode of Sci Fi Science, Dr. Michio Kaku reveals how we could one day build a light saber using the knowledge of twenty-first century physics and engineering.

Sci Fi Science – Designing a Lightsaber

February 9, 2010

Seeing Black Holes

Filed under: Alex Michael Bonnici,Astronomy,Black Holes,Physics — ralphbuttigieg @ 8:05 am

Today on Discovery Enterprise we follow the world’s greatest scientists as they attempt to comprehend a mysterious phenomenon that Einstein believed could only exist in the realm of theoretical physics. We now know there are millions of black holes in our galaxy, and they are the scariest things we know the least about.

Seeing Black Holes

February 8, 2010

Sci Fi Science- How to Become a Superhero

The ability to move “faster than a speeding bullet, to be more powerful than a speeding locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” may soon be within your reach.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it ain’t superman, its you in your brand new Super-suit!

Michio Kaku reveals his plan to create a super suit which will give the wearer superpowers equivalent to that of the superheroes found in comic books! This according to Dr. Kaku may be possible using the laws of twenty-first century physics.

Sci Fi Science- How to Become a Superhero

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