The International Printing Museum in Carson showed (and, hopefully, still does show) visitors a working Linotype machine. Inspiring engineering that lasted a century, now surpassed by digital methods that are replaced at much greater frequency.
Big tankers tie up offshore and disgorge their contents into brightly lit and mostly inscrutable refineries. This sixty year old film by Shell Oil neatly explains the chemistry, chemical engineering, and physics of distillation that takes gives us our gasoline, diesel, oils, and waxes. In a different setting, it also gives us many different kinds of beverages.
39 years ago today, Voyager 1 took flight on its Grand Tour. It has gone farther than any other man-made object in history and won’t stop until it reaches the stars long after we and all that’s important to us are dust. Idealism wasn’t for chumps back then. Or maybe it was. JPL and NASApost the mission data from all these interplanetary missions and it is all free.
I had the great fortune of looking out my grad school office window into a sculpture garden of Rodin bronzes. The lost wax process used to make these marvels keeps eluding me. Every time I think about it, I forget steps and/or get them mixed up. These two videos from the Israel Museum and The Getty go a long way to shoring up a sagging memory.
The Juggling Man by Adriaen de Vries:
Adriaen de Vries's Bronze Casting Technique: Direct Lost-Wax Method
Back to the garden: So, did we chemists appreciate what we had in front of our eyes? Yes, quite a bit. The program was stressful and we’d wonder darkly whether we were on the wrong side of the Gates of Hell while having lunch in front of it. The fate of an adjacent parking lot stirred a lot of debate between a supportive faction of chemistry faculty, staff, and students and the late Prof.Albert Elsen of the Art History Department, eminent Rodin scholar, and advisor to the Cantor Foundation that donated the works. The Loma Prieta earthquake intervened and gave us all other things to worry about. The statues don’t look any worse for wear decades later despite fears that they’d dissolve into nothing. Careful stewardship and loving cleaning, enabled by a little chemistry, have served them well.
Stanford conservators work to preserve Rodin Sculpture Garden
Architectures, by Richard Copans and Stan Neumann, beautifully surveys iconic buildings of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Produced by Arte tv in France, the DVDs are tough to purchase in the U.S. without going to the evil that is Amazon. Here is a low-res playlist while the hunt continues:
We take the jet engine for granted but the invention by Whittle and von Ohain will dazzle anyone who takes the time to burrow into the details. It’s simple on the surface – Intake, compress, combust, and exhaust(*) – but immensely complex and even beautiful in practice. Enter AgentJayZ, a Canadian engine repair technician for S&S Turbine Services, a company that repairs, restores, and/or refurbishes jets for military and civilian customers. This involves a lot of detail work followed by testing which the Agent documents gleefully on his Youtube channel. Yes, there are people who get to light afterburners without ever leaving the ground.
Even more impressive is his growing collection of answers to viewer questions. 86 lengthy episodes as of this post where he explains fine points of engine-ering with equal parts fact, humor, and snark.
My question? What is it like to love your job that much?
Who knew that The Western Museum of Flight has a speaker series and that the Peninsula Seniors have made many of these talks available for all to see? I routinely search for things like this and last night stumbled across these by accident. Aircraft buffs owe both organizations a big vote of thanks. And, there are plenty more gems where these came from.
I had the good fortune to spend time as a kid at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. My father worked there and I later did undergraduate research projects in labs housed there. I’d often pass through a certain hallway where astronomer Jerry Nelson was advocating a new way of building large telescope mirrors without investing in one gigantic piece of glass. His approach: Lots of small pieces of glass, prestressed in jigs, polished, and released with each forming a part of the mirror surface. The trick was to stress the pieces so that they’d assume the required precise shape when the loads were removed. Tile these pieces together and go as large as needed. I never met Nelson but I read the posters by his labs carefully, wondering if and how it could work in practice. I also bumped into Dr. Richard Muller, my Modern Physics professor one day in that hall. A man of very eclectic tastes, he changed subfields often and he’d moved from radioisotope dating to observational astronomy. He showed me a device that could convert 80% of the visbile light falling onto it into electrons – one of the early CCDs that are now everywhere. At the time, CCDs were thought to be the next great thing in computer memory. Muller told me that it was in fact the future of astronomy. There were two revolutions in that one hallway and I had only the dimmest awareness of what either meant.
Today, there are many telescopes with unfathomably large collection areas thanks to Nelson’s innovation and persistence. CCDs and electronic detectors at other wavelengths are approaching perfection in their light detection ability, photographic plates are a thing of the past, and telescopes can now go into space because there’s a practical way to get information back to the ground.
European Extremely Large Telescope (all images courtesy Wikimedia)
Of course, not every modern telescope is made from segmented mirrors and any actual design is always subject to thorough, brutal trade studies that determine what’s best for the science. Prof. Roger Angel at the University of Arizona has perfected making mirrors as large as 8m in diameter. That’s a whopping 315 inches, 150% as large again as the 200 inch gem at Palomar. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) currently under construction has selected one of these as its primary. A friend on the project says it is actually two mirrors of the three that will ultimately make up the telescope that will photograph a huge chunk of the sky routinely, generating 15 terabytes of data a night.
As if LSST were not enough, three 30-m class telescopes are being developed for looking at faint objects in a much smaller field-of-view. There isn’t a way to make a single aperture that size so all three will require segmented mirrors. The Giant Magellan Telescope and European Extremely Large Telescope will be built Chile, the Thirty Meter Telescope will be built in Hawaii next to the Kecks, built to Jerry Nelson’s concepts. All are set to see light in 2022. We’re looking at a Platinum Age for astronomy and our understanding of the Universe. I envy, in a positive sense, those who get to work on these eyes.