Michael Faraday and Other Musings

FaradayWhen asked about heroes, who comes to mind?

My grandfather loved Einstein. My grandmother never quite got on board. I’m not sure why. It could have been the womanizing thing. Or, maybe it was the bomb.

Me, I sometimes wonder who my heroes are. I don’t spend a lot of time looking. For some reason, I want my heroes to just show up and knock on my door. But for a long time, I was in my grandfather’s camp. Einstein is (was) kind of cool.

I’ve been spending the whole year clearing clutter, going through old papers and throwing out as much as possible. I had this crazy idea of leaving. Running away. I often joke that I’m a flight risk.

As I was doing this, I came across some Internet printouts on Thomas Edison, Edith Clarke, Michael Faraday, and Nicola Tesla. I had been hoarding them as is my nature. I couldn’t bear to throw them out until I had read them. So I’ve been holding onto them, for years.

Reading through this stack of papers, I discovered that these were some impressive people. At first glance, you’d think I’d like Edison, but no. He lost me with the experiments on dogs. I don’t care how much the guy perspired. Although the sudden windfall that sent him from rags to riches did capture my imagination, he came across as kind of, well, stuffy and gruff. So no, I am no Edison girl.

Edith Clarke—a female engineer, a human computer. She had the Texas connection. She and I walked on the same 40 acres. She traveled to Turkey to teach for a couple of years and then wound up retiring from the University of Texas. There must still be some Texas loyalty in my blood because I was left unimpressed to learn that upon her retirement she didn’t stay in Texas. She returned home to wherever it was she was from. So no, kudos to Edith, but no, it’s not her.

Tesla, the man who stood up to Edison. The guy who turned out to be right. AC is better. I have to admit; he was in the running. But no. It wasn’t him either.

Who was it? Michael Faraday, of course. The poor boy who divided up his loaf of bread into 14 equal pieces to ensure that he would have something to eat every day of the week. The boy who went to a chemistry lecture, took copious notes, returned to his bookbinding job, bound those notes, and sent them to the lecturer along with a letter begging for employment, begging to be taken away from the drudgery that was his life. Sounds like something I would do. I like this guy. And for Faraday, it worked.

Faraday was interested in all the things I’m interested in: light, magnets, electricity, force fields, strain, tension. He seemed to be onto how all of these things are connected. Light: particle or wave? Both? That’s what I grew up wondering about. It’s all connected. Chemistry is in there too, somewhere.

Faraday figured out induction which led to the generator, and the production of electricity. My life. It would seem.

I’m notorious for connecting things that should not be connected. But upon reading about Faraday, I thought of a conversation I had not so long ago with someone I admire. He was telling me that sometimes tension is good. Bah humbug, I wanted to say. And then I read about Faraday and about waves, the tension that is caught up in a wave, drawn oh so tight until its release and the wave that washes back in the other direction. The ocean. The moon. Tension. Stress.

“Unlike his contemporaries, Faraday was not convinced that electricity was a material fluid that flowed through wires like water through a pipe. Instead, he thought of it as a vibration or force that was somehow transmitted as the result of tensions created in the conductor.”

“When he opened the circuit, however, he was astonished to see the galvanometer jump in the opposite direction. Somehow, turning off the current also created an induced current in the secondary circuit, equal and opposite to the original current. This phenomenon led Faraday to propose what he called the ‘electronic’ state of particles in the wire, which he considered to be in a state of tension. A current thus appeared to be the setting up of such a state of tension or the collapse of such a state.”

He never found the experimental evidence to support this theory, but I like it. Sounds pretty darn good to me.

Unfortunately, I’m way out of my league when I try to talk about these things. But they fascinate me. Gosh, sit me down with a particle physicist any day, and I would be in heaven.

 

 

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