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How electric lighting changed our sleep, and other materials science stories

How electric lighting changed our sleep, and other materials science stories

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Zoom in / Housewife proudly presents indispensable Pyrex kitchen gadgets (1955). Anisa Ramirez tells the story of her invention and how she in turn shaped human behavior, in her book, Chemistry is who we are.

Chaloner Woods / Getty Images

There is rarely time to write about every great science story that comes our way. So this year, we’re showing again a special publication series, “Twelve Days of Christmas,” highlighting one science story that fell through holes in 2020, every day from December 25 to January 5. Today: Start the new year with physicist and science missionary Aynesa Ramirez as she tells compelling stories about materials science, the technologies it makes possible, and how these technologies affect human behavior in her book, Chemistry is who we are.

American businessman in the nineteenth century Thomas Edison It is perhaps most famous for its development Incandescent light bulbBut few people likely know this part of his inspiration came from A mysterious fellow inventor in Connecticut named William Wallace. Edison visited Wallace’s workshop on September 8, 1878, to verify the prototype of the “arc light” system. Edison was impressed, but he thought he could improve the system, which uses a steam-powered dynamo to produce an incredibly bright – super bright for home use, closer to outdoor floodlights. The result is the pleasant glow of the incandescent lamp.

Other inventors created versions of the incandescent lamp before Edison, but the Menlo Park wizard discovered an excellent glowing material of carbonated bamboo that lasted more than 1,000 hours, and also created an integrated electric lighting system to drive adoption of this. New technology. Edison found a material that he could shape according to his needs. But electric lighting, in turn, will shape how people sleep, as the physicist who describes herself as “science missionary” Inessa Ramirez explained in her book, Our Chemistry: How Humans and Matter About Each Other, Released in April.

Before the Industrial Revolution, people experienced “split sleep”: they would retire to bed and sleep for three or four hours (“first sleep”), then wake up after midnight and stay awake for another hour or so, before returning to bed for a ” Their second sleep. ” There are references to Homer’s first sleep Epic And Virgil StubbornAccording to Ramirez, as well as many nineteenth century novels and thousands of nineteenth century newspaper reports. “When the artificial lights appeared, they banished the darkness and prolonged the day,” she wrote.

It’s just one of the many wonderful interconnected tales that have appeared in Chemistry is who we areThat starts with a story Elizabeth Ruth Belleville, Also known as Greenwich Time Lady, whose work was a way to ensure standard time in London before the advent of the radio. Belleville carries a pocket chronometer number 485/786 – a family legacy called “Arnold” – Belleville rides daily to 200 or so customers, who will pay for the privilege of looking at Arnold (set to Greenwich Mean Time) and adjust accordingly. This growing cultural obsession with saving time also ended up affecting our sleep patterns.

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Elizabeth Ruth Belleville received a timekeeping certificate from an official at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, circa 1903.
Zoom in / Elizabeth Ruth Belleville received a timekeeping certificate from an official at the Royal Greenwich Observatory, circa 1903.

Fox Pictures / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Again and again, in Chemistry is who we areRamirez shows how we shape materials, and shape them in turn, whether it’s steel rods, telegraph wires, hard disks, glass, or the thin, flexible cellulose film – which ultimately produced the entire film industry – invented by the New Jersey name Preacher. Hannibal Goodwin. (Goodwin died in a tragic street accident before he could take advantage of his invention, leaving the road open George Eastman To start producing a roll using his patented process.) Ars sat down with Ramirez to find out more.

Ars Technica: What inspired you to write this particular book?

Ainisa Ramirez: I was trying to find another way for people to get excited about material. There is a whole bunch of books that show different materials and how they are used, and possibly tell some stories [in the process]. I decided to turn that upside down and really focus on the story – because I think stories are more sturdy – and use it as a conveyor belt, if desired, to get science into someone’s mind. It was also an attempt to generate new myths. We’re talking about great people, great men, and I really wanted to emphasize the people you don’t know, who take the things you take for granted.

Ars Technica: We are Owns He built famous science myths with people like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Albert Einstein, etc. in the Pantheon. But there are all kinds of inventors and scientists lost in the archives – William Wallace doesn’t even have his Wikipedia page – and your book brings them more to the fore. How does it happen that some of these people are forgotten while others are cuddled?

Ramirez: Well, it was part of Edison’s business promoting Edison. He actually had a reporter following him the whole time. William Wallace met in Ansonia, Connecticut, which is actually two cities from where I am. I went over there and asked people, “Did you know Edison came to Connecticut?” Nobody knows this. Over the generations it has become a myth that he just got this inspiration, not that he got it from a reformed gentleman. So Wallace is often relegated to the margins in many of Edison’s biographies. I got to see one of the lights that Wallace and the factory had made. He had a lot more than that entourage. I just wanted to give him a chance to shine.

Ars Technica: I understand the topic of the book arose when I signed up for a class on glassblowing. Can you tell us a little about that?

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Ramirez: I live in about two cities from a glassblowing studio. I had gone to Italy and saw the Murano glassmakers and said, “Oh my God. That’s cool.” I wanted to learn new things about an old subject. When I worked with the material [in the past]I was working with nanotechnology, so I had many degrees of separation between me and the material. So I signed up for a class, but I was very shy, because you are working with things that can definitely cause you some harm. My coach said, “If you step on hot glass, it’ll melt a hole in your shoes.”

There was a body that I really enjoyed. I was also able to put the concepts together with the work. I could swing the glass and I was using viscosity. The way I rolled the glass onto this metallic surface spoke of heating and cooling. I’ve been developing a new relationship with glass over the course of weeks. And then it was a very bad day as I was working with glass and it fell on the floor. Luckily my teacher came and reattached the piece to my tube. But after I completed that very unbalanced piece, I thought, “I came to the class in a really bad mood. And then I wasn’t in a bad mood.” The glass shaped me. I was definitely shaping it because it was a lump and I was giving it shape.

Laboratory glassware manufactured at Wear Flint Glass Works, 1961.
Zoom in / Laboratory glassware manufactured at Wear Flint Glass Works, 1961.

Heritage Images / Getty Images

It might have been a bit stretching, but it made me think, “Okay. I was dancing with that glass. There was nothing else on my mind. It was shaping me because it was putting me in a better mood.” This was my motivation to reflect on this dance between humans and matter, and how they form each other. You have become a kind of glass nerd. What I didn’t think was covered is the role of glass in science and how effective it is in terms of discovering things like the electron and penicillin, for example.

Ars Technica: What are some of your favorite stories that you discovered while researching and writing your book?

Ramirez: I stumbled upon a story Hannibal Goodwin Accidentally. My brother told me, “I just heard about this guy in Newark, he’s a preacher who made a movie with a camera.” I said, “Stop giving me new work. I have things to do.” But I looked at it and yes, Hannibal Goodwin had made a camera film before George Estmam. I’m originally from New Jersey, and I hate it when New Jersey’s history is buried. I found the people taking care of Hannibal Goodwin’s old home. It is very dilapidated. In fact, you can’t walk in the middle of the floor because it’s decomposing. But I managed to get inside his house and take a picture of the place where he was carrying out his experiments.

I also learned Almon Brown Struger A funeral director who was convinced that the operator was forwarding calls to his competitors. The story goes that he was reading the obituary section, and he was upset that his friend had died. We’re not sure if he’s more upset about his friend’s death, or his rival has embalmed his body. This got him into a creative rage, as he wanted to figure out how to perform an automatic switch that doesn’t require two female workers, known as “Hello Girls”. He wore very nice clothes and put his hoops in a cylindrical box. He pulled it out, threw all the collars, and hung some bobby pins. He thought, if I’m going to move something up and down I can access each of those pins, and each pin could be a phone number. If the number is 73, the pin will move over seven and the top three, for example.

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Apply for a patent [the “Strowger switch“] And eventually she found someone to make it. It was their first auto exchange, and it has been in the Bell Labs business for a very long time. I worked for Bell Labs, but I’ve never heard of Almon Strowger. I only heard about it because I went to an old radio museum – actually just an old warehouse – in New Haven. I called a friend at the Bell Labs archive and said, “There was an cadaver set up the key. How not to put that first? Because that’s a great story.”

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Zoom in / Physicist and scientific evangelist Inessa Ramirez explores how technology has shaped us, and vice versa, in her book, Chemistry is who we are.

Aynesa Ramirez / MIT Press

Ars Technica: The last chapter, “Think”, talks about how we are shaping, even though the materials and technology associated with them, we can and perhaps should step back a bit, because it may in turn help us reshape the technology in a more beneficial way. Can you clarify this point?

RamirezThinking is the most human part of us. The way we think has changed has already been proven by our devices. This was always the case. The ancient Greek teachers used to get very angry when their students were writing things because they were expected to memorize and remember them. A computer may be just an extension of that, but the way computers are introduced into our lives, it happens faster. I think we should pause and make sure that this is the direction we want to go. I know my childhood phone number but I don’t know my mother’s phone number [current] Phone number because it is stored in my smartphone. We now have a new relationship with information.

Having things in our memory banks is a good thing, because in our subconscious we are going to bring them together in new ways. But if we dump it onto our hard drives or onto our computers, will the creativity look the same? This is the question I wanted to ask, and I used this book as a gymnasium. I hope if we look at old technologies that we think are simple, like the telegraph and the light bulb – if we can criticize them, then when things like self-driving cars and artificial intelligence go down, we can at least feel empowered to ask questions. “Hey, the telegraph has shaped language in unexpected ways. This AI thing, I have some questions.” We hope this book serves as a guide for us to look to the future, by taking another look into the past.