Old vibrations

A hundred years ago, X-rays were supposed to be good for all sorts of things. Now we know better. In The X-ray Century, Perry Sprawls and Jack E. Petersen reproduce a series of reports on the discoveries of Roentgen and others in 1896 (start with the last page and work backwards). They include a summary of Edward Trevert’s Something about X-rays for Everybody, published in 1896.
Trevert’s full name was Edward Trevert Bubier. He wrote popular books on electricity and radio, including the Electro-therapeutic handbook, with full directions for home treatment of nearly all diseases that can be cured or relieved by the application of electricity (New York: Manhattan Electrical Supply Co., 1900) and The ABC of wireless telegraphy, a plain treatise on Hertzian wave signalling (Lynn, Mass.: Bubier Publishing, 1906).
Something about X-rays has been reprinted in facsimile (Medical Physics Publishing, 1988).
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More Toys

More toys for scientists. The IceCube neutrino detector is essentially a cubic kilometer of Antarctic ice, 1400 meters below the South Pole Station, in which an array of optical sensors is placed to detect the Cerenkov light produced by the muons that result from collisions of neutrinos with water molecules. The shielding for the detector is the Earth itself, all 8000 miles of it: IceCube is designed to detect neutrinos striking the Earth at its north pole.
Among other things, the detector will aid in the search for magnetic monopoles and weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), which are one candidate for the “dark matter” which accounts for over three-quarters of the mass of the universe. See IceCube Collaboration: J. Ahrens et al, “Science Potential of the IceCube Detector” in Proceedings of the 27th International Cosmic Ray Conference, Hamburg, Germany, 7–15 August 2001, 1242–1245; John Baez, This Week’s Finds, no. 232 (18 May 2006).

Alien army captured by physicist

Scientists get the best toys. Gordon Watts posts a photo of an optics experiment at Life as a physicist. Another picture from the lab itself.
Also, via Cosmic Variance, an experiment on polarized light that may be evidence for the existence of axions. See also Nanoscale Views (Doug Natelson) and Uncertain Principles (Chad Orzel). The paper is Zavattini et al. Experimental observation of optical rotation generated in vacuum.

Ouvrir une fenêtre

‘Braille’ is one of those eponyms that has become so familiar it no longer registers as a proper name. L’écriture Braille was the invention of Louis Braille (1809–1852), the son of a blacksmith. He lost his vision at the age of three after an injury to his left eye led to infection which,
spreading to his right, deprived him of both.
The Braille script was an adaptation of a system invented by Charles Barbier to allow soldiers to communicate silently at night. Louis Braille, then thirteen years old and studying at the Institut Royale des Jeunes Aveugles, reduced the number of dots from 12 to 6 and later added codes for mathematical and musical notation.
On Braille’s birthday (4 January), Google honored him by transcribing its logo into Braille.
Ceux qui augmente le bonheur de la vie humaine méritent une niche dans le Panthéon de l’histoire. Ceux qui le diminue méritent seulement l’oubli. Pas même l’opprobrium, qui est quand même survie, mais simplement l’oubli, permanent et total.
Google link via Clavardage.
Louis Braille”. Last edited 4 January 2006.
Louis Braille”. Last edited 4 January 2006.
Le système Braille”. S.d. (2000–2005 for the site).
Zina Weygand. Vivre sans voir. Les aveugles dans la société française du Moyen Age au siècle de Louis Braille. Préface d’Alain Corbin. Paris: Créaphis, 2003.

I only have eyes for you, Microsoft

A discussion of DRM (digital rights management) and what it might lead to: songs or movies that won’t even play on the device they were intended for. Imagine the possibilities if biotechnology reaches the point of implanting devices in your brain. “For your eyes only” will have a whole new meaning.
See David Berlind, “DRM technology has its first two major trainwrecks”, ZDNet 28 Oct 2005. This is one of a series of posts on DRM. Via Library Autonomous Zone. On Sony’s latest misadventure, see “Virus installed by music CD” at Philosophical Fortnights.


Warren Siegel, a physicist at SUNY Stony Brook, has written “Are you a quack?” (he must have met a few). Philosophers can’t be quite so abrupt. We’re not usually in a position to say that our theories have been well-confirmed by experiment, for example. (Intuitions are not experiments.)
I once had a man come to my office at Hopkins. We chatted for a while. As he left, he gave me a little blue book entitled I am a Visitor from the Universe with a Message for Your Planet. Who am I to say what he was? I haven’t even read the book yet.

Leuckart’s charts

The Marine Library at Woods Hole has put online an exhibition of the Wandtafeln (wall charts) of Karl Georg Friedrich Rudolf Leuckart (1822-1898), the “father of parasitology”.
Marine Library, Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institute
These were published between 1877 and 1892 as aids to the teaching of natural history. There are in all 113, devoted mostly to invertebrates, each an exemplar of the art of scientific illustration (the thumbnail here is of the 55th image in the series). Among other achievements was his work on trichinosis, which “led Rudolf Virchow to establish the first meat inspection laws in Germany”. In those days, you see, the government listened to scientists.
The exhibition includes, in addition to images of the posters, a biography, a list of references, and a virtual tour. (Link via Bibliodyssey, which has quite a few entries on scientific illustration.)