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Tag: Trivia

Robert Bunsen: More Than The Inventor of Bunsen Burner

If you had googled today, you must have already seen the above Google doodle. This was Google’s way of celebrating 200th birth anniversary of Robert Bunsen who is known as the inventor of ubiquitous Bunsen burner. Anyone who has been to high school has used his namesake invention. It was not like burners didn’t exist before he invented his own version, but for his studies and experiments, he needed a hot, clean and colorless flame which other burners couldn’t provide. So he designed his own. The reason he wanted a colorless flame was because he wanted to study how different elements emit different colors of light when heated in a flame, in short he wanted to perform atomic emission spectroscopy, one of the first systematic spectroscopic studies. He along with Gustav Kirchhoff invented the first spectrograph in which they used prism to split the light emitted from the flame into different wavelengths and thus were able to identify the element present in the flame. He was able to detect Sodium, Lithium and Potassium. He also discovered new elements– Caesium  in 1860 and Rubidium in 1861. For studying cesium, he carefully and laboriously distilled 40 tons of mineral water to get 17 grams of cesium! He named these elements based on the color of light they emitted– Caesium after caesius in Latin which means “light blue” and Rubidium after rubidus which means “red.” Caesium today is used in atomic clocks while Rubidium gives the purple color in your fireworks.

Besides pioneering contributions to spectroscopy, he also developed gas- analytical techniques to analyze gases coming out of furnaces, volcanoes etc. He also invented jet pumps, ice and vapor calorimeters and Bunsen battery (predecessor to dry cells we use). He also found antidote to Arsenic poisoning which is still used till day– Iron oxide hydrate. Later in his life he focused mainly to study the problems in the field of geology and mineralogy. Thanks to Google Doodle for making us think about contributions Robert Bunsen made to the field of science and our daily lives in general.

Leave a Comment March 31, 2011

Hello… Ahoy… That Is All

Hello is the most common form of greeting used by humans all over the world. The phone rings, we grab the phone receiver and the first word we speak is “Hello”. We meet new people and the introduction starts with hello in most of the countries. So how did the word become a universal form of greeting , especially while conversing on the phone. When was it first introduced, who introduced it, what alternative word we might be using instead if somehow Hello didn’t become popular?

According to Merriam Webster, the word Hello was first used in 1877, smilarly online Oxford dictionary dates origin of Hello to be late 19th century. Wikipedia states that the first written use of the word was in 1833 and by 1860 it was frequently used in literature. But during this time, it was not used as a form of greeting rather was used to express surprise (hello, what’s all this then?) or to bring attention (‘Hello below !’ he cried). Hello is considered to be a variant of earlier words Hallo/Hollo/Holla. Besides these variants, Hello also existed as Hullo and Hillo as variants , though rarely used. In short, the word Hello has been spoken or used using all of the five vowels (Hallo, Hello, Hillo, Hollo, Hullo).

But the word Hello didn’t become a form of greeting until the advent of telephone. Thomas Edison has been credited for using and promoting the word Hello as a form of telephone greeting in 1877. Alexander bell, inventor of the telephone, wanted the word Ahoy (used in ships) to be used as the form of telephone greeting. Infact, he used the word Ahoy as form of telephone greeting for the rest of his life. The first telephone book published in Nov 1878 in Connecticut provided Telephone for Dummies kind of description to help it’s 391 subscribers in operating the machine. Guidelines suggested using the word “Hulloa” to start the conversation on phone and “That is all” to end the conversation. So, probably Edison’s promotion and the guidelines provided by the first telephone book pushed the word Hello. If that wouldn’t have happened we might be saying Ahoy while answering the phone (just like Mr Burns from The Simpsons). While Hello became popular, Ahoy was lost into oblivion. But unlike the word hello’s instant rise to popularity, same was not the case for the phrase “That is all” which was replaced by good-bye or bye which is considered to be variant or short version for “God Be with You” or “with ye”. In order to understand the usage of the words Hello and Ahoy from 1820 till 2000, I used Google ngram and generated following plot  (Y axis shows the % of books, in English, sampled by google since 1820 till 2000 which contain the words Hello or Ahoy). It can be clearly seen that the usage of word Hello soared after 1880 while Ahoy could never get any traction.


Top Image credit: Flickr user fenris117 | Used under creative commons license

Leave a Comment March 27, 2011

What If Your Toothpaste Tastes Like Rain…

What if your toothpaste flavor or color could tell you whether its raining outside or snowing and  accordingly help you plan your day? I know, it sounds crazy, but researcher David Carr at MIT media lab has designed a prototype toothpaste “tastes like rain”  which can change the flavor depending on the outside temperature. In the current prototype, the toothpaste dispenser is connected to a computer which gathers weather forecast information and compares it to previous day’s conditions. Depending on the temperature comparison results, linear actuators are activated which squeeze out different flavors or colors. For example, if its mint flavor–> colder than yesterday; Cinnamon–> hotter; mixed flavor or different color stripe–> its going to rain. Whether you really need your toothpaste to be a weather forecaster or such a product will ever make to the market (probably not) that’s a different story, but it’s a creative idea indeed!

Leave a Comment January 7, 2011

What’s Your Formula, Equation, Algorithm?

Continuing with the series “What’s your formula, equation, algorithm”, here’s a Happiness Hypothesis presented by Jonathan Haidt who is a social psychology professor at University of Virginia. If you have some ideas or equation of your own, feel free to send it to me.

Leave a Comment December 17, 2010

Weekend Video: Facts About Projection


This weekend’s video edition is a short 3 minute documentary about a profession which might soon become extinct, the profession of 35mm film projectionist. I remember how I used to enjoy watching movies during my undergrad days at IIT Kanpur, India when Student Film Society used to screen movies during the weekend using 35 mm film projections. Later they replaced it with digital projectors and I quickly realized that I was missing the magic. I hope you enjoy this short created by Temujin Doran who himself is a projectionist. Keep up the good work! Have a nice weekend!!

Leave a Comment November 7, 2010

The Great Migration

Migration of animals is such an interesting phenomenon where animals and birds and insects, big and small all over the earth move around in huge numbers to optimize their chances of survival. If you are interested in this topic you might want to catch up with a new series on National Geographic titled ” Great Migrations“. First episode of seven part series airs on  Nov 7th, 8 PM. The series is aptly subtitled as “Move as Millions. Survive as One” and you can preview first 15 minutes of the show here:

Coming back to above picture, you can see zebras amidst wildebeest herd and this is quite a common sighting in East African jungles where both the species migrate together and benefit from each others company. If you ask, what are the benefits they get from each other, I will try to enlist some of them which I gathered from the net.

  1. Wildebeest and zebras can migrate in harmony as they both prefer different parts of the grass when grazing and so there is no conflict of interest in terms of food. Wildebeests are short grass grazers while zebras have long front teeth which facilitates them in feeding upon longer grass. So when the herd enters a new area, zebras basically mow the whole area which helps wildebeest to feed upon soft parts of the grass, and then zebras feed upon the leftover parts. So the feeding pattern works out for both of them.
  2. Zebras have good memories and the are good travelers as they can remember the directions and they watch carefully when and where to cross places before jumping in. Wildebeest on the other hand move in herd without much thought which many of the times lead to their peril as well. So being with zebras gives wildebeest better navigating capabilities.
  3. Wildebeests are good in sensing water and this feature is very helpful to both the species when they are migrating in dry lands of Eastern African jungles.
  4. Zebras have better hearing and seeing capabilities which helps them in sensing danger better.
  5. There is also a hypothesis that lions prefer eating wildebeest meat, or maybe they are easy to hunt, so being with a weak prey such as a wildebeest is a good thing for zebra, quite clever. [Source: goafrica.about.com]

In the picture below, you can see a young zebra following it’s mother while migrating. Baby zebra stays with it’s mother and recognizes her by voice, smell and stripe patterns. It’s interesting to note that no two zebras look exactly the same and baby zebras can figure out that pretty easily.

Picture credit: Boston.com/National Geographic/Marc Moritsch/Mitsuaki Iwago/ Minden Pictures

Leave a Comment November 6, 2010

What’s Your Formula, Equation, Algorithm?

Continuing with the series of interesting take by various researchers, scientists, writers on how they view the world in terms of equations and algorithms, here is another one by Stewart Brand describing pace layering of a healthy civilization. Stewart is Founder of Whole Earth Catalog, cofounder of Global Business Network, and author of How Buildings Learn.

Image Credit: Edge.org 

Leave a Comment November 2, 2010

What’s Your Formula, Equation, Algorithm?

In 2007, Edge foundation asked world renowned researchers and scientists to post their formulae or equations for 21st century. This is one of them posted by Univ of Oxford Evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins. I will post more of them in coming days.

Source: Edge Foundation Inc.

Leave a Comment October 21, 2010

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