Today's scientific question is: What in the world is electricity? And
where does it go after it leaves the toaster?
Here is a simple experiment that will teach you an important electrical
lesson: On a cool, dry day, scuff your feet along a carpet, then reach your
hand into a friend's mouth and touch one of his dental fillings. Did you
notice how your friend twitched violently and cried out in pain? This
teaches us that electricity can be a very powerful force, but we must never
use it to hurt others unless we need to learn an important electrical lesson.
It also teaches us how an electrical circuit works. When you scuffed your
feet, you picked up batches of "electrons," which are very small objects that
carpet manufacturers weave into carpet so that they will attract dirt. The
electrons travel through your bloodstream and collect in your finger, where
they form a spark that leaps to your friend's filling, then travel down to
his feet and back into the carpet, thus completing the circuit.
AMAZING ELECTRONIC FACT: If you scuffed your feet long enough without
touching anything, you would build up so many electrons that your finger
would explode! But this is nothing to worry about unless you have carpeting.
Although we modern persons tend to take our electric lights, radios,
mixers, etc. for granted, hundreds of years ago people did not have any of
these things, which is just as well because there was no place to plug them
in. Then along came the first Electrical Pioneer, Benjamin Franklin, who
flew a kite in a lightning storm and received a serious electrical shock.
This proved that lightning was powered by the same force as carpets, but it
also damaged Franklin's brain so severely that he started speaking only in
incomprehensible maxims, such as, "A penny saved is a penny earned."
Eventually he had to be given a job running the post office.
After Franklin came a herd of Electrical Pioneers whose names have become
part of our electrical terminology: Myron Volt, Mary Louise Amp, James Watt,
Bob Transformer, etc. These pioneers conducted many important electrical
experiments. Among them, Galvani discovered (this is the truth) that when he
attached two different kinds of metal to the leg of a frog, an electrical
current developed and the frog's leg kicked, even though it was no longer
attached to the frog, which was dead anyway. Galvani's discovery led to
enormous advances in the field of amphibian medicine. Today, skilled
veterinary surgeons can take a frog that has been seriously injured or
killed, implant pieces of metal in its muscles, and watch it hop back into
the pond -- where it sinks like a stone.
But the greatest Electrical Pioneer of them all was Thomas Edison, who was
a brilliant inventor despite the fact that he had little formal education and
lived in New Jersey. Edison's first major invention in 1877 was the
phonograph, which could soon be found in thousand of American homes, where it
basically sat until 1923, when the record was invented. But Edison's greatest
achievement came in 1879 when he invented the electric company. Edison's
design was a brilliant adaptation of the simple electrical circuit: the
electric company sends electricity through a wire to a customer, then
immediately gets the electricity back through another wire, then (this is the
brilliant part) sends it right back to the customer again.
This means that an electric company can sell a customer the same batch of
electricity thousands of times a day and never get caught, since very few
customers take the time to examine their electricity closely. In fact, the
last year any new electricity was generated was 1937.
Today, thanks to men like Edison and Franklin, and frogs like Galvani's, we
receive almost unlimited benefits from electricity. For example, in the past
decade scientists have developed the laser, an electronic appliance so
powerful that it can vaporize a bulldozer 2000 yards away, yet so precise
that doctors can use it to perform delicate operations to the human eyeball,
provided they remember to change the power setting from "Bulldozer" to