Cage the Faraday

A Faraday cage, also known as a Faraday shield, which doesn’t sound nearly as good, is any kind of special enclosure used to block electric fields. Built with conductive materials, often in mesh form, a Faraday cage causes the electric field picked up by that material from outside sources to be distributed such that the field is canceled out inside the cage.

Neither A Franklin Nor A Beccaria Cage

The Faraday cage gets its name from English scientist Michael “Big Mike” Faraday, who observed the phenomenon described above when working with charged conductors in 1836. By way of demonstration, Faraday constructed a metal foil-coated room and hung out inside it with an electroscope (a device that can measure electrical charges) whilst high-voltage discharges from an electrostatic generator blasted the walls of the room. His electroscope showed no electric charge present within the cage’s walls.

Big Mike explaining his namesake cage to the dummies of his day.

In fact, the “Faraday cage effect” was first observed by Benjamin “Big Ben” Franklin nearly a century earlier, in 1755. Franklin used a ball of cork, silk thread, and an electrically-charged metal can to conduct a similar, if smaller-scale, experiment. (Faraday’s experiment was consciously designed as a modified version of Franklin’s.)

Historians have pointed out that the Faraday cage may have been invented even earlier than that, by Italian physicist Giovanni Battista “Big Johnny” Beccaria in 1753. However, as the device is called neither a Franklin nor a Beccaria cage, this writer is still going to give all credit to Faraday.

Faraday Cages Today-ges

Though the name and the explanation may make them seem like quaint, old-timey devices that have fallen out of use as technology has improved, Faraday cages are still used to this day, for a variety of purposes.

Faraday cages are frequently used to guard sensitive electronic equipment against RFI and other interference. Faraday bags—essentially portable Faraday cages made of fine metal mesh and fabric—can be used to shield smartphones and other gizmos against tampering and interference.

Elevators, by the nature of their construction, usually act as Faraday cages automatically. This explains why your cell phone coverage disappears when you step into an elevator. The wire on the inside of the window on your microwave door creates a low-key Faraday cage that protects you from radiation leakage.

In 1997, American physicist Austin “Big Austin” Richards created a wearable metal “Faraday suit” that protects the wearer against discharges from Tesla coils. Richards has “performed” in the suit as Doctor MegaVolt at various festivals throughout the United States.

Certain highly specialized painting processes—rack-spray coating, etc.—require Faraday cages to prevent paint particles from becoming electrostatically charged, which can affect their flow and adhesion rate.

Photo credit: okfn via / CC BY


Who Knew What New Noodles Could Do?

Noodles: I love ‘em, you love ‘em, we eat ‘em all the time. Though they seem like one of those things have just kind of always been around, they of course had to come from somewhere. So who do we have to thank for our spaghetti, our ramen, our spätzle, our elbows and our bowties? Whence did the humble yet noble noodle originate?

History? More like delishstory, amirite?

History? More like delishstory, amirite?

Oodles of Ancient Noodles

Because they were “invented” so long ago, it’s hard to nail down the region and time period of noodles’ origins exactly. For the most part, evidence suggests that the ancient Chinese were the first to develop noodles, with the oldest existing evidence pointing to the Qijia culture of some 4,000 years ago. Millet noodles discovered at the Laija archaeological site in 2002 were found in an upturned earthenware bowl. For millennia, the bowl had somehow maintained a seemingly-accidental airtight space that keep the noodles, if not exactly edible, at least well-preserved enough to be recognized as millet noodles.

By the time the Han Dynasty rolled around in about 200 BCE, noodles were a well-known staple food. The earliest written records of delicious noodles yet discovered date to the Eastern Han period of 25-220 CE. It was not until the Tang Dynasty that big fat fatty noodles were cut into smaller strips, and dried cook-them-later noodles were not created until the Yuan Dynasty.

Ninth century CE Buddhist monks in Japan began were known to have developed a wheat noodle recipe derived from a Chinese recipe. Buckwheat noodles were first cooked up in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty (which began during the 14th century CE).

Ramen noodles, the stuff on which so many college degrees (and indie rock careers) have been built, first became popular in Japan in the late 1800s. Instant noodles arrived on Japanese shelves in 1958.

Whose Noodles Are Whose?

In other parts of the world, the noodle took a little longer to take shape. The Ancient roman poet Horace wrote about similar but not-quite-noodle foods as early as the first century BCE. References to other noodlesque, dough-based delicacies can be found throughout Greek and Roman writing of the period and the following centuries.

The first written record of actual pasta in Europe does not appear until the 5th century CE, when Arabian travelers developed dry pasta varieties to eat during long treks. The first mention of pasta products from Italy is dated to the 13th century CE. By that time, however, pasta had already taken on a variety of shapes, so it’s possible that “pasta” wasn’t yet 100% codified as the as the “correct” term.

German historians have discovered written records of spätzle dating as far back as 1725 CE. Medieval illustrations from the same part of the world suggest that these noodles may have existed for far longer than that, however.

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Historical Science & Technology, Science

The Edwin Smith Papyrus

Named for the antiquities dealer who purchased it in 1862, the Edwin Smith Papyrus is oldest known medical writing to deal with trauma surgery. Consisting of descriptions of practical treatment for 48 different injuries, fractures, wounds, and tumors, it is believed to be an early military surgery manual. It’s suggests some pretty impressive skills and knowledge for doctors who operated 3,600 years ago.

Medicine Not Magic

Dated to circa 1600 BCE, during the 16th and/or 17th Dynasties of Ancient Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period, the Edwin Smith Papyrus (ESP) is one of four significant medical-related papyri from this period. Unlike the others, while prescribe magic or spells for certain maladies, ESP describes a legitimate scientific and medical approach to treating injuries and ailments.

Over 15 feet long, ESP includes extensive inscription on both sides. The A side contains 377 lines in 17 columns, while the B side holds 92 lines in 5 columns. It is almost fully intact, with only minor damage and wear despite its age; however, it was cut into multiple single-column pages by some 20th century jack@$$. ESP is written right-to-left in hieratic, which is essentially cursive hieroglyphics. (Who knew that was a thing?)

A portion of the Edwin Smith Papyrus, displaying some splendid penmanship.

A portion of the Edwin Smith Papyrus, displaying some splendid penmanship.

Most of the medical information provided by the ESP relates to trauma and surgery. The front details 48 case histories of injuries/illnesses and their treatments, organized by organ or body part, starting with the head and moving down the body. Each case also offers additional info on the patients, explanations of what caused the trauma (in most cases), diagnosis, and prognosis. Titles are highly descriptive—“Practices for a gaping wound in his head, which has penetrated to the bone and split the skull”—because catchy titles had not yet been invented. The back of ESP contains eight magic spells, five prescriptions, and a few sections devoted to gynecology and cosmetics.

A number of treatments are described in detail, including closing wounds (of the lip, throat, and shoulder) with sutures, bandaging, splinting broken bones, poultices, infection prevention and cures (mostly honey-related), and how to stop bleeding with raw meat, which seems a bit suspect by modern standards. ESP contains the world’s first known descriptions of several internal structures of the skull and brain, as well as the first ever written use of the word “brain”. (Like ever, in the history of ever. Ever.)

Big Ed with the Assist

Born in Connecticut in 1822, Edwin “Big Ed” Smith was an American Egyptologist. He purchased the papyrus that now bears his name in Luxor, Egypt, at age 40, and it was in his possession until his death in 1906. His daughter subsequently donated the papyrus to the New York Historical Society, who displayed it at the Brooklyn Museum from 1938 to 1948. At that time, it was gifted by the Society and the Museum to the New York Academy of Medicine, where it is still on display today. (It was briefly on exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, from 2005 to 2006.)

Smith had a working knowledge of hieroglyphs, but did not know hieratic well enough to translate the scroll himself. In 1930, it was successfully translated by American archaeologist James Henry “Big Jim” Breasted and Dr. Arno Luckhardt. This translation demonstrated for the first time that the Ancient Egyptians used rational, scientific medical treatment methods, not just magic potions and spells as other medical resources of the time suggested.

Photo credit: Internet Archive Book Images via Scandinavian / No known copyright restrictions


The Cyclic Model of the Universe

As a whole, we humans are pretty smart folks. We’ve figured out most of our planet’s mysteries, and a good many of them beyond our little blue orb, as well. One thing we’ll probably never be 100% sure about, however, is the creation of the universe—which, considering that it includes every known and unknown thing in the history of existence, is understandable. I’m still not sure how the jelly gets inside jelly donuts. (Remember, I said we’re smart as a whole; individual people can be pretty stupid).

We’re so unsure about how the universe came about that there are literally dozens of contradicting theories and models. Most of the older ones have been disproven, thanks to hundreds of years of additional research. But there are still a few hypotheses floating around that might be right. One of them is the cyclic model of the universe.

‘Round & ‘Round & ‘Round She Goes…

At its essence, the cyclic model hypothesizes that the universe in on an infinite self-sustaining life cycle. The cyclic model is considered an at least somewhat probably alternative to the (now) more widely accepted model of an infinitely-expanding universe.

For example, the oscillating universe theory that Einstein was kicking around in the 1920s postulated that the universe was continually moving from a Big Bang (not the Big Bang, because in this case there are more than one of them) to a Big Crunch, which is the same as a Big Bang but in reverse. Betwixt, the universe would expand for an unknown period of time before being pulled back in by the gravitational attraction of matter.

Not to be confused with that crappy sitcom.

Not to be confused with that crappy sitcom.

Einstein’s theory was disproved by American mathematical physicist Richard Chace “Big Dick” Tolman. His study of the Second Law of Thermodynamics led to the counter-hypothesis that entropy can only increase; ergo, successive cycles would grow both longer and larger. Flipped and reversed, these cycles going backward in time prior to the present cycle would become shorter and smaller, which would ultimately lead to, essentially, a single Big Bang, not one of many Big Bangs.

…Where She Stops, No One Knows

After that, the cyclic model was stuck in a “well I guess maybe it could be a thing but it’s hard to say” limbo until the early 21st century CE. The discovery of evidence of the existence of dark energy—an unknown form of energy long hypothesized to permeate all of space—offered new insights. After studying roughly 200,000 galaxies outside our own, covering 7 billion years of cosmic time, it was confirmed that dark energy is, in fact, expanding our universe at a constantly increasing speed.

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Historical Science & Technology, Important People, Important Discoveries, Science

In Brief: Astronomy in the Renaissance

Thanks to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, among other things, the Renaissance period is perhaps best known for its art and culture. But science went through a real Renaissance during the Renaissance as well. Astronomy, in particular, was a field that saw a number of significant discoveries.

Astronaissance? Renaisstronomy?

As everyone knows, astronomy in the pre-Renaissance Middle Ages was based on Ptolemy’s geocentric model (i.e., Earth is the center of the universe). It is highly unlikely, however, that many astronomers of the Middle Ages had actually read Ptolemy’s writings. Derivations of Ptolemy’s work were more common points of reference, including a series of textbooks known collectively as the Theorica Planetarum—roughly translated, “Planetary Theory”.


To predict planetary motion across the heavens, Renaissance astronomers utilized the Alfonsine Tables. These tables were based on models presented in Ptolemy’s Almagest, but incorporated a number of modifications developed by later stargazers.

Round about 1450 CE, Austrian astronomer Georg “Gorgeous George” von Peuerbach took up a lecturer’s position at the University of Vienna, in the heart of the land of tiny sausages. A student of Peuerbach’s with the name of a dinosaur discovered in Montana, Regiomontanus, collected lecture notes and published them as the Theoricae Novae Planetarum in the 1470s. This “New Planetary Theory” then became the go-to textbook for advanced astronomy.

In 1496, the Epitome of the Almagest, a work begun by Peuerbach and completed by Regiomontanus after his mentor’s death, was published. A summary of, commentary on, and companion piece to Ptolemy’s earlier work, its publication gave many scientists across Europe their first exposure the latest advances in Ptolemaic astronomy.

Copernicus Drops the Mic


Nicolas “Big Nick” Copernicus was the first of the New Wave of Renaissance Astronomers, taught with the Theoricae Novae Planetarum, to sign with a major label. In the early 1510s, Copernicus began to research a wild new theory—that the Earth revolves around the Sun!

For the rest of his days, Big Nick attempted to prove heliocentrism via a mathematical proof. His magnum opus, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (or “On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres”), was finally published in 1543 as he was literally on his deathbed. Though the book proved that the sun, not the Earth, is the center of our solar system, Copernicus’ work is not as revolutionary as it is often deemed. The latter scientist’s writing is really more of an extension of the latter’s, as Copernicus follows Ptolemy’s methods and order of presentation to deduce a logical extension of and conclusion to the Almagest.

Photo credit: Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL via / CC BY