By Richard Bleil
Rhodopsin is a protein in your eyes that is a light-sensitive dye. In the presence of bright light, it turns a darker color, and protects our vision from strong light. This is why it’s so difficult to see in dimmer light after being in bright, like walking into a house after being outside. The rhodopsin in your eyes is dark because of the bright light, and takes time to become lighter in its absence. It’s kind of like built-in color-changing sun glass lenses.
Light travels in a rectilinear (fancy-shmancy way of saying in a straight line) fashion from a light source. If you look, for example, at the light from your screen as you read this, you could draw an imaginary line from the screen to your eyes. The light travels this way, but light is a wave (kinda; a photon is actually a packet of energy but has a wavelength), but, is this wave vertical along that line, or horizontal, or something in between? Actually, it’s typically all possible planes; think of a book in space, open, where the spine in the direction of travel, but the pages flair out in all directions. However, in some circumstances, light will favor one plane but not others. For example, glare off of the back of a car tends to be in the horizontal plane, because it is light bouncing off of the horizontal back of the car. Polarized sunglasses will block light in one plane (they are designed to block horizontal plane light) but not others (vertical plane light will pass through), thereby reducing, specifically, glare. If you’re buying inexpensive sunglasses and want to know if they are truly polarized or not, take two pairs of the glasses, and line them up (being careful not to scratch the lenses) so the light passes through two lenses. If they are polarized lenses, they’ll get darker and lighter as you rotate the glasses.
Gases dissolve in liquids better in cold temperatures, and the amount of dissolved gas does decrease in large bodies of water (like lakes) the deeper you go simply because it takes time to get deeper. On particularly hot days, then, oxygen will leave lake water making it harder for fish to “breathe”. Thus, on hot days, it’s not uncommon to see fish seeming to sleep near the surface. This is because the lower oxygen content is making them lethargic, and the oxygen content is higher near the surface than deeper.
Frogs will freeze in the winter, but “thaw out” alive in the spring. Clarence Birdseye (founder of the Birdseye frozen foods company) noticed that fish will sometimes do this as well on a trip to Alaska. In ice fishing, the fish would sometimes freeze so rapidly that when they were thawed out to cook, they came back alive. He developed the flash-freeze technique to keep foods fresh. It’s been suggested that, in frogs, clathrates play a key role in their ability to survive the freezing and thawing process. A clathrate is when gas, like oxygen, is trapped in a crystal lattice like in ice without really being chemically bound; just too big to escape between the bonds of ice. When the ice in the frog brain thaws, there is fresh oxygen in the frog’s thawing brain.
Microwave heating was discovered at MIT when scientists were working on radar detection in the mid 1940’s. Radar was developed when scientists noticed in an experiment with radio waves across a bay that the waves were blocked by passing ships. The earliest version of radar was simply this; an invisible net of radio waves that could only detect something passing between the transmitter and receiver. The military entered into an uneasy alliance with academia to further develop radar that was transformed into detecting returned radio waves. The military actually built the physics building at MIT, which is why it is reminiscent (unless it’s recently been torn down and replaced) of barracks. The emergency showers, in fact, are (or were) in the hallways so if a scientist had an accident, notes would not be water damaged by their use. (Military logic; save the notes, not the scientist.) One of the scientists had food in his pocket which was left in the beam of microwaves. I’m told it was a candy bar, but it had to be one with decent moisture content as microwaves will not heat materials without water. This is why Styrofoam plates don’t heat up in a microwave. When he noticed how hot it was, he assumed it was the microwaves. He began experimenting, bringing in different lunches to try out. Other scientists realized he was eating hot lunches while they were eating cold, and began bringing in food for him to heat up. General Electric caught wind of this, and stopped by for a demonstration, but, unfortunately, the food he was testing that day was a raw egg which promptly exploded. The conclusion was that microwave ovens would not be useful in homes, and this decision was not revisited for another decade.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, but two Wrights made an airplane. They wanted, in fact, to sell their invention to the US military because they were patriotic. Unfortunately, the US military sent a lieutenant for a demonstration flight (I believe Orville was the pilot but I’m not certain about that), and that particular flight crashed. The lieutenant died, but not Orville (or Wilbur, if I’m wrong), leading the US military to discount the possibility of using aircraft for military applications. The country that DID purchase aircraft from the Wright Brothers was France, making theirs the first military in the world to use airplanes.
And finally, if you are pronouncing my name correctly, “Bleil Style” rhymes!