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 cold dry day, scuff your feet along the carpet, then reach your hand into a friend’s mouth and touch one of his fillings. Did you notice how your friend twitched violently and cried out in pain? Did he bite off your finger? This teaches us two things: one is that electricity can be a very powerful force (but we must never use it to hurt others, unless they deserve it) and the second is that electricity can hurt us, as experienced when your friend bit your finger.
It also teaches us how an electrical circuit works. When you scuffed your feet, you picked up batches of “electrons,” which are very tiny objects that carpet manufacturers weave into carpet so that they will attract dirt (this makes sense when you realize that the carpet companies own the vacuum cleaner industry). These electrons travel through your bloodstream and collect in your fingers, where they form a spark that leaps to your friend’s filling, which then travel down to his feet and back into the carpet, thus completing the circuit. CAUTION: Do not perform this experiment on your pet cat!
AMAZING ELECTRONIC FACT: If you scuffed your feet on carpeting long enough without touching anything, you would build up so many electrons that your finger would explode! There is however, nothing to worry about unless you have carpeting.
Although we as a modern society tend to take our electric lights, radios, blenders, etc. for granted, hundreds of years ago people did not have any 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 is powered by the same force as carpets. Unfortunately, the experiment also damaged Franklin’s brain so severely that he started speaking in incomprehensible maxims, such as, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Eventually he was given a job running the post office.
After Franklin came a herd of Electrical Pioneers whose names have become part of our electrical terminology: Charles Coulomb, George Ohm, Myron Volt, Mary Louis Amp, James Watt, Joe Transformer, etc. These pioneers researched theories and 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 he wasn’t on carpet. Galvani’s discovery led to enormous advances in the field of amphibian medicine.
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 soon found its way into thousands of American homes, where it basically sat until 1923, when the record was invented. 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. This has resulted in tremendous profits for the electric companies. If Californians ever figure this out, I suspect that there will be another bloody revolution. You may be surprised to learn that the last time any new electricity was generated was in 1964 for a Beatles concert.
Today, thanks to many men like Edison, Franklin, and Galvani’s frog, we receive almost unlimited benefits from electricity. For example, in the past decades, scientists have developed and refined the laser, an electronic device so powerful that it can vaporize an enemy tank 2000 yards away, yet so precise that doctors can use it to perform delicate operations on the human eyeball. They simply have to remember to change the power setting from “tank” to “eyeball.”