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
thousands 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
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 “Eyeball.”