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See Inside November 2011

150 Years Ago: Ghost Photo

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American



SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, VOL. V, NO. 19; NOVEMBER 9, 1861

NOVEMBER 1961

Teaching Machines
“Like all useful machines, the teaching machines developed slowly from the need to do a job more effectively than it could be done otherwise. They have evoked all the reactions, including the hostile ones, that we have learned to expect from a new kind of machine. Some people see the machines as a threat to the teacher, which they are not. Some fancy that they will make education a cold, mechanical process. Others fear that they will turn students into regimented and mindless robots. Such fears are groundless. The purpose of a teaching machine can be simply stated: to teach rapidly, thoroughly and expeditiously a large part of what we now teach slowly, incompletely and with wasted effort on the part of both student and teacher. —B. F. Skinner”

NOVEMBER 1911

Got a Match?
“It has been estimated that, for each minute of time, the civilized nations of the world strike three million matches. The importance of the industry which turns out the little splinters of wood tipped with sulphur is only rec­ognized when the average smoker tries to contemplate his predicament if he had to go back to the time when he had to coax a spark from a tinder-box.”

Edison on City Lights
“I noted that the lighting of the leading European cities does not compare with that of New York. Berlin and Paris are about equally well lighted; but Berlin is continually putting in more light, and before long she will greatly surpass Paris in this regard. Night life in Berlin is increasing very rapidly. It was observable that throughout Europe the night life is on the increase in those cities which have cheap water power, and there seems to be a correlation between the night life and the industrial activity of the people. In towns where the people have cheap and plenti­-ful light, they keep later hours, and this seems to have the effect of mitigating the phlegmatic character of their temperament. —Thomas A. Edison”

Marie Sklodowska Curie
“Only a few days ago we heard the news that Mme. Curie has been honored with the Nobel prize a second time, on this occasion in the division of chemistry. The list of medals and prizes which have been awarded to Mme. Curie in foreign countries is too long to quote. In addition to the numerous researches in radio-activity which she made in collaboration with her husband, Mme. Curie has pub­lished a great may independent papers, and a volume, ‘Investigations of Radio-Active Substances,’ in which the results of their co-operative researches, includ­ing the epoch-making discovery of radium, are set forth.”
The complete article on Curie is at www.ScientificAmerican.com/nov2011/curie

NOVEMBER 1861

The Mighty Merrimac
“The accompanying engraving of the Merrimac is from a sketch furnished by a mechanic who came from Norfolk under a flag of truce. He says that he worked on her and is of course familiar with her appearance. The Merrimac was partially burned and then sunk at the time of the destruction of the Gosport Navy Yard last spring. We have had accounts from time to time that the secessionists had suc­ceeded in raising the Merrimac and were repairing her. The mechanic who fur­nishes the sketch says that her hull has been cut down to within three feet of her light-water mark, and a bomb-proof house built on her gun deck. Her bow and stern have been steel clad with a projecting angle of iron for the purpose of piercing a vessel.”
Four months later this warship, renamed the CSS Virginia, battled the Union ship Monitor in the world’s first duel between armor-clad vessels.

Ghost Photo
“The London Review, in an article on the tendency in modern literature to the re­vival of ghost stories, suggests to the wri­ters that as a veri­fication they obtain photographs of their spectral visitors. It says: ‘Now, if the specter can ask the favor let science do it a good turn. Let optics and chemistry catch this modern ghost and photograph it! It can fix the tails of comets and the atmosphere of the sun; a ghost can hardly be less material. The photographer’s plate is liable to no de­lusions, has no brains to be diseased, and is exact in its testimony.’”

This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago."

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