Solid-State Science

“If you take a paper clip and bend it, it stays bent; it doesn't spring back and it doesn't break. The metal of which the clip is made is said to be ductile. If you try to bend a glass rod (unless you are holding it in a flame), it will simply break. It is said to be brittle. In this respect, as in many others, glass behaves quite differently from a metal. The difference must lie either in the particular atoms of which metals and glass are made up or in the way they are put together—probably both. Students of such matters naturally want to understand the reasons for these differences in behavior. During the past 20 years studies of this kind have been called solid-state physics, or sometimes, since the subject includes a great deal of chemistry, just ‘solid state.’ It is a major branch of science that has revealed new and previously unsuspected properties in materials. An example is the properties of semiconductors, knowledge of which has given rise to a flood of technological devices such as the transistor. —Sir Nevill Mott”

Mott shared the 1977 Nobel Prize in Physics for his research on materials.


Ideas That Will Not Work

“There are literally thousands of plans, suggestions, inventions, drawings, models, devices, ideas, pouring into the government all the time, all bearing on the war, and most of them on the submarine problem. A good illustration of clever but impractical ideas is found in the proposal of a capable man who worked out and sent in a scheme to protect hulls from submarines by jets of water. Anyone who has ever stood near the nozzle of a fire engine hose realizes the tremendous blow which a swiftly moving, broad jet of water can strike. This inventor proposed a series of such jets, which would spurt from the vessel's side, deflecting and pushing away the torpedo and thus saving the vessel. He didn't calculate that the jets he proposed required some ten thousand horse-power for their making, enough to power several merchant ships.”


Fire Engines

“Although hand engines for extinguishing fires are still largely employed in this country, the cities and large towns have generally adopted the much more effective steamer, with its muscles of iron and steel, which never tire. The New York ‘Metropolitan Fire Department’ has no less than thirty-four engines, the subject of our engraving being one of them.”

Archive images of other technologies from 1867 are at www.ScientificAmerican.com/sep2017/technology-1867

Emperor of Agriculture

“Mr. McCormick having accepted an invitation from the Emperor Napoleon to give a private exhibition of the working of his reaping machine, a trial was made a short time since on the Imperial farm near Chalons, at which the Emperor was present, accompanied by Marshal Neil, General Le Boeuf and Eugene Tisseraud, Director General of the Imperial Agricultural Estates. The trial was a complete success, and gave so much satisfaction to the Emperor that he immediately gave orders for the purchase of three of the machines for use on his private farms, and earnestly expressed the intention of encouraging the adoption of the invention throughout France, on account of its great labor-saving properties, and said that he would set the example by putting it in operation on all imperial farms.”

A Theory on Pyramids

“For several thousand years the object for which the ‘Great Pyramid’ was constructed was a mystery to the whole world, and many of the most learned savans have exhausted surmise and speculation in their fruitless efforts to solve the riddle. A gentleman in London, Mr. Thomas Taylor, conceived the idea that the structure was inspired by Divine Providence to afford the Egyptians a standard for their weights and measures. This theory, fanciful and far-fetched as it is, has recently found an advocate on this side of the water, in the person of Professor Eaton, of New York, who read an elaborate essay on the subject before the University Convocation at Albany. Professor Eaton proceeded to show that the temperature of the central room was uniform throughout, thus affording a place for keeping weights and measures.”