Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 11, 2012

Einstein’s refrigerator

November 11, 1930: US Patent # 1,781,541 is granted. The patent is for an absorption refrigerator which has no moving parts. It was granted to Leó Szilárd and his former teacher Albert Einstein. The two men invented the thing in 1926 and it was an improvement on the original design by Swedish inventors Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters in 1922. Early refrigerators were filled with toxic elements used for cooling. The two scientists became involved in home refrigeration after they read about a family killed after a seal leaked toxic fumes into their home. With Einstein’s experience with patent offices, the two men were able to secure 45 patents in a variety of countries for the three designs they developed between 1926 and 1933.

The machine they designed was a single-pressure absorption refrigerator which used ammonia as the pressure-equalizing fluid and butane as the refrigerant. Water was the absorbing fluid and there were no moving parts. The machine did not need electricity to function but did need a heat source. That could have been a small gas burner or even solar energy. It could have also been electricity. The science behind the machines working was simplified and the chemicals used were safer to humans. The Einstein refrigerator has been described as “Noiseless, inexpensive to produce and durable.” There is renewed interest in this type of refrigerator which could be used in areas without electricity.

Szilárd was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary in 1898. He was a physicist and inventor. He received other patents with other famous scientists. He and Enrico Fermi patented the idea of a nuclear reactor. Szilárd wrote to his old teacher for a signature to a letter which helped propel the institution of the Manhattan Project which built the atomic bomb. He conceived the electron microscope, the linear accelerator, and the cyclotron. He did not build these things and did not publish in scientific journals, therefore he never won the Nobel Prize, although others working with his ideas did.

In 1947, Szilárd was horrified by the atomic weapons, so he switched areas of study and became interested in molecular biology. He began working with Aaron Novick. He must have returned to weaponry because in 1950 he proposed a cobalt bomb which might destroy all life on the planet. He did say in an interview that violence wasn’t necessary and we could avoid its use with negotiation between enemies. He went on to write a book about the moral and ethical nature of the Cold War. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer and underwent cobalt therapy at Sloan-Kettering Hospital, a therapy he himself developed. Doctors warned that higher doses of cobalt would kill him, but he insisted and said he would die without the treatment anyway. Instead, the cancer was conquered. A few years later, he died in his sleep of a heart attack. He was sixty-six.

A scientist’s aim in a discussion with his colleagues is not to persuade, but to clarify.

I’m all in favor of the democratic principle that one idiot is as good as one genius, but I draw the line when someone takes the next step and concludes that two idiots are better than one genius.

If you want to succeed in the world, you don’t have to be much cleverer than other people. You just have to be one day earlier.

Pronouncement of experts to the effect that something cannot be done has always irritated me. – all from Leó Szilárd

Also on this day:

The War to End All Wars – In 1918, World War I ended.
This Isn’t the Hudson – In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed.
Mum’s the Word – In 1790, Chrysanthemums were introduced into England.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 30, 2011

Albert Einstein

June 30, 1905: “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” is put forth by Albert Einstein. The paper would be published on September 26. This was his third paper published in 1905 and reconciled Maxwell’s equations for electricity and magnetism with the laws of mechanics. It introduced major changes to mechanics close to the speed of light and became known as the special theory of relativity. His next paper, received on September 27 and published on November 21, was the paper where E=mc2 was first written. This is probably the most recognized formula in physics.

Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany on March 14, 1879. At the time of his birth, Ulm was in the Kingdom of Württemberg, part of the German Empire. The family moved to Munich where Einstein senior opened a company manufacturing electronic equipment. Although Jewish, Albert started his schooling at a Catholic elementary school where he excelled. His education continued through a variety of schools. He was ever curious and although the family moved around frequently, he continued to seek out learning opportunities.

Einstein hoped to teach after graduation and spent years seeking out a position. He worked in the Bern, Switzerland patent office where he was passed over for promotion until he “fully mastered machine technology.” On April 30, 1905 he completed his thesis dissertation entitle “A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions” and was granted a PhD by the University of Zurich. In that same year, he published four groundbreaking papers as listed above. He was on his way.

He traveled abroad, lecturing around the globe. In 1921 he won the Nobel Prize in Physics. He was visiting in the US when Hitler came to power and opted to stay in the States. He became a citizen in 1940 and began his teaching career at Princeton. He was a pacifist who became involved in the Manhattan Project. He was also a civil rights proponent. He pursued many topics from zero-point energy to wormholes; from unified field theory to wave-particle duality. He went to the hospital on April 17, 1955 with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. The defect had been repaired once seven years earlier. Einstein refused further surgery and died the next day. He was 76 years old.

“We should take care not to make the intellect our god; it has, of course, powerful muscles, but no personality.”

“My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind.”

“A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be. Information is not knowledge.”

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – all from Albert Einstein

Also on this day:
What Was That? – In 1908, the Tunguska event occurs.
Tight Rope – In 1859, Charles Blondin crossed the Niagara Falls on a tightrope.