Posts belonging to Category Inventions Edison Would Love



Thomas Edison’s Connection to Radio Astronomy

Today we detect and research radio waves that emanate from stars and other bodies to interpret how the universe works. Credit for the beginnings of this fascinating science and technology stems from 1931. Karl Jansky, a Bell Labs scientist, first built an antenna to reliably detect these radio waves and determine their origin. Five years later, Grote Reber an amateur astronomer, is credited with building the first radio telescope. Since then, world scientists routinely listen to the heavens.

With a diameter of 1,000 feet, The Arecibo Radio Telescope, at Arecibo, Puerto Rico, reigned supreme from 1963 to 2016 as the largest and most recognizable radio telescope in the world. However, the Chinese have now begun operation of a 1,500 foot diameter device. The popular 1997 science fiction movie,” Contact” (based on a detailed and very accurate script written by scientist Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan), chronicles the adventures and frustrations of a scientist from Arecibo who is engaged in interpreting radio signals as a prelude to detecting life on other planets…think SETI…the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. [By the way, see “Contact”, it’s terrific!]

The Arecibo Radio Telescope

The Arecibo Radio Telescope

Let’s return to the birth of radio astronomy in 1931 (coincidentally the death year of Edison), and step back farther in time. It’s 1890 and Edison is very well aware that radio waves exist, as famed scientist Heinrich Hertz proves their existence in the late 1880s [Maxwell of Maxwell’s equations fame had predicted their existence, circa 1865]. For his accomplishments , the unit of frequency — cycle per second — was named the “hertz” in his honor.

In 1890, Arthur Kennelly, an electrical engineer working for Thomas Edison, wrote a letter to the director of the Lick Observatory, describing an interesting proposed experiment being considered by the great inventor that may have been the first radio telescope — forty years before its official invention. Edison’s idea was to wrap a large mass of iron with turns of cable to create a crude radio wave detector. Edison suspected that electromagnetic emissions (radio waves) would be associated with sunspot activity and hoped that Lick Observatory would be able to provide information as to just when these occurred.

Edison’s experiment was never conducted, and in retrospect, the experiment would not have been able to accurately detect the proper wavelength of the radio waves because the Earth’s natural atmospheric boundary layers, the ionosphere, would have absorbed those signals. But the intent was “spot-on”! Curiously, the actual prediction of a reflecting layer in the upper atmosphere, the ionosphere, was made by Kennelly and Heaviside in 1902.

This was not Edison’s first interest in astronomy. In the eclipse of 1878, Edison traveled to Rawlins Wyoming with a new invention he was going to use to try and detect the heat in the sun’ corona during the celestial event. Known as a “tasimeter”, the device was able to detect the heat, but was not accurate in determining just how intense it was.

Not bad for a kid from Milan, Ohio who became the world’s greatest inventor and changed the world. His country schoolhouse teacher thought little Tom had severely limited mental capacities. His mother thought otherwise and homeschooled the lad. Wonder how many little “Edison’s” slip by today? The answer may be in the stars!

Edison’s tasimeter

Edison’s tasimeter

Thomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves …”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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Thomas Edison Salutes the Right Stuff – Astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly

The Kelly brothers, Scott and Mark are West Orange bred, and like Thomas Edison who spent the majority of his life in West Orange, they have the “right stuff”. The only twins ever to serve as NASA astronauts, the Kelly’s know how to adapt and survive in rapidly changing conditions, and fly by the seat of their pants if necessary—exactly the kind of fellows Edison would have hired.

A proud Town of West Orange celebrated their life work, renaming their old elementary school, formerly known as Pleasantdale Elementary to Kelly Elementary. In March 2016, Scott Kelly returned to earth after 340 days on the International Space Station. Brother Mark Kelly is married to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Scott and Mark are now retired.

Brothers Scott and Mark Kelly [L-R] at the re-naming of their elementary school in their honor

Brothers Scott and Mark Kelly [L-R] at the re-naming of their elementary school in their honor


In his book, Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, Scott explains the physical impacts of prolonged spaceflight, the impacts on his body as he re-adjusted to normal gravity upon returning to his native planet. An excellent and dramatic re-counting of this is found in a recent Smithsonian article, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, September, 2017. From this perspective, how will today’s aspiring commercial space entrepreneurs deal with what pioneer Scott Kelly went through? NASA has been dealing with space concerns since the early 1960s; and all that knowledge was focused on getting Kelly safely into space and back again—a huge commitment of resources and experiential knowledge gained over six decades. In fact, Kelly’s long stay in space was designed to gather even more data about the physiological, and mental impacts of humans in space. While Scott Kelly was in great physical shape, he experienced difficult physical readjustments upon his return. What of space travelers on commercial flights?

Scott Kelly with weightless fruits and vegetables aboard the International Space Station

Scott Kelly with weightless fruits and vegetables aboard the International Space Station

Imagine what Scott also experienced, the stress he felt while circling the earth with his fellow astronauts. He describes navigating the extreme challenge of long-term spaceflight; the isolation from everyone he loves and the comforts of Earth; the pressures of constant close cohabitation; the catastrophic risks of depressurization or colliding with space junk, and the still more haunting threat of being unable to help should tragedy strike at home.

West Orange school district science teachers welcome Scott Kelly home

West Orange school district science teachers welcome Scott Kelly home

Scott Kelly has a message of hope for the future that will inspire us nationally like that wonderful feeling as we aimed for the moon in the 1960s. His story is a triumph of imagination and human will, against the unending wonder of space. Mars for Scott is our next logical step.

Editor’s Deep Dive on Scott Kelly:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scott_Kelly_(astronaut)
https://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/kellysj.pdf
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hH8fdKP2hzo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YfyvA8AxLw

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Thomas Edison had a fascination with space as well. His Tasimeter invention was designed to measure the heat of the sun’s corona during the great eclipse of 1878; and his idea for measuring radio waves from the sun in 1890 was a very early concept for what later would become radio astronomy. He and the Kelly brothers would have much to talk about!

Thomas Edison said, “I never did a day’s work in my life, it was all fun.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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Thomas Edison Would Recognize Roosevelt Island Tech Center

When Thomas Edison established his legendary West Orange Labs, everything was focused around team-based solution of problems, and making the invention process easy and conducive, with plenty of intellectual and physical resources co-located for convenience. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a similar philosophy in mind, and just recently, September 13, 2017, a new high-tech birthing place was dedicated on Roosevelt Island.

To anticipate a future New York City where small, nimble, high tech companies would be based in the heart of the city, back in 2010 Bloomberg invited top-flight universities to compete to open an applied-science graduate center. Cornell University and its partner, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, were declared the winners and awarded $100 million along with a stretch of city-owned land on iconic and historic Roosevelt Island. Bloomberg’s business model for this was Silicon Valley where founders of great companies often did so in the shadow of the schools they attended. Today, the first residents of this vision have arrived on this unique campus.

Cornell Tech campus in architectural rendering

Cornell Tech campus in architectural rendering

The tech center campus is comprised of three buildings: the Academic Building–a contemporary office structure; the House, a high-rise that will be a mix of graduate student and faculty housing; and the Bridge, will host work spaces and classrooms for Cornell Tech in about 30 percent of the building, while the rest will be leased to companies by the building’s owner, Forest City New York. The buildings incorporate ample energy efficiency considerations and alternate energy technologies. Through his charitable organization, Bloomberg has given an additional $100 million to this project, re-naming the Academic Building the Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center, in honor of his daughters.

First phase of Cornell Tech nears completion

First phase of Cornell Tech nears completion

Daniel Huttenlocher, the dean and vice provost of Cornell Tech, described the Bridge as the physical embodiment of the institution’s goal of bringing together academia and industry. “Academic excellence here is necessary, but not sufficient,” Dr. Huttenlocher said. “You also need to be engaged with the commercial or societal aspect of your work.”

Though the campus is only about one-third built — two other major phases of construction are to follow by the year 2037, by agreement with the city — it has the nascent feel of its own little community, as well as a grassy green where students can sprawl, amid impressive views.

Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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