Why has science been so fascinating to us?
As usual our bus was stuck in the traffic when we were returning from office. While waiting for the traffic to ease, my eyes stopped on a roadside hawker selling fried fruits on his pushcart. Yes fried fruits. It sells like a hot cake! Since it was evening it was already dark, he was using a LED lamp for illuminating his cart. My complete attention got pulled to his lamp which although was dim, he was able to see and sell things from his cart. In my mind I could not stop appreciating both: the person’s dedication to serve the buyers and the lamp helping him see through his stuff.
I love observing people and their behavior but this time what fascinated me was the LED lamp. Actually, the fact that a person in middle ages wearing soiled cloths, who might be illiterate too was using such a sophisticated device – an LED lamp was fascinating to me. Yes the simple looking few hundreds rupee LED bulb lamp! I was overwhelmed by realizing how useful this simple device is to mankind. I thought this simple lamp might be used by millions of other people like him. Maybe, in the remotest areas of Africa. Or maybe, the densest forest of Cambodia. I have seem these lamps are used in slums and in big mansions too.
The same light is used for street signalling on road for managing traffics. They are used in our homes for lighting purposes. They are used in car headlights. They are used in indicators on computers, calculators, washing machines, vacuum clears; almost every electronic appliance that we use today. They are being used to send data over the fiber optic cable. They are used in OLED technology for making sophisticated TV screens. I was overwhelmed with realization how the discovery of electroluminescence has changed our world.
Every big invention had a humble discovery.
I was surprised by realizing how big and pervasive this p-n junction has become! But what humbled me was reading about Captain Henry Joseph Round. He was the first to report observation of electroluminescence from a solid state diode, leading to the discovery of the light-emitting diode. I was humbled by realizing that how small was the start of this technology and how big it grew! A simple discovery of p-n junction diodes that can emit light when activated through external energy source changed the world.
Almost every form of invention that we use products of had a very humble beginning. Let’s take an example of electricity. The electricity which has become the most indispensable part of our life had a humble beginning too. The electricity was discovered by flying a kite during a thunder. The idea of steam engine came from kettle’s lid that was being pushed by steam inside it. A steam from kettle gave birth to steam engine and thus other engines too were developed by innovating and evolving it.
It is surprising to note that almost every invention done was simple and and very urbane. But later it grew in one of biggest industries of all time. For example, all of the electronic industries has been developed from a transistor. All of the communication industry was started from Marconi’s demonstration of a radio transmitter and receiver to his mother. The created a set-up that made a bell ring on the other side of the room by pushing a telegraphic button on a bench so on so forth.
Some of the world’s best discoveries were done accidentally!
Everybody know the story of the discovery of radioactivity. Becquerel, a French physicist, encouraged by the the work of Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen on December 22 1895 started to work on properties of rays like X-rays, fluorescence and phosphorescence. In March of 1896, during a time of overcast weather, Becquerel found he couldn’t use the sun as an initiating energy source for his experiments. So, he put his wrapped photographic plates away in a darkened drawer, along with some crystals containing uranium. Until then, it was only know that a photographic plate can be illuminated by exposing it to external rays. Much to his surprise, the plates were exposed during storage by invisible emanations from the uranium! The emanations did not require the presence of an initiating energy source. The crystals emitted rays on their own! It was thus the radio activity was discovered accidentally.
So, let’s assume on that very day there would have been a sunny weather in Paris. Becquerel could not have kept the wrapped photographic plates in the drawer. Had he done so, we might not have got to know the radioactivity. If so, there might have been some incidents in scientific world that some scientist would not have been as lucky as Becquerel. There might be some basic discovery that are still left out. And, if they are found out today and worked on they can create a new industry too.
During the 19th century, atomic particles were discovered, pulleys were invented, electricity was discovered, transistors were invented and later they gave birth to bigger industries like automobile, electronic gadgets, airplane etc. So is it possible that some humble beginning are yet to be embarked upon. Many be it exist in some physical form around us. Like, electricity was always there but was found out by Benjamin Franklin by accident.
I am waiting to witness another ‘humble beginning’.
My point here is there might be lot of other hidden physical phenomena which we haven’t yet discovered. Once, they are discovered they might open up a new horizon for experiments and inventions in scientific world. Maybe, there are other constituents of air beside hydrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, helium, neon etc. It might be possible that cure of AIDS is already around us. It night be so simple that scientist are ignoring to bat an eye for it.
Maybe, I am wrong. But I am excited to hear a new ‘humble beginning’. There must be something yet to be explored that might create new industry and shape the world different.