Glaringly transparent

It seems I was somewhat precipitous in my wardrobe accomplishments yesterday. As Mirinda says, we are going to the show room on Saturday to make sure the doors are all right.

Today I went to a talk at the Science Museum. An email went around the staff last week asking if anyone was interested in attending a short talk about the museum’s glass collection. I attended one of these last year about Gyros and thoroughly enjoyed it so, given we’ve started to have Wednesday night dates again (rather than our London Lunches), I figured I’d just go in early then go to Canary Wharf from the museum.

Today’s talk was about the vast amount of glass objects the museum holds in its reserve store. A miniscule few are on display in the Smith Centre and we wandered around, looking at some truly amazing objects while being told snippets of delightful facts about them.

For instance, I didn’t know that the German government put a tax on the number of valves in a radio set back in the mid 1920s. This would mean if you made a radio with six valves in it, the tax would be greater than one with three. Sort of like the English window tax. Rather than reducing the number of valves and thereby lessening the quality of the radios, an electronic, tax dodging trio of geniuses called Loewe, Loewe and Ardenne, developed a single valve which contained three valves.

It was a very tricky thing to do for many electronic reasons which I have a lot of difficulty understanding, let alone trying to explain, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was.

The finished object is a thing of beauty. I tried taking a photo of it but the display case was being annoyingly reflective. So, I’ve used this one from the Museum of Technology…I’m sure they won’t mind.

Three into one DOES go

I’d assume that they would have cost a lot to manufacture – a cost that would probably far outstrip the tax required – but it does now stand as the world’s first integrated circuit and clearly advanced radio science rather than change the German taxation system overly much. Though I do wonder whether they closed that particular loophole or merely waited for the technology to be made redundant. Who knows, it might still be taxable.

Before Loewe’s multi-valve, another German called Heinrich Geissler was creating some glass magic with electricity. He was a physicist and glass blower who was a bit mad for making entertainingly coloured displays happen in strangely shaped glass tubes.

Back in Geissler’s day of the early 19th century, it wasn’t unusual for physicists to double as glass blowers. Because there was no mass production or any handy chemistry sets, scientists would make their own, bespoke glass creations as and when they needed them.

Heinrich was no different and was clearly a master at his craft. How he constructed the different shapes of tubes within tubes is truly baffling. However and whyever he created them, they are beautiful. And that’s when they’re just sitting in a display case. When they were filled with gas and then attached to electrodes, they would glow all sorts of wonderful colours.

Just a few of Geissler's wacky tubes

They eventually led to the neon light but they had a lot of real scientific uses as well. Stuff I can’t begin to understand but which involves gases in tubes with electricity going through them.

Then we had a look at the work of a British chemist and physicist called Sir William Crooks. While having not the slightest idea at the time (the mid 1800s) that his tubes would one day become the stuff of televisions. For he, inadvertently, invented the cathode ray tube (the big things that used to be in non-flat screen TVs). Of course, the actual Crooks tube looked nothing like a CRT but it was what someone else did with them that led to their eventual use in homes all over the world.

The funniest moment came when we were asked to identify a series of objects in a chemist display case. There were three oddly shaped baby feeding bottles which took some guessing but then the curator pointed to some strangely shaped thin tubed things, asking if anyone knew what they were. I couldn’t help laughing and said I knew but it wouldn’t be fair to say. When no-one else could guess I said they were breast relievers.

The funny thing is, I probably amended the records for these very ones back when I was updating the medical database.

We saw so many interesting things and the curator was so excited that she lost all track of time, meaning one of the women on the lecture had to rush back to work before the end.

I really love these staff-only talk and tours.

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2 Responses to Glaringly transparent

  1. mum cook says:

    I bet you do love it it is the kind of thing I would like as well, fancy all that long ago the guy made a valve for the TV.
    love mum

  2. Mirinda says:

    I hadn’t realised it was staff only. So a real insiders privilege!

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