Everyday Research Changes Lives

There is no doubt there can be a certain glamour to being a scientist, but that very much depends on where and what you research.  For every scientist appearing on the media every week in CERN there’s thousands of others quietly going about their own research.

Due no doubt partly to the media people are apt to think of scientists as busy trying to push the boundaries of our knowledge by doing such things as accelerating sub-atomic particles around a big tunnel in Switzerland or searching for microbes in the Arctic Circle. When the average person imagines a scientific genius he or she normally thinks of Einstein. Often we think the great minds are mavericks like Tesla that were misunderstood and ridiculed during their lives.

This is all partly true. However, the majority of research in engineering and science is not about radical new paradigms and ways of doing things. Rather it is about improving on existing systems; on finding new sources for resources; of making resources go farther.

Science is now reaching our TV screens more than ever and media companies are latching on to this.  Many of the BBC’s most successful programmes are based on science and technology and most of them sell well after broadcast too.  It’s worth checking out their site regularly and you can even access the BBC when abroad just follow this advice.

One such example is the case of the electrical motor. With Edison’s DC current it was found that a drive shaft would not do a 360 degree rotation because current had to be turned on and off around the casing of the shaft to create the right electromagentic conditions for movement. The solution was braided copper brushes that made contact as the drive shaft rotated thus transferring current.

It was found that the solution could be greatly improved by using carbon blocks instead. Graphite has a higher electrical resistance and allows for a more regular transference of power as the shaft rotates. Although not brush like anymore these pieces of carbon were still called ’brushes’.

Much work has been done using different compositions of graphite in carbon brushes. Also in adding metalic elements to the carbon brushes. These varying compositions all affect the performance of different types of engine. Thus, today we are able to manufacture carbon brushes that fit a multitude of engines. Research is now underway to make liquid metal brushes.

It is important that scientists and engineers work on improving our exisiting technologies as well as trying to build completely new types of technology. Perhaps, the media needs to do more in changing stereotypes to address this dual need.

Further research

News Item – BBC Block VPN Connection.