10.21.2009

Alone in the Dark


He awoke from a restless night's sleep without his usual pep, only to find he had made his start two hours early.

Undeterred, he slipped on his shoes, drank a glass of milk and proceeded to his oven. He was sure the problem had more to do with temperature rather then ingredients. If he could only find the right thermal hot spot in his oven, oh how that would change everything.

At 6:45 am he started at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, slowly increasing the fire inside his oven with a steady eye fixed upon his concoction. By 11:30 he had burned, split or dissolved entirely, every single recipe. That was it! No more for a while, he exclaimed! Besides it was time for lunch.

Always the lifeblood of any group he was around, especially his special collection of co-workers he ate lunch with each day, this day he found none of his usual humor. There was only "that bloody oven." Breaking custom, for no work was discussed at lunch - EVER, he decided to open up about his frustration. How could He, of all people, be going about something as simple as thermal control the wrong way?

This silence that fell upon the luncheon party was rightly read as discomfort and confusion, forcing him to wave it all off, crack a few jokes and change the mood. Nothing else was to be said of ovens and flames and setbacks. Though after lunch, his best friend approached him with an idea. He had been having setbacks in the oven with those very ingredients for a separate experiment, so had switched materials, and with reasonable success.

With that, he set off a double the pace. Not because he was excited by the prospects of a breakthrough, but instead to remove the experiment from his mind so he could get back to the job at hand.

Widely thought to be in possession of the world largest ingredient library, he stood amongst his large library of thousands of jars, wondering just where to start. He remembered his friend's mention of carbon, but wanted to start elsewhere. After 20 minutes of collecting various jars from the catalogue, he remembered that he was to remove the suggestion of his friend, so he grabbed several jars of carbon in various forms. And that is where he would start.

On his very first attempt with the carbon, he saw improvement, something he could not deny elicited excitement throughout his body. He would spend the next six hours improving upon the stability of his experiment, until finally at 7:30 he was ready for a test trial.

He gathered his laboratory team around for the trial, and though they were all prayerful and knew none were his intellectual equal, they also understood what was being attempted was impossible. All light in the room was extinguished, and...

On this day, October 21st, in the year 1879, Thomas Alva Edison broke the darkness with the world's first, stable, incandescent bulb.

It burned for 13.5 hours straight, while everyone in the lab could not avert their gaze. They were watching not just an invention that would drastically reduce the cost of illuminating the dark, but it shone so bright, much brighter than candle or gas lamps. And where were the fumes? Almost as a throwaway, one of the lab assistants mentioned that people could sleep soundly for the first time in human history without the threat of fire.

Of course, none of this mattered to Edison. Nothing at all mattered to him on that cold New Jersey evening. Nothing, save the fact that he had educed from himself, for the first time, something he thought he could not.

Let's innovate America!

1 comment:

Zardoz said...

There are a dozen replacements for the popular tungsten light bulb but all using old technology. My favourite innovation thus far is zapping a tungsten filament to "smooth out the irregularities" to make it twice as efficient as a regular filament. See http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/06/regular-incandescent-lightbulb-super-efficient-laser-rochester.php for more info. I did find an article by Austrian physicists doing similar experiments in 1988, but it wasn't until more recently that a practical innovation came to light... pun intended.