Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Top This

The Great Pyramid would remain the tallest building on Earth for over 3,800 years. No man-made object topped its height until Eiffel built his tower for the 1889 Paris World's Fair. The vast building was completed in only 20 years using the square, copper chisels, and human ingenuity.

A Light Bulb Idea

In the early days of the light bulb, no one knew what caused the filament to glow or change color at different temperatures. The attempt by would be manufacturers of light bulbs to better understand the manufacturing process would lead to a scientific revolution that gave rise to quantum physics.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Red Plate Special

Where did the uranium used in the Trinity, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki atom bombs come from? It is a story that involves red dinner plates, secret deals between governments, and cutting edge science. In September 1942, officials, participating in the United States` Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb, visited the New York office of a Belgian firm that sold uranium ore, mined in Congo, for  use in paints and ceramic glazes. Fiestaware from the 30's and early 40's used uranium in their red-orange glazed dishes.The U.S. formed a secret purchase agreement with the firm and the Belgium government to buy uranium. By 1944,  the United States had purchased about 30,000 tons of uranium ore for close to 100 million dollars. 1,200 tonnes of uranium ore was stockpiled in a warehouse on Staten Island, New York. The rest was shipped to the U.S. via ship from a stockpile at the Sinkolobwe Mine in the Belgian Congo. At least one ship was sunk by the Germans. Once in the U.S. the uranium ore was shipped by rail for ore processing at secret facilities using cutting edge science, in remote locations like Oak Ridge, TN and Hanford, WA. 

Monday, February 29, 2016

The Art of Invention

Samuel Finley Breese Morse, the inventor of Morse Code, was a successful painter. One of his best know paintings is of Marquis de Lafayette. It hangs in the Crystal Bridges Art Museum, in .Arkansas.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On The Silk Road

The name Samarkand evokes images of the exotic Silk Road of antiquity. Samarkand is located in modern day Uzbekistan, in central Asia, North of Afghanistan. It was an administrative center in the Persian Empire. Alexander the Great conquered Samarkand in 329 BCE. The trade route brought silk and spices to the Roman Empire; and it endured long enough to make Venice the richest trade city of Renaissance Europe. The trade in silk caused an enormous outflow of gold and silver from the Roman Empire, creating an a negative balance of trade. In 2001, UNESCO added the city to its World Heritage List.

Friday, February 5, 2016

A Mine of Possibilities

Poland was a target of Nazi aggression for a far more sinister reason than you might think. Poland is famous for ancient silver mines and for being the first country conquered by the Nazis. It is the home of the silver deposits that were struck into the thaler, which inspired the word dollar. Less well know is that tailings from these ancient mines were rich in pitch blend. Pitch blend contains uranium. The Nazis conquered Poland to get materials for the Nazi atomic bomb program.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Slip Sliding Away

Originally the Pyramids were sheathed in highly polished white Tura limestone casing stones. The limestone from Tura was the finest and whitest of all the Egyptian quarries. The Tura limestone was quarried from deep underground in a stone deposit South of Cairo. The miners tunneled deep underground to cut the stones out, leaving some limestone behind as pillars to support the caverns left behind. The stone casings fit together accurate to within 1/100th of an inch. All total, they were around five feet long, five feet high, and six feet deep and weighed around 15 metric tons each. Imagine the Pyramids as shining white structures rather like sunbeams.
So what happened to the beautiful casing stones? In AD 1303, a massive earthquake caused many of the outer casing stones to slide to the base of the pyramids. The stones were then carted away at the orders of Bahari Sultan An-Nasir Nasir-ad-Din al-Hasan in 1356 to build mosques and fortresses in nearby Cairo.