Readers of this blog have often noted my despair over the deficiencies in our educational system and, specifically, the degree of people’s scientific ignorance. Think: James Inhof. In light of this, I offer the following science lesson, which I hope in some small way will help raise the level of scientific literacy in our rapidly sinking nation.
A Science Lecture by Yerffej N. Flow, Ph.D.
Our topic is electricity. Electricity makes our modern world run. Everyone should understand it but only few do. When you finish reading this, you will know all there is to know about electricity and will be able to count yourself among a privileged few, the electrically connected cognoscenti.
Prehistoric folks did not have electricity. Well, they did but they didn’t know what to do with it. It is well documented in cave paintings how a caveman of great repute named Hrrrrrmph Toog, upon being struck by lightning, became the world’s first 4 million watt fluorescent lighting fixture. Unfortunately, he was unable to comment upon his distinctive achievement afterward.
There are lots of modern theories about electricity. One says that electricity is 98.7% cream of mushroom soup, but we’ll choose the easiest one because it’s…easy. It says that electricity is made up of something called charge. Charge is carried on little particles called electrons and protons, which are stored in cat fur and received by you from MasterCard in the form of a monthly bill with 18.5% interest. Electrons carry negative charge and protons carry positive charge. It could be the other way around, but I forget.
Quiz Question #1 (multiple choice):
- Really, really tiny
Electric charge doesn’t generally do us much good unless it’s moving. When it isn’t, it’s called static electricity. When it is, it’s called electric current. Current flows through “conductors”. It’s blocked by “insulators”. Wire is a conductor. Wood is an insulator. Rubber is a contraceptive.
Quiz Question #2 (true or false): A large number of electrons flowing through a conductor will electrocute him.
Remember the last time you were at a football game? Remember stuffing your way through some dark, bowelly tunnel to get into the stadium? Remember how you got all sweaty? Aha! You’ve just learned the principle of the toaster oven. Or a light bulb. Those cute, cuddly little electrons (people), all sqwoooshed together in the heating element or lighting filament (bowelly tunnel), create heat that makes the wire glow. Your toaster oven toasts, your light bulb lights, all so you can munch golden brown nuts ‘n berry bread toast and read USA Today bathed in the warm glow of a merry hundred watter instead of eating cold gruel in the dark. The wonders of science, revealed!
As you can see, electricity is actually quite simple. And important. It is a little-known fact that all modern electrical devices, from radios to the space shuttle, are just combinations of toaster ovens and light bulbs. The trick is in knowing the proportions.
Next time, we’ll discuss microwave ovens, fertility and alien abduction. Class dismissed.
Note: Yerffej N. Flow received his Ph.D. with negative honors from the Oxford (shoe) University in 2011. He prefers to be called “Doctor”, but not by sick people.
© J. Allan Wolf, 2015