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  • Saturday, December 6, 2014

    The Royal Institution

    Before leaving London, I had to see the Royal Institution. A major landmark for science geeks like me.

    I admit, my level of excitement while walking through this building rivaled anything I've felt while climbing to a mountain top. So many scientists, who made major discoveries, worked inside these walls. Fifteen of which went on to win Nobel Prizes. I imagined Michael Faraday walking down these stairs to go to his laboratory where he'd discover how to create and control electricity, among other things, which would dramatically change the course of humanity.

    Before you yell, NERRRRRD!! at your screen, or if you already have, think of the millions who come to London to see sites made famous because the Beatles once stood there and had their picture taken. My reverence for this is no different. I'm simply a different kind of nerd.

    In the basement, almost 150 years after his death, Michael Faraday's laboratory still sits in exactly the same spot and looks pretty much as it did. The placement of his equipment has even been arranged to match watercolors painted of his lab in 1850.
    Other than one oil lamp, Faraday used everything displayed in this lab.  Although born in poverty and only going to school to the age of 13, he formed the basis of the electromagnetic field concept and induction (which is how we still power most of our homes), developed the laws of electrolysis (which led to the production of aluminium, lithium, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium), invented electromagnetic rotation (the principle behind the electric motor), made discoveries that led to refrigeration, and discovered benzene (an important component of gasoline).
    I spent a lot of time looking at every detail. I love old scientific instruments. It's like art.

    Like the "Faraday's Egg" an instrument designed by Faraday. The discoveries he made with this led to the development of Spectroscopy, which reveals what an object is made of by the color of the light it emits, which is why we know things like the composition of distant stars.

    If I was geeking out this much over Abbey Road Studios would you judge me the same way?

    These are parts that made up the first electric generator and transformer created here by Faraday. Prior to innovations like these, electricity had only been generated with chemical batteries and had no real practical use.

    Faraday spent four years trying to perfect making optical glass, but failed utterly. After giving up on glass, he kept one optically decent chunk as a souvenir. 

    Later he'd use it to discover the Magneto-Optical Effect. Even his biggest failure produced world-changing discoveries. This story was told so well in the latest Cosmos series (episode 10, you should watch it on Netflix or Hulu.)

    This is the famous Faraday Lecture Theater. 

    Some of our greatest scientists of the past 200 years have given talks on that floor.

    This is like holy ground to a science nerd like me.

    In this room in 1825, Michael Faraday gave the first Christmas Lecture, a now annual science lecture that examines one scientific subject through spectacular demonstrations by a leader in the field.  The Christmas Lectures have continued every December ever since, other than 1939-1941 when it wasn't safe for children to travel to central London. They are now broadcast in the UK every December and watched by millions.

    I had to know what it would feel like...
    But I'm no scientist. I'm not even a great thinker, but didn't Faraday once say, “But still try, for who knows what is possible.”
    So with my own spectacular demonstration, I decided to teach the one theory I do know a thing or two about.

    This is called Crane Technique. If do right, no can defend.

    A spectacular demonstration indeed. I can now add myself to the list of great minds who have taught from this floor.  I hope my parents are proud.