In this picture you can see nature; grass, trees and water. But technology is also evident in the power lines and the water is a man-made canal. Nature has many secrets and scientists unlock those secrets. Often this is just by observation; observing an apple falling from a tree and asking why, helped Isaac Newton understand and appreciate gravity. Simple observations can be important. They lead to great things like technology that defies gravity or great innovations like electricity.
Observing simple things like how a cloth or kitchen towel absorbs water can be interesting. Place the edge of a piece of kitchen towel in a pool of water and watch the water creep up the towel as it’s absorbed. This process is called osmosis. The old style towelling nappies (diapers) for babies used the same principle. The modern babies nappy is layered. A non-absorbent layer with holes in it and then an absorbent layer to absorb the liquid. The non-absorbent layer then tends to be dry against the babies skin.
Other things in nature can’t be observed so easily. You can’t see or feel the magnetic fields around those power lines in the picture for example. Whenever electricity flows through a cable, a circular magnetic field is produced. This effect makes many things work like electric motors and even the pickups on electric guitars. It also makes the radio waves that we rely on for radio, television and many computer communications. The electricity in those power lines alternates (AC), the flow (current) changes direction every 1/100 of a second. The magnetic fields collapse every time it changes and are then rebuilt. This is the frequency; how often they change. The frequency of mains electricity is 50 cycles in every second. Higher frequencies can be seen on the dial of your radio and those are millions of times every second.
Using radio waves we can transmit voice, text, pictures and video using digital transmissions. When I finish this blog it will be sent from my laptop, through a router, through a telephone exchange and routed until it gets to a server (computer) overseas and the data will then be stored on that server. You can then connect and download the webpage and see my picture and what I have written in a few seconds or less.
Science is divided into different fields, that are basically physics, chemistry and biology. These subjects do overlap. I like all three subjects, but physics was the one I was most interested in at school. It is mostly about energy; electrical, mechanical, heat and light. These different types of energy can be converted from one to another. We can make heat and light from electrical energy and mechanical energy can be converted into electricity. Using wind turbines we can convert the wind into electricity and research continues to try to harness the movements of the tides and waves in the sea to make electricity too. We have developed ways of measuring energy. With global warming and climate change it has become more important to understand energy and how it can be used more efficiently. We are insulating our homes better to prevent heat loss when it’s cold for example. Domestic appliances like computers and televisions use far less energy than they used to. Vehicles are being made to use less energy and to emit less pollution.
Technology is the application of science and has blended the different subjects together. The computer technologists and scientists have produced scanners that allow biologists to understand animal life better and this has led to amazing medical advances. We sometimes think of nuclear science as dangerous and undesirable, but that has led to powerful scanners and cures for serious diseases. Technology is a relatively slow process as we build upon the knowledge of previous generations. Each generation of scientist and technologist learns from the previous one and then contributes to the knowledge. The contribution is based on what the technologist has learnt from the previous generation and what he or she has observed first hand.
Next time, you use a little kitchen towel to mop up a spill, maybe you can observe osmosis at work and reinvent the nappy? In the meantime there are more amazing blogs on the home page. Please click the Facebook like button, if you have learnt something from this post!