First, if you thought this post was about a new Transformers character, you are going to be disappointed...
I recently had a chance to visit the physics department of my Alma mater where I obtained an undergraduate degree in physics. Although my conscious reverence for the physical sciences has continued, because I did not continue in the field, I never developed the intimate connection that follows from day to day immersion and a career's worth of scar tissue. Sadly, what I realized from my visit was that I have too long been distanced from the wonderfully profound emotional reactions that follow from exposure to technology and to scientific genius.
While browsing some of the displays in the halls of the department, I came across this interesting looking device pictured above, a.k.a., the hydrogen thyratron (I apologize for the crappy picture). Here is the description in the case:
This large electronic tube was originally used in WWII (note JAN, Joint Army-Navy on the base) to activate radar transmitters. The transmitters generated short pulses of electromagnetic waves that when reflected determined the location of enemy airplanes.No semi-conductor device today has the performance capability of the hydrogen thyratron. This particular tube was replaced by tube type CX1140L and is used in electron linear accelerators, a major tool in the treatment of cancer.
All around us today, in the midst of the latest economic crisis, we are offered the smoke and mirrors of government created fiat money - the tortured machinations of the political alchemists who seek to turn lead into gold or equivalently, consumption into production. Lost in this noise is the near truism that to progress, we must think and produce actual things which make are lives longer and better. There is no shortcut.
It reminds me of a quote (unattributed) that I recently heard: "People will do anything to save the world ... except take a course in science."