The Iconic Chrysler Building

Overview

Chrysler Building form 42nd Street
Photo: ©SMS

Still the tallest brick building in the world and currently, the 11th tallest building in NYC, the Chrysler Building has been noted as one of the most graceful art-deco buildings ever built, the 1,046-foot (319 meter) skyscraper adorns the New York skyline with its silver spire, eagles, and scary gargoyles. 

Constructed by Chrysler Car Corporation, the building was designed to reflect the automotive industry with a decorated granite lobby that was a showroom for the latest Chrysler cars, along with its hood ornaments enriching the building’s exterior, which is designed to resemble radiator caps.

Architect William Van Alen designed this masterpiece. 

Location

New York City donated the land between 42nd and 43rd streets and Lexington Ave to The Cooper Union school in 1902 before the Chrysler Corporation took it over in the 1920s. 

Located just west was the Grand Hyatt Building, now being demolished to make way for the supertall 175 Park Avenue, which wasn’t without controversy since many feel it will block the skyline view of the Chrysler from the west side. 

The Design

Stainless steel Eagles protruding from the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building
Stainless steel Eagles protruding from the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building. Photo: ©SMS

The Chrysler Building is laminated with Nirosta stainless steel, which is a metallic alloy of 18% chromium and 8% nickel. Starting on the 31st floor, radiator caps, relative to the year the building was constructed, embellish it along with gargoyles. Moving up to the 61st floor, we find silver eagles, representing the official bird of the United States. There are a total of 50 ornaments in all that adorn the Chrysler Building. The skyscraper contains 3,826,000 bricks a total of 3,862 windows.

Engineering

The building has a solid core that stabilizes the structure and setbacks that help deviate wind forces.

Spire War

Top of Chrysler Building Includig Spire
Top of Chrysler Building Including Spire. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

During its construction, the building was in the midst of a battle with lower Manhattan’s Bank of Manhattan at 40 Wall Street (now owned by Donald Trump) regarding who would have the tallest building in the world. 

The Chrysler Building was rising four floors a day and in 1929, both buildings reached 925 feet, but 40 Wall’s architect H. Craig Severance added two more feet to the top of his building, laying claim that it is now the world’s tallest building.

This distinction lasted briefly as William Van Alen secretly built a seven-story, twenty-seven-ton spire inside the Chrysler Building. Just a few weeks after the Bank of Manhattan claimed its fame, Van Allen lifted the spire through the roof of the Chrysler Building, and within 1½ hours, it became the world’s tallest, soaring 77 stories and 1,046 feet high (319 meters), beating the Bank of Manhattan by 119 feet. 

It wasn’t long before the Chrysler Building would lose its status though, as the Empire State Building topped it out only one year later in 1931. 

The Observatory

Back in the day, there was a speakeasy n the 66th, 67th, and 68th floors called the Cloud Club and there was an observatory, but for over 60 years, this has not been the case. That will all change soon. In 2020, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved rebuilding a new observatory on the 61st floor, right alongside the eagle ornaments. 

Construction has not started yet but you can sign up for it and be notified when the observatory becomes a reality.

Chrysler’s Beauty Endures

No matter what skyscrapers might encircle it, nothing will keep the building’s brilliant art-deco stainless steel design and its majestic spire from decorating the City of New York skyline. Many consider the Chrysler Building to be the most beautiful in the city.

 

The Freedom Tower – From Construction to Completion

Overview

One World Trade Center - Freedom Tower photographed from Broadway
One World Trade Center – Freedom Tower looking south from Broadway. Photo: SMS Photos of a Lifetime ©

From tragedy to triumph, a tower soars 104 stories, 1,776 feet high, representing the year the Declaration of Independence was signed.

One World Trade Center (AKA The Freedom Tower) opened to businesses on November 3, 2014, and the three-story observatory, which opened on May 29, 2015, invites visitors to a spectacular view of the New York skyline.

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, famous for designing some of the most notable modern tall buildings in the world, were the primary architects, under the supervision of designer David Childs. The firm, also known as SOM, was the architect of the Burj Khalifa and Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower).

The Preliminaries

Soon after the destruction of the original World Trade Center, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation initiated proposals for the reconstruction of a new tower, as well as a plan to memorialize the victims of the September 11 attacks. 

When the public rejected the first round of designs, a second, more open competition took place in December 2002, in which a blueprint by Daniel Libeskind was selected as the winner. This design went through many revisions, mainly because of disagreements with developer Larry Silverstein, who held the lease to the World Trade Center at that time.

Construction began on April 27, 2006, but not after continuous delays and ongoing bureaucracy, including disputes between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the developer Tishman Realty & Construction. The Tishman construction firm was famous for its participation in building some of the tallest buildings in New York City, including the original World Trade Center complex and the John Hancock Center in Chicago. John Tishman died on February 6, 2016.

Security Preparations

Bird's eye view of "ground zero" after the 9/11 attacks and before construction of the Freedom Tower
Bird’s eye view of “ground zero” after the 9/11 attacks and before the construction of the Freedom Tower. Photo: SMS – Photos of a Lifetime ©

No doubt that security was a prominent concern in the design and construction of this tower, and terrorism was indeed a major consideration. 

No one was more concerned than the NYPD, and after many debates and delays, the final proposal for the Freedom Tower 11-Year was approved and shown to the public on June 28, 2005, with a 187-foot base of concrete added.

Additionally, the building had installed stainless steel panels and blast-resistant glass. The Freedom Tower is designed to withstand earthquakes and has an elaborate security facility integrated within it.

In addition to 24×7 monitoring, there is a high-tech security system that includes video analysis in which computers would alert security personnel to abnormal situations automatically.

There are additional security apparatuses that have been installed, but their actual function has not been made public. What is known is that there are radiation detectors abound in lower Manhattan and the NYPD Hercules Team is ready at a moment’s notice.

Building the Skyscraper

Foundation of One World Trade Center
Construction of the foundation of One World Trade Center. Photo:  SMS – Photos of a Lifetime ©

On November 18, 2006, 400 cubic yards of concrete were poured onto the building’s foundation.

On December 17, 2006, a ceremony was held in Battery Park City, with the public invited to sign a 30-foot (9.1 m) steel beam. The beam was welded onto the building’s base on December 19, 2006. Construction was slow but continuous. 

In 2012, workers installed the steel framework at the top of the tower to support the 408-foot spire. The spire was fabricated as 16 separate sections at a factory near Montreal, Quebec, and was transported by barge to New York City in mid-November of that year. 

On May 10, 2013, the final component of the skyscraper’s spire was installed, making the building, including its spire, reach a total height of 1,776 feet, representing the date of the Declaration of Independence.

Negotiating the Wind Forces

Optimizing One  World Trade Center for high winds was unique as the tower’s design included a geometrical shape that helps reduce exposure to wind loads.

Additionally, the core has reinforced concrete which provides the main support against resistance to the wind forces and other forces of nature.

The Observatory

View from Freedom Tower Observatory
View from Freedom Tower Observatory of downtown Manhattan taken on opening day. Photo:  SMS – Photos of a Lifetime ©

The One World Trade Center observatory opened on May 29, 2015, and is currently the highest of the four observatories in the city at  1,268 feet.

There are three floors, including exhibits and a restaurant.

The most convenient way to purchase tickets would be to purchase them online.

 

Surrounding Area

World Trade Cener North Tower Reflecting Pool
World Trade Center North Tower Reflecting Pool. Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

Visitors who come to the Freedom Tower should also visit the 911 Memorial, which is a tribute to the 3,000 people who were lost, including the first responders.

The memorial contains the footprints of the former Twin Towers. It has continuous running water over two one-acre pools, one for each of the towers, called “Reflecting Absence“, signifying the physical void left by those who were lost. 

Skyscraper Wind Forces and How to Overwide Them

NYC Midtown Skyline Western View
NYC Midtown Skyline Looking West from Long Island City. Photo: Photos of a Lifetime

Overview

Skyscrapers are defined as being at least 330 feet (100 meters) high with supertalls classified as 984 feet (300 meters) and megatalls at 1,968 feet (600 meters) or higher.

There is no doubt that these structures are a marvel of modern engineering. From the Burj Khalifa in Dubai to the Shanghai Tower in China and the famous Empire State Building in New York, they stand as a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance. For architects and engineers, the challenge to design them is complex.

From the foundation to the roof, they are carefully planned and executed which might take years to complete before even one brick is laid down. Considerations towards building codes, structural stability, aesthetics, and of course economics are primary factors to be studied.

Exploring the making of skyscrapers is an exciting journey for anyone interested in how tall buildings are constructed and is a credit to the dedication of the architects and engineers who build them.

Designing the Structure 

3D rendering of a modern building with construction using CAD software
3D rendering with construction specifications using CAD software

Economics always comes into play, so whatever the planned design is, it must be within the developer’s budget. Architects use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create 3D models of a building.

Usually created on networked desktop computers, CAD is used primarily for analyzing and optimizing a building’s design. Above is an example of how the software is used.

Of course with skyscrapers, there may be hundreds of CAD diagrams that would be needed. The software includes the building codes that they must follow.

Building the Foundation 

Foundation of One World Trade Center
Foundation of One World Trade Center 4/6/2008. Photo: Photos of a Lifetime

It should go without saying that structural stability is of the utmost importance and the foundation is the first step in helping to buttress the building from the forces of nature to which these buildings may be subject. 

Beginning with the foundation, engineers must determine if the soil below the building is strong enough to support the structure. A good example is in New York City where there is solid bedrock that makes it perfect for the construction of skyscrapers. 

Rebar at construction site on Long Island
Rebar ready for pouring of concrete at the construction site. Photo SS

Steel and concrete are the most commonly used materials for foundations. Concrete is strong under compression, but not as strong under tension, and in its pure form, it is unsuitable to withstand the stresses of the wind forces and vibrations,

To compensate for this lack of tensile strength, workers pour a liquid concrete mixture into a wire mesh steel frame, called rebar or reinforcing bar, which strengthens the tension component of the concrete. Together, the product is known as reinforced concrete and forms a strong solid foundation to support any tall building. 

Enter the Forces of Nature

Burj Khalifa
Burj Khalifa, Dubai, UAE – Tallest Building in the World. Photo by Wael Hneini on Unsplash

The engineers must consider the wind loads (wind force) that hit the buildings which can cause them to sway. The higher the building is, the more wind it will be subject to. Skyscrapers will sway from strong winds and can easily move several feet in either direction.

To reinforce the structure to withstand these winds, there are several options that engineers will use.

 

Strong Internal Cores

Empire State Building
The Empire State Building employs the core concept along with its setbacks. Photo by Ben Dumond on Unsplash.

One of the most popular methods for mitigating wind forces is the ability to build strong cores in the center of the building. Usually constructed around the elevators are solid steel and/or concrete trusses, braced by steel beams.

All the tall buildings of the 20th century have this method and it is still going strong into this century, but usually, there are more obstacles to the wind added, especially if the building is of the super or mega tall variety.

Corner Softening

Taipei 101 in Tiawan China
Taipei 101 in Taiwan China uses corner softening to dampen the winds

This is a style that softens the edges of tall buildings to reduce the vortices (strong winds) that these structures are subject to.

The 1,667-foot Taipei 101 in Taiwan uses this method which is very effective in controlling high winds.

But that’s not all Taipei 101 uses against wind vortices as we will see below.

 

Setbacks

New York Telephone Building NYC 1926
Lower Manhattan’s NY Telephone Building was one of the first to employ the setback method. Photo: ©Joseph H. Sachs 1926

In 1916, due to the effect that tall buildings were having over the streets of Manhattan, specifically the 555-foot tall Equitable Building that was completed a year before, a new zoning law was introduced that would force developers to apply setbacks to all tall buildings.

New York City’s Empire State Building and Chrysler Building are excellent examples of the esthetic beauty of the art deco structures with the required setbacks.

This is why all NYC art deco buildings of the time had these, which unexpectedly caught on from an esthetic viewpoint and many structures throughout the United States and the world followed suit. Not only were setbacks desirable but, from an engineering point of view, they helped to diminish the harsh winds that tall buildings were subjected to.

Twisting

Shangai Tower
Shanghai Tower (right). Photo by qi xna on Unsplash

Spiraling skyscrapers are becoming more popular. Not just for their aesthetic appeal, but also because of their ability to reduce wind vortexes by up to 24%.

For the Shangai Tower, this resulted in a reduction of $58 million that the developers did not have to add to buttress the building.

Even more, aesthetically pleasing is the 1,417-foot tall Diamond Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. If that’s not intriguing enough, there is the 1,273-foot Dubai Tower that not only twists but also rotates 360 degrees. Built by Italian/Israeli architect David Fisher of Dynamic Architecture, the building gives spectators and residents alike an ever-changing view of the Dubai skyline.

Tubular System

Willis Tower Chicago
Willis Tower in Chicago uses a tubular system to mitigate the wind. Photo: ©SMS

The Willis Tower in Chicago is an excellent example of buildings that employ the tubular method for addressing wind forces.

This super tall consists of a collection of nine tubes supporting each other, subsequently, buttressing the building to fight off the winds more than if it was just one straight up-and-down structure.

Additionally, since they level off at different heights, the wind forces are inherently disrupted.

 

Cutout

A less used method but efficient nonetheless. The wind is allowed to pass through specific areas of a building. which reduces the wind loads on the building. Below is an animation demonstrating how the building negotiates the wind forces using cutouts on various floors.

When employing the cutout wind method, other methods of wind optimization are used along with it.  New York’s 432 Park Ave makes use of this system. Additionally, the building uses the tuned mass damper system as described in the next section.

Tuned Mass Damper (TMD) (AKA harmonic absorber)

Damper illustration for Taipei 101
Tuned Mass Damper illustration for Taipei 101

Large, heavy dampers, usually near the top of the building compensate for building vibrations, such as high winds. Similar to a pendulum that sways back and forth, these dampers will move against the wind thereby stabilizing the building.

In technical terms, the mass damper is designed to work in harmony with the oscillation frequency of the building from the wind, thereby reducing the overall sway of the structure. 

Combination of the Above

Many times, multiple of these strategies are used to tackle the vortices, and in so doing, can be very effective in taming the wind. 

Constructing the Superstructure 

The superstructure is the actual building, more specifically, it is the framework that connects the foundation to the roof, and this is where the CAD model is pertinent. The CAD model will help to identify the best location for the support columns, known as the centroid. 

Engineers will select the most economical material and size of steel for these columns. They must also ensure that the columns are spaced far enough to resist both wind and potential seismic forces. Consideration will go into the type of concrete material and the size of the floor slabs, based on how much weight the slabs must support.

They must also consider the thickness of the slabs based on the amount of deflection allowed by the building codes, but we’ll leave the details of these considerations to another article that provides the specifics of these components.

Summary

The engineering behind the making of skyscrapers is a complex and lengthy journey. When engineers design a supertall, they must consider many different aspects of the project. They must select materials that can withstand the forces of nature such as high winds, heavy precipitation, and even earthquakes.

They must also ensure that the building is structurally sound. In today’s skyscrapers, you can rest assured that the hard work and dedication that was put into each of these buildings by the architects, engineers, and construction workers make these buildings sound and secure. 

 

An In-depth Look at How Steam Engines Work and Their Impact on History

A steam powered locomotivec
Photo: iStock

‍Overview

The power of steam has had a significant impact on the history of humankind and the concept of how they work is fascinating. From the Industrial Revolution to the modern-day, steam engines have been used to power the world in a variety of ways. 

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at how steam engines work and the impact they’ve had on history. We’ll explore the science behind how steam is generated and how its energy is used to power machines. 

We’ll also discuss the various applications, from powering locomotives to generating electricity. By the end of this article, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of the science, history, and impact of steam engines.

History 

SS Savannah Hybrid Steamboat
SS Savannah. Half steamboat, half sailboat.

The first steam engines were used in the mid-17th century to pump water out of gold and silver mines. The first steam-powered ship, the SS Savannah was launched in 1819. However, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that steam engines were widely used for industrial production. 

While the first steam-powered locomotive was built in 1829, it wasn’t until the 1850s that railroads began to widely use them. 

The Industrial Revolution was a time of incredible innovation and growth in the mid-19th century. The invention of the steam engine during this period greatly contributed to its growth. 

Many of the machines and products we use every day were first developed during this period. Engines powered by steam were used to power textile mills and other industries. They drove a variety of machines, from looms to cranes. They were used to power the bellows (furnaces) for forges. Forges were used to make swords, knives, agricultural tools, and many other metal products.

How Steam is Generated

Before we can discuss how steam engines work, we first need to understand how the energy source for these engines is produced. 

Boiling Point

Steam is the result of water being heated past its boiling point. When water is heated past 212° F (100°C), it turns into a gas, which is steam. The result is that the volume of steam (the amount of space that a substance or object occupies) is always greater than that of water; therefore, it will want to push its way out of the container if the container is not large enough to hold it.

This is why it is recommended not to place aerosol spray cans near heating sources. The spray is in liquid form but if it is near a heating source and the liquid starts to boil and turns into steam, there is a chance that the can will explode, since the steam needs to expand. 

The mechanism for Boiling the Water

Boilers are what are used to boil the water into steam. There are several types of boilers, but they all have one thing in common: they are enclosed vessels that contain water.

Steam boilers are used to power a variety of machines. The most well-known application was to power locomotives. As we mentioned above, when water is converted into steam, the steam will push its way out and if this force of pressure is harnessed in a way that it can be regulated, it becomes a source of energy that can become very useful. 

In the steam engine, there are openings in the boiler to let the steam out, and when this steam comes out, it becomes a force pressure on which anything it touches will have an effect; in other words, if there is a wheel barrel next to where the steam is thrust out, it will propel the wheel barrel quite a distance.

Enter the Piston

Diagram of a piston
Steam enters the cylinder (red pipe) and pushes the piston down. Steam stops and the piston moves back up. This cycle repeats itself until the process is stopped. Animation: Wikimedia Public Domain.

If the steam is connected to a piston, which is a cylindrical body inside a container (noted in green), usually metal that slides down when a force hits it (in this cases steam), it will move, and if another object is connected to the piston, (where the white hole is at the bottom) such as a wheel, the piston will then move the wheel. 

Now picture a row of pistons set up to move when the power of the steam hits on it, it can then move any number of wheels. 

Pistons have an additional feature and that is their ability to move back up to the top of their cylinder once the force of the steam stops, and if this process is regulated so that the steam comes out at regular intervals, the wheels that the pistons are connected to will keep on rolling.

This is how steam locomotives work, not to mention steamboats and machinery in factories as you will read further on.

Steam engines are also used to generate electricity in power plants. When it is generated in a boiler and then forced through a turbine, it spins a wheel, which is connected to a generator. This generates electrical energy via electromagnetism (the creation of electric current by spinning magnets).

Applications of Steam Engines 

Locomotives

Steam Locomotive
Photo by 44833 on Pixabay

Locomotives were all the rage in the 19th and early 20th centuries and it was the most common application of steam engines during the Industrial Revolution.

They were used to pull freight and passenger trains and were especially useful for transporting goods over long distances since they were much more efficient than horse-drawn wagons.

Additionally, these trains were able to climb steep hills. 

Ships

Many people think that steam engines came into widespread use on land, but they were also used to power ships. Ships were initially powered by wind and muscle power, but when the power of steam came along, they were used to power commercial ships in the early 1800s.

Steam engines were used in larger ships, such as steamships, which sailed between Europe and the United States. A perfect example is the Titanic. Although it came to a tragic end it was a giant and beautiful steamship that traveled across the Atlantic and powered everything from the kitchen cooking appliances to the giant pistons that moved the ship.

Automotive 

Steam engines are used to power automobiles in two ways. Some steam cars use a steam engine to power the wheels. Others use steam to generate electricity that can be used to power an electric motor. Steam cars have a long history dating back to the early 1900s. They were used throughout the 20th century until they were largely replaced by internal combustion engines.

Factories

Another common use was to power factories. They were used to mass-produce goods, and the engines were used to power the machinery that was used to produce goods, such as lathes, looms, and other industrial machinery.

Modern-Day Uses of Steam Engines

As we progress into the 21st century, the employment of steam is still being used for various purposes. They are often used in remote areas, such as deserts and mountains, where electrical grids are not available. In these areas, steam engines generate electricity.

Power Generation

Electrical power plants are no exception and there are still power grids in the US and around the world that use steam to generate electricity. The steam used in a power plant is usually generated by burning coal or natural gas, which then drives the pumps that transport water uphill. 

Conclusion

The impact of steam engines on history can’t be overstated. It is estimated that steam engines powered about 90% of the world’s industrial production around the start of the 20th century, which greatly contributed to the growth of many industries.

The textile industry, for instance, could not have grown to its current size without the use of steam. They were used to power the looms that were necessary for producing textiles on a large scale. Steam engines also helped transform the iron and steel industry. Before the invention of steam engines, the iron was produced in small forges. Once steam engines were used in forges, iron production could be carried out at larger scales. It also contributed to the growth of agriculture by powering irrigation systems.

 

 

 

The Space Shuttle Program

Space Shuttle Columbia from its 16th flight landing at Kennedy Space Center
Space Shuttle Columbia from its 16th flight landing at Kennedy Space Center Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

The End of a Successful Era in Space and the Beginning of a New One

In 1975, the Apollo space program came to an end, along with it a legacy of unparalleled achievements, but this was only the beginning.

NASA was already working on a new venture for a more efficient spacecraft that they could reuse instead of relying on the disposable rockets that cost them billions of dollars to build each time.

This idea of a reusable rocket that could launch astronauts into space, but dock and land like an airplane were well-accepted for future space travel.

Enter the Space Shuttle Program

Early space shuttle concept
Early space shuttle concept. Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

In 1972, President Nixon announced that NASA would develop a reusable space transportation system (STS). They decided that the shuttle would consist of an orbiter attached to solid rocket boosters and an external fuel tank. This design was considered safer and more cost-effective. 

One of the first obstacles was to design a spacecraft that didn’t use ablative heat shields, which subsequently burned up each time the shuttle re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

For the shuttle to be reusable, a different strategy would have to be initiated. The designers came up with an idea to overlay the craft with insulating ceramic tiles that would absorb the heat of reentry, without causing any danger to the astronauts. 

The First Flights

The first of four test flights began in 1981, leading to operational flights starting in 1982. They were used on a total of 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The launchpad used was the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

Like the previous Saturn V rocket, the Space Shuttle had different components of its own, which included the Orbiter Vehicle (OV), a pair of recoverable solid rocket boosters (SRBs), and the expendable external tank (ET), containing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as fuel. 

The Shuttle was launched vertically, the same as any rocket in its category would launch, using the two SRBs to jettison it. The SRBs operated in a parallel fashion by utilizing the fuel from the ET. 

Once the mission had been completed, the shuttle would land similar to a jet aircraft on the runway of the Shuttle Landing Facility of KSC or Rogers Dry Lake in Edwards Air Force Base, California. After landing at the base, the orbiter was then flown back to the KSC on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, which was a specially modified Boeing 747.

Tragedy Hits

Although the accomplishments that the shuttle program has achieved are beyond expectations, there were two unfortunate events during its time.

Challenger January 28, 1986

Shortly after liftoff, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded f the U.S. space shuttle orbiter Challenger, claiming the lives of seven astronauts.

Among those who were lost were teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe, commander Francis (Dick) Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, and Ronald McNair, and Hughes Aircraft engineer Gregory Jarvis.

Space Shuttle Crew
The crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-51-L poses for their official portrait on November 15, 1985. In the back row from left to right: are Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair. Photo: Wikimedia Public Domain

Columbia Feb 1, 2003

It was the final mission of Columbia. Seven crew members lost their lives when the shuttle burned up over the state of Texas during its reentry on Feb 1, 2003.

NASA Columbia Crew
The STS-107 crew included, from the left, Mission Specialist David Brown, Commander Rick Husband, Mission Specialists Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, and Michael Anderson, Pilot William McCool, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon. (NASA photo. via Wikipedia)

 

The Big Bang Theory – A Technical Overview

Illustration of the Big Bang
Photo: Pixabay

No, we’re not talking about the TV show. We are talking about the real thing. A phenomenon that has baffled scientists and astronomers for millenniums.

Bang Zoom!

It’s the Big Bang that has originated as a pinpoint (yes that small!) of intensely hot, immensely dense energy that appeared out of apparently nowhere. 

It’s the Little Things

If we may steal an excerpt from the bible – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth”. Now allow us to extrapolate this scientifically to mean that there existed an incomprehensively immeasurable point that at some point in time (we say time here as a reference, but it didn’t exist yet), this immensely tiny entity planted the seed of what we call the universe. 

And the Single Things

The origin of the Big Bang is where this tiny region, called a singularity, is where the density of matter, or more technically described as the curvature of spacetime, becomes infinite. 

Confused? You’re not alone, so let’s try defining it another way. A singularity represents the phenomenon that the pull of gravity becomes so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape it.

Still confused? How about this explanation? A singularity is where all matter and energy are concentrated into one single point thanks to the force of gravity.

We have seen this occurrence with the existence of black holes.

NASA illustration of the Big Bang
NASA illustration of the Big Bang Photo: NASA

Be Cool

As this hot area began to cool down, the first photons, namely, quarks and leptons condensed out of the fizzing vacuum, like a mist on a cold window to form a quark-gluon plasma sea. (For an illustration of how small these entities are, visit The Scale of the Universe and keep cruising down through the world of the micro-universe, until you reach quarks, 10-18 meters in size).

Time Has Arrived But Atom is Nowhere to Be Found

After one-millionth of a second, the quarks combined into hadrons, primarily protons, and neutrons, while vast amounts of matter and antimatter wiped each other out, leaving only a billionth of the original material, along with vast quantities of gamma rays. About a second after the birth of the universe, its temperature dropped enough to crystallize whizzing neutrinos from the photons. 

Nucleosynthesis started to materialize, with protons and neutrons joining to form the nuclei of helium, deuterium, and lithium.

Minutes later, matter consisted simply of three parts hydrogen to one part helium. The universe was expanding incredibly fast, and after a few hours, there was no longer the density of neutrons to allow any heavier nuclei to form. 

Fast Forward a Few Thousand Years

When the universe was an estimated 377,000 years old, it finally became cool enough for electrons to settle into orbits around atomic nuclei.

For the next 100 million years everything remained dark as the vast ionized clouds of hydrogen and helium expanded. Eventually, however, the photons were set free from the plasma and the infant universe was unveiled in all its glory.

Any Body Home?

Photo of a nebula
Nebula forming stars and planets. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The first bodies to emerge from the chaos of the early universe were quasars. The most powerful and luminous objects in the universe, early active galaxies, built around young supermassive black holes, forming slight inconsistencies in the otherwise uniform expansion of the universe. 

Soon after, inside and outside of these protogalaxies, Nebulas which are large clouds of the ingredients of hydrogen and helium create stars and planets that started to explode into life. After they exploded, they seeded newly minted elements into the mix. 

And the Cycle of Life Begins

For the next 500,000 years, until the universe’s first billionth birthday, quasars and early stars hatched, lived, died, and were recycling earlier generations and pouring out intense radiation that re-ionized their surroundings. Ninety-nine percent of all matter in the universe remains in the form of fizzy ionized plasma from this time. 

The Basics of Electric Generators

What are Electric Generators?

Hand starts a portable electric generator in front of a summer house in summer
Photo: iStock

Electric generators are the opposite of electric motors, but they work on the same concept. Whereby an electric motor uses an electric current to create a magnetic field, a generator uses a  magnetic field to induce an electric current. If you read our article on electric motors, then this should sound very familiar. The process is only reversed.

The current that is produced flows through a conductor which is usually a wire, but it can also be a metal plate. The output of the current is then used to power anything from a small device (e.g. a lamp or computer) to an entire town or city.

What They are Used For

Generators are used to create electricity which then powers homes and businesses. They can be powered by either an electromagnet or a permanent magnet. The type of generator you use will determine how much electricity you can generate.

They are often used to provide backup power in case of a power outage, and they are also used in many portable applications such as camping and RVing. Just about all emergency facilities have backup power, such as hospitals. 

In some cases, generators can also be used to supplement the main power source, providing additional power during high-demand periods.

The most common power sources are fuels such as coal, natural gas, or oil.

How Does an Electric Generator Create Energy?

When the generator is turned on, its moving parts create a magnetic field, producing an electric current. (Remember with electric motors, an electric current is produced that provides a magnetic field. This is the opposite of what generators do.) The current flows through wires to an external circuit, where it can be used to power electric devices. In this way, an electric generator converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.  

What are the different types of electric generators available on the market today?

The most common type uses a combustion engine to generate electricity. These engines can be powered by gasoline, diesel, natural gas, or propane.

Another type is the steam turbine, which uses steam to power a turbine that generates electricity. Steam turbines can be powered by coal, nuclear reactors, or solar thermal power plants.

The third type of generator is the hydroelectric generator, which uses water to power a turbine that generates electricity. Hydroelectric generators can be powered by waterfalls, dams, or river currents. The Niagara Project is a perfect example of the delivery of electricity via hydroelectric generators.

Illustration of a wind turbine
Wind turbines spin which produces a magnetic field which then produces electricity. Photo by Gonz DDL on Unsplash

The fourth type of generator is the wind turbine, which uses wind to power a turbine that generates electricity, but there must be enough wind for the proper amount of electricity to be produced.

Wind turbines can be used in both onshore and offshore locations.

 

How Can You Choose the Right Electric Generator for Your Needs and Budget?

With so many different brands, models, and features to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. However, by considering a few factors, you can narrow down your options and find the perfect generator for your needs and budget.

First, decide what type of generator you need. For example, if you only need power for occasional use, such as during a power outage, a portable generator may be sufficient.

However, if you need a constant supply of electricity, such as for a construction site or an RV, a stationary generator would be a better choice.

Next, consider how much power you will need. For most applications, a small generator that produces around 2,000 watts will suffice.

However, if you need to run large appliances or multiple devices at once, you’ll need a more powerful model. Finally, compare prices to find the best value for your money. Be sure to factor in the cost of fuel and maintenance when making your decision. By considering these factors, you can find the perfect electric generator for your needs and budget.

Important Safety Tips

 First, always read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before operating the generator. This will help you to understand how the generator works and what safety measures need to be taken.

Next, make sure that the generator is properly grounded before use. This will help to prevent electrical shock. Finally, never operate the generator near flammable materials or in enclosed spaces, as this can create a fire hazard.

By following these simple safety tips, you can help to ensure that your experience with an electric generator is safe and enjoyable.

How an Electric Motor Works

Overview

3D cut out illustration of an electric motor
Cross section of an electric motor. Photo: iStock

When an electric current runs through a wire, a magnetic field is produced and when there is a magnetic field, metallic elements become attracted to it. This is the concept behind the workings of an electric motor.

If we can maintain these elements to move towards the magnetic field and away from it at an ongoing, continuous rate, we can have a device that is constantly spinning.

If we attach something to the part of the device that is constantly spinning, such as a glass plate in the microwave, we have harnessed the power of converting electrical energy into mechanical energy, or more specifically, we have created an electric motor.

What Devices Use Electric Motors?

When you use an electric razor, toothbrush, fan, or vacuum cleaner, you are using an electric motor. Let’s through the inner workings of your car also. That’s probably no surprise, but how about this: washing machines, refrigerators, microwaves, your computer, and even your smartphone!

Confused? Don’t be. Something is needed to operate the refrigerator’s compressor. If there is a mechanical hard drive in your computer, then there is a small motor that turns the disk. And microwaves? Well, something must be spinning that glass plate around, right?

And your electric cars (if you have one). They have motors, which are used to spin the tires as you drive, among other things.

The bottom line is you probably go about your day using some device that uses an electric motor. So now that we know how our lifestyles are affected by these devices, let’s delve into how these motors work.

The Working of an Electric Motor 

First, let us focus on the magnetic field that causes the components within the motor to constantly spin.

How is the magnetic field created? Our article on magnetic fields explains this, but in a nutshell, if we connect a wire to a battery, the electrons of each of the atoms will move toward the positive pole of the battery. If we wrap the wire around a metal rod, the magnetic field intensifies.

Inside of an electric motor.
Inside of an electric motor. Photo: iStock

The Initial Stage

The motor is designed so that the magnetic poles of a rod, called a rotor are always facing the same polarity of a stationary magnet, called a stator, causing the rotor to spin around.

For example, when electricity is turned on, the polarity of one side of the rotor, let’s say the north side is initially facing the north side of the stator, so there will be that repelling effect, causing the rotor to spin in the other direction.

The Next Stage

Well, that initial stage works just as it should because like poles repel each other, but that’s it. Then it stops, so for the rotor to keep spinning, there has to be a mechanism that will cause the poles to reverse continuously.

That is the job of the commutator. This entity keeps reversing the path of the electrons so that the poles are always repelling one another and consequently, keeps the rotor spinning.

Key Parts of an Electric Motor

Let’s review the parts of the motor:

    • Stator – The stationary part of the motor that creates the magnetic field that causes the rotor to spin. The stator is found in between two pieces of copper that conduct electricity.
    • Rotor – The rotating part of the motor that is placed within the magnetic field.
    • Shaft – The shaft of the motor connects the rotor to the stator and is used to power the equipment or machinery.
    • Commutator – The device that reverses the polarity of the rotor. Like reversing a battery at every spin so that the electrons change course.
    • Fan – The fan is used to create air flow and increase the efficiency of a motor.

Final Words

Electric motors are all around us. They are a safe, efficient, and reliable way to power machinery and equipment. They are available in a range of sizes, voltages, and designs and can be powered by a wide range of energy sources, including fossil fuels and renewable energy sources like solar or wind. 

 

Electromagnetism: From the Basics to Everyday Applications

Depiction of a wire wrapped around a nail with the wire connected to a battery creating a circuit and consequently creating an electromagnetic.
Depiction of a wire wrapped around a nail and connected to a battery, creating a complete circuit, resulting in the creation of an electromagnetic. When electrons start to run through the wire (from one end of the battery to the other), a magnetic field is produced and the nail is magnetized, consequently, the paper clips are attracted to the nail. If the power shuts off, the paper clips will no longer have that attraction. Photo: iStock.

Let’s Start with a Piece of Metal

Let’s use iron for example. Touch it with another piece of iron and what happens? Nothing! Now take a bare wire, copper preferred. Wrap the copper wire around one of the pieces of iron and what happens? Still nothing!

Now grab both ends of the copper wire and connect it to a battery. What happens? Still nothing – at least nothing noticeable that the naked eye can see!

What is happening when the wires connect to the battery (called a circuit) is that the electrons were random before the circuit was completed and they straightened out, like a row of marching soldiers after the circuit is complete.

These marching electrons will point and move towards the pole ( polarity) of the battery it is connected to. Now let’s get a little more technically correct and call these marching electrons an electric current, and as these electrons (current) are moving through the wire, a magnetic field is produced. 

When There is Electric Current, There is a Magnetic Field

Illustration of wires wrapped around metal and connected and disconnected to a battery
Left: Iron bar with wire wrapped around it (coil) and iron filings nearby laying stationary because the wires are not a complete circuit (connected to the battery).  Right: Same configuration but with the circuit complete and iron fillings are then attracted to it. Photo: iStock

But Just What is This Magnetic Field?

If we pick up the other piece of iron (which does not have the copper wire around it) and place it near the iron piece that has the wire wrapped (and thus the electric current), that isolated piece of iron suddenly moves toward the electrified one.

The reason why the iron pieces attract each other is that the iron piece with the copper wire wrapped around it (called a coil) becomes magnetic. And so, we have just created an electromagnet

For the video below, you might want to put your thinking caps on as it explains pretty well how electromagnetic forces are derived (hint: when electrons move through a wire). We suggest those that who are in school and/or have an absorption for learning continue to this video.

For those that would like to bypass such items as Maxwell’s equations and just want a cheat sheet of what is the criteria for an electromagnetic field, see our summary below.

How Electromagnets are Made

An electromagnet can be made out of any type of metal, but iron and nickel are the ones most often used. Nickel magnets are stronger than iron magnets, but iron is cheaper. 

Iron is found in most scrap yards, or you can buy it from a hardware store. The first step in making an electromagnet is to create a wire that is wrapped with a coil of metal several times. This is known as an electromagnet coil. The coil has to be wrapped around a core, which is made out of a non-magnetic material. 

The Magnetic Field

A picture of a magnet
A permanent magnet has the same properties as an electromagnet but without the current. Image by Francesco Bovolin from Pixabay

The electromagnetic field is the region of energy surrounding a magnet. The magnetic field is perpendicular to the path where the electrons flow.

Why are Electromagnets Important?

Electromagnets are important because they can be used to power items and devices that are used by us every day. Motors and generators are just two examples. They are also used in toys, as a way of moving things around in a car or even to move things in a factory. 

They are also useful because they’re easily controllable. If you want to turn the electromagnet off, you simply turn off the electric current running through it. If you want to turn it back on, you can simply turn it back on again.

Types of Magnets

There are two types: temporary and permanent. Temporary magnets are only magnetic while electricity is running through them. Permanent magnets remain magnetic no matter what happens. This is because these magnets are not electrified. An example is the ones stuck to your fridge or another metal surface.

Conclusion

Magnetism is created when electrons are in movement. In a practical sense, this means that if you connect a wire to a battery (power source), electrons will move from the negative pole to the positive pole of the battery.

When this happens, a force is created in addition to the electrical force, which is the magnetic force. This magnetic force ‘pushes’ perpendicular to electrical force (current), so any metal that has magnetic properties will be attracted to this force and move towards it accordingly.

The magnetic force can be strengthened by any of the following criteria.

    • Take the straight wire and curl it around the medium, usually an iron bar. The result is called a coil.
    • Wiring the coil more will cause the magnetic field to strengthen.
    • Increasing the current; that is, increasing the speed at which the electrons travel through the coiled wire will also strengthen the magnetic field.

The practical applications of electromagnets are the ability to cause an entity to move because of this force, such as what happens inside a motor.

 

 

 

The Carbon Atom

Illustration of the carbon atom
Bohr Illustration of the Carbon Atom. Photo: Photo by dacurrier on Pixabay

Carbon Element Overview

If you watched Star Trek, in one episode, the Nomad, the robot that referred to humans as carbon-based lifeforms, and for good reason. Because that’s what we are! 

Virtually every organic compound on Earth contains carbon. Life as we know it would not exist without carbon. That’s because it has a unique ability to bond with itself and other elements fairly easily, due to its need to find more electrons to bond with.

Carbon is the sixth element in the periodic table with the chemical symbol C and an atomic number of six. It has two electrons in its inner shell and four electrons in its outer shell (valence shell) as shown in the Bohr illustration above.

Because the carbon atom has a natural desire to fulfill its outer shell with eight electrons or saying it another way, it needs to fill up its outer energy level, it will constantly look to bond with other atoms to obtain four more electrons. Once bonded, the atom’s outer shell is fully stable. Carbon atoms can form bonds with other carbon atoms, but they can also form bonds with almost all other elements. 

Carbon can exist in multiple different forms known as allotropes: graphite, diamond, and others. It’s also a non-metal, but one of the most important elements on earth. Carbon atoms have many uses, from making steel to fueling cars.

This article explores almost everything you wanted to know about carbon atoms and their various forms.

Types (Allotropes) of Carbon Molecules

Graphite

Graphite showing a pencil
Image by Gino Crescoli from Pixabay

Graphite is an allotrope of carbon. It’s a black and soft mineral that is commonly found in nature in the form of pencils. Although graphite is often treated as a mineral, it’s more commonly considered a form of carbon. Graphite is very soft and can be easily compressed into a very thin sheet.

Graphite is made of layered sheets of carbon atoms that form stacks known as graphene. Each layer is made of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal pattern with strong covalent bonds. These layers are held together by weak intermolecular forces that are easily broken by heat. That’s why pencils can be erased by rubbing graphite and paper together!

The Diamond

The diamond is another allotrope of carbon. The only difference between the two is that diamonds are made of carbon atoms arranged in a cubic pattern. This makes diamonds a hard and rigid substance. 

Diamonds are also made of graphene sheets that are held together by strong covalent bonds. These properties make this mineral extremely valuable, but they’re also highly limited in supply. That’s why they’re one of the most expensive materials on earth. 

It’s estimated that only 0.1% of the carbon that enters the earth’s surface is converted into a diamond. This is large because diamonds are formed at very high pressures beneath the earth. 

When carbon deposits are subjected to a combination of very high temperatures and pressure, they can change to diamonds. It may take a long time before the carbon is changed into a diamond, but it will change. It all depends upon the temperature and amount of pressure that is put on it. We can’t find a better demonstration than when Superman crushed coal (a product of carbon) simulating the creation of a diamond. 

Carbon Bonds

The covalent bonds that can form carbon can result in many different types of molecules. Carbon can form thousands of bonds with other elements. This is why carbon has so many uses in the world.

Fullerenes

Fullerenes are carbon molecules that are composed of many rings of carbon. They were accidentally discovered in 1985 by two scientists who were studying carbon soot. The discovery was so exciting that the scientists won a Nobel Prize for their discovery!

C 60 – the most common carbon molecule – has 60 carbon atoms arranged in a spherical pattern. This sphere can be thought of as a football because the name “fullerene” comes from two English words: football and carbon.

C 60 is known as a buckyball and can be used as a tool for scientists. Yes, that’s what it’s called. Buckyballs are carbon atoms that are bonded to three other carbon atoms. Scientists can use buckyballs to study the structure of other molecules.

Why is There So Much Carbon in the World?

Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe. Carbon is created in the interiors of stars and then released into the universe when those stars expire. It is present in the earth’s crust in the form of minerals and organic compounds. C 60, the largest buckyball, is only possible at a pressure of 100 gigapascals – the type of pressure that’s found inside giant planets. (A pascal is a unit of pressure. Gigapasclal is that unit of pressure x 1 billion).

Diatomic Carbon

Diatomic carbon is the simplest form of carbon. It contains two carbon atoms with one double bond between the atoms. A double bond is where an atom shares its valence electrons with two other atoms, in contrast to a covalent bond created by lighting and oxygen in the air, but it is usually destroyed by other compounds in the atmosphere.

This is important because diatomic carbon is a greenhouse gas. Carbon atoms are released into the atmosphere when plants are burned. These atoms are then oxidized by the other compounds in the air to create more diatomic carbon. Diatomic carbon is one of the most important greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This is precisely why it was released in the first place!

Conclusion

Carbon is the element that forms the molecules for all known forms of life on earth. It’s the only element that can form molecules with a ratio of electrons to protons that’s necessary for biology.

Carbon is not a metal. Metals are largely defined by their electrical conductivity. Carbon is a non-metal and does not conduct an electrical current.

Illustration of an extraterrestrial
iStock

Carbon is also very common in the universe and can form multiple different types of bonds with other elements, so when Noman called humans carbon-based life forms, because of its abundance in the universe, maybe he met other carbon life forms in the galaxy we just don’t know about yet!

 

Howard Fensterman Minerals