Monday, December 2, 2013

Physics and Testosterone Part 4: Bang

True (but embellished) story:

Toni, a newly hired physicist at Bell Labs, decided to set up a new lab to do the most sensitive electrical measurements ever. So the young researcher spent hundreds of thousands of dollars building a metal cage with insulators and coatings to electrically isolate the lab from the rest of the world. When it was ready for testing, Toni's friends were summoned. They got inside the cage and Toni cranked up a high voltage power supply. "We're floating 50 thousand volts above the rest of the room!" Toni said, excitedly. "Wouldn't it be cool if we could get to a hundred kilovolts?" Toni's face had that evil grin that made them laugh, nervously. At sixty kilovolts, there was hardly a blip of noise on the oscilloscope, but the smell of ozone in the room was unmistakable. Toni didn't stop there; at 65 kilovolts there was a loud bang, the circuit breakers flipped, and the room exuded a smell of molten plastic. The cage was now arc-welded to the back wall; the expensive insulators instantly useless.

"Whoops." said Toni.

Here's a quiz for you- Which of the following do you think happened to Toni?

A. Toni was fired for her stupidity and for wasting Bell Labs' money. She never worked in Physics again.

B. Toni was mortified and considered quitting immediately. But months of taunting by colleagues who would occasionally make "bang" noises at her was too much. She is now a very successful High School teacher in Northern New Jersey.

C. Toni suddenly developed an interest in a different type of experiment, which had surprising results and today Toni is often mentioned as a candidate for the Nobel Prize in Physics

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