In this video, Adam Savage is talking about some famous scientists. He focuses on three examples: Feynman’s childhood inspiration from observing a ball in a wagon, the discovery of the circumference of the earth, and Fizeau’s ingenious device for measuring the speed of light. He says that their curiosity changed the way people thought about the world, and thus it changed the world.
Richard Feynman solved the Challenger disaster, and he ended up winning the Nobel Prize in Physics for his Feynman diagrams describing the movement of subatomic particles.
Eratosthenes is most remembered for began in a letter that he received from the town of Swenet. The letter included this fact that stuck in Eratosthenes’ mind, and the fact was that the writer said at noon on the solstice, when he looked down this deep well, he could see his reflection at the bottom, and he could also see that his head was blocking the sun.
Eratosthenes understood that the sun was directly above the city of Swenet, because looking down a well, it was a straight line all the way down the well, right past the guy’s head up to the sun. He knew that a stick stuck in the ground in Alexandria at the same time and the same day, at noon, the sun’s zenith, on the solstice, the sun cast a shadow that showed that it was 7.2 degrees off-axis. In fact, he invented the word geography.
Aristotle noticed that every time you saw the Earth’s shadow on the Moon it was circular and the only shape that constantly creates a circular shadow is a sphere.
Armand Fizeau was an experimental physicist in Paris. His speciality was actually refining and confirming other people’s results. He was familiar with Galileo’s experiments in trying to determine whether or not light had a speed. So, Galileo had worked out this really wonderful experiment. He assumed that light was roughly 10 times as fast as the speed of sound.
Fizeau was aware of this experiment. He lived in Paris, and he set up two experimental stations, roughly five and a half miles distant, in Paris. And he solved this problem of Galileo’s, and he did it with a really relatively trivial piece of equipment.
Most people think of science as a closed, black box, when in fact it is an open field. And we are all explorers. The people that made these discoveries just thought a little bit harder about what they were looking at, and they were a little bit more curious.
MY PERSONAL REACTION
In reality, we don’t need to be like Feynman or Einstein, but if we incorporate just a little of our curiosity and sense of wonder about the world, we might continue making the world a better place to live. Of course, all of these discoveries are made possible by technology that’s been developed in the last few decades.