Archives of Ask A Scientist!
About "Ask A Scientist!"
On September 17th, 1998 the Ithaca Journal ran its first "Ask A Scientist!" article in which Professor Neil Ashcroft , who was then the director of CCMR, answered the question "What is Jupiter made of?" Since then, we have received over 1,000 questions from students and adults from all over the world. Select questions are answered weekly and published in the Ithaca Journal and on our web site. "Ask A Scientist!" reaches more than 21,000 Central New York residents through the Ithaca Journal and countless others around the world throught the "Ask a Scientist!" web site.
Across disciplines and across the state, from Nobel Prize winning scientist David Lee to notable science education advocate Bill Nye, researchers and scientists have been called on to respond to these questions. For more than seven years, kids - and a few adults - have been submitting their queries to find out the answer to life's everyday questions.
These machines used vacuum tubes as their electronic brains; alas, such tubes have a tendency to overheat and burn out, plus they are rather large and bulky.
In the early 1950's, when the United States feared that the former Soviet Union would attack, the armed services invested heavily in a continental defense program, a vast radar screen that would detect approaching enemy aircraft.
Central to this program was the design of a new kind of computer, Whirlwind, a digital computer with a new kind of magnetic core memory and the ability to communicate over the telephone with distant radar stations.
This computer became a basis for IBM's successful commercial computer ventures; taxpayers- your parents and grandparents- paid for much of a private company's research. Whirlwind and its descendants were still quite large and slow; the next important change was the development of the transistor and the semi-conductor.
Robert Noyce of Fairchild Semiconductor and Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments each independently invented the integrated circuit, a way to connect multiple transistors on a single silicon wafer. The integrated circuit lay the foundation for contemporary micro-electronics, including the chips in your personal computer.
Initially, only the government could afford these new devices. In part, this was because only Uncle Sam's military needed these technologies and because the government could afford to wait as private industry learned how to produce these new devices.
Transistors and semiconductors were essential for the nation's ballistic missile and space program and these programs were so important to Uncle Sam that he would spend a great deal of money to make sure they were successful.
So, the answer is simple: our struggle against the Soviet Union gave us the computers and the Internet that are so essential to our commercial survival.
If you want to know more, I suggest reading Paul E. Ceruzzi's "The History of Modern Computing" (Cambridge, Mass, The MIT Press 1998).
- What is the history of coding?
- Can the human eye be compared to a computer monitor? Does the view we see refresh itself or is it more like live feed? If something was moving too quickly, would it appear jumpy like a low frames/second?
- How do solar energy cars work?
- Where are the crystals in the crystal radio?
- What is fiber optic cable and what advantages does it have over other technologies?
- I have heard of ways to get energy through the braking of a car. How does this work?
- Why do graphic equalizers have so many bars? I could understand 2 bars for L and R channels, but I get puzzled every time I look at one. If I took the left or right channel plug out of my receiver, would half of the bars stop moving?
- How are carbon nanotubes formed? Can they be positioned easily? How?
- Is it possible to determine the resonance frequency of an object that has a diameter in nanometers in size (such as a cell)?
- Is the human eye like a fingerprint? Can it be used for positive identification purposes?