The Lightbulb Strikes Back
So we're talking with a niece Ramirez a material scientists about her new book on inventions the technologies that we've created that intern have shaped us one chapter that captures this dance and really threw me for a loop. Was the one on artificial light. I mean it's all around us and yet I don't give it a second thought or barely. Even I thought if I'm honest yeah I had no idea. The Light Bulb is such a simple invention and I used to be a professor for many years. If I were to give a lecture on it I would just say this is on and this is off the lecture go home. Well don't go home because in her book a nieces serves us up some late. Eighteen hundreds drama are characters. Thomas Edison to you probably know and William Wallace who you probably don't see Edison who is largely credited with the light bulbs. Invention was actually inspired after going to visit Wallace. One Night Wallace was super excited to have the Thomas. Edison at his house cooked them. A meal showed him like contraption. But at the end of the night Edison's like great. Start Buddy now watch me make this without you? He's leaving the man's house and he's saying I'm GonNa beat you wallace. You're going the wrong direction. And he does. I'm just GonNa say I feel like William? Almost got robbed Wallace did get rob. And what's so bad about him? I live two cities over from William Wallace lives. I've been here about ten years. I never heard Wallace right. And I go over to that city. Nobody's heard of walls. He's been completely erased even more complicated than the history of the light. Bulb is how artificial light has affected our lives. Our Body has two modes has daytime mode and a nighttime mode and how it knows what mode to be in is by the type of light it needs blue light to know that it should be in daytime mode where we have a higher temperature higher metabolism and then as the light changes where it has less blue sort of in the evening or when our ancestors were alive when we lived under candlelight our bodies would enter into nighttime mode and we would be in this rest or repair mode but most of us live by artificial lights. Yeah and so. We're getting continuous blue light all the time and we're daytime all the time right and so being you know. Constantly bathed in blue light can throw off our MELATONIN LEVELS. Right that hormone. That tells us kind of that. It sleep time. That's right that's right. It's an old molecule and we have in our bodies it tells all of ourselves to go into nighttime mode but I've heard that very small marine animals they have to and it lets them know to rise to the surface when it safe and wanted to go back down. So it's a very old molecule. It tells the cells that it is nighttime mode and so you should be in rest mode and So Melatonin is going throughout our bodies and it tells us to go into rest mode but Melatonin is suppressed when blue light is detected by the photo sensor there. Yeah right so some of the advice in the book is to reduce the amount of blue light. You're exposed to later at night so you kind of want redder late less blue light so powering down your cellphone and computers and maybe having kind of a nighttime only light in your room. That's more red light. Is that right? Yeah it sounds Corny. But I actually did it after I started writing this book and my brother who I live with he. He now wears these funky yellow glasses from time to time. I'm like crazy. But he wants to put put himself nighttime mode but but in the mornings we should have Bluer Light. So go outside. The Sun has blue light or blue. Led's or compact fluorescents as the sun sets. We reduce those blue lights. If you don't have Non Blue Lights you know. Just dim them. So there's not a lot of like going into your eye but you can use redder lights so there's red. Led's and incandescent bulbs yeah and then also changed the setting on your computer so that it's a nighttime mode. Nice okay. So it'll come as a surprise to probably nobody but our creation of artificial light. Has You know intern. Really negatively affected the natural world in some ways so when really concrete of this is the courtship of lightning bugs. Yeah Awhile I love firefly's and I didn't know that there was a bar scene going in my backyard when I saw firefly's and what's going on is the firefly mail is announcing himself saying. Hey I'm a male screen and the females looking and if she likes what she sees she'll flash back. I like you and then they go meet future firefly's but what I've learned is that the number firefly's is decreasing and it has to do with the streetlights so the male fireflies will announce himself and female firefly won't see him and so she won't flashback no future firefly's and another scenario which is even worse is that he'll announce himself with the street lights above him. She'll see him. She's not impressed. Because FEMALES LARRY. Flies like male fireflies bright lanterns in his lantern is looking pretty dim in front of that street light. So it's right like he has game but artificial late is coming in there and is it. Yeah is messing with him. He's like no it's bright really is bright and she's like. I'm sorry and she swipes left. That's it no future firefly's come on humans like help. Agai messing me up. I mean Gosh. What does it take? This is fun. Okay so something that really struck me was. How many historical figures we meet in your book who you know tinkered and tinkered away for months and years on those inventions like you spent pages describing Henry. Bessemer 's early experiments with making steel. Why was it important for you to kind of include that entire process? Well we kinda live in the microwave generation and we think that you know in three minutes Things are gonNA happen right away and scientists fun but science does take was some work and what? I'm trying to impress upon people. Is that even though? It was long and arduous for them. What motivated them that they were passionate about it. And when you're passionate about something that time doesn't seem to be so onerous so So I just thought it was important to show that people worked really hard to do things. And it's not an instant overnight success that it does require some some time and effort. Yeah so throughout the book. The inventors are noted as frequently for their successes and failures not just in perfecting their inventions but also their personalities. What made you decide to focus on that interplay? Well I think story years or stickier I wanted people to really resonate with technology and talking about stuff by itself portrait of stuff that works for some people but if you hear about the people in the motivation and then you see oh you see their flaws. Then you really are pulled into the story and to be quite honest. I all I actually wanted. To debunk a lot of geniuses to. I wanted to really get into people's stuff and so I'm in the archives and I'm looking at old papers and I'm like all right. I'm here to get into your dirty laundry. Tell me about you and Samuel Morse. I'm like all right. I'm in you I'M GONNA. Oh Wow you're not such a nice person. I'm gonNA write that down. I I need people to know about that. Because we loft these geniuses and what I want the next generation to feel like they too can be inventors right because if we make these people seem so brilliant that they feel distant feels unachievable. But if we're like. Wow that guy was kind of a jerk. If he can do it I can do it That's that's my motivation. That's exactly what I want people to say.