Firstly, this post doesn’t pertain to any discussion On the Nature of Knowledge. I’m still piecing together my ideas for that post, and will post it later this week. I’m here today to simply talk about the fun I had this weekend revisiting old memories! Just this Saturday, I attended a series of events celebrating Indie Author Day at the Edmonton Public Library.
The experience was a lot of fun, and was a motivational reminder on my aspirations to become a successful writer. Having attended a few sessions ranging from discussions on self-publishing, marketing, to friendly advice on just getting your stories heard, I was thoroughly enthused to get back on my writer’s bandwagon by the time I returned home. For those among my followers who may not know, I’m a self-published author. My first book was Our Last Summer: A Personal Memoir detailing my experiences in Sudan where I completed my secondary education. The book is dedicated to my closest friends, in memory of our time together at Khartoum American School (K.A.S.), as well as my loving family.
I started writing the book back in 2009, and it was published around the summer of 2013 after having undergone a tedious but highly enlightening process of editing, book binding, and marketing with the assistance of iUniverse, a self-publishing company. My original intentions were to continuously promote the book afterward and hopefully help in its sales. My earlier blog, ourlastsummer2013, was meant for this. But, life happened, and following the publication of the book, I became quite jaded about writing and myself. I was also enmeshed in my personal identity crisis. Consequently, my promotional efforts were cut short, and I took a break from writing.
Three years down the road, I found myself sitting in a room filled with Indie authors, spending a few hours re-reading the passages in my book, and revisiting many forgotten memories of my past. I had recovered from my identity crisis thanks to my friends, and family, and am now close to completing a second book that has been in the works for two years. By revisiting said memories of a forgotten summer, I was able to reassess my growth as an individual during the last seven years of my life, ever since I commenced my post-secondary education at the University of Alberta. I was also able to recognize the significant influence writing Our Last Summer had in my life, and felt sad that the book never got the personal recognition it deserved from its own author.
Ever since my childhood, I’ve been passionate about two things: learning and asking questions. These two attributes contribute to my personality as an autodidact and have been the main benefactors towards my motivation for higher studies, and academic pursuits in various fields from astrophysics, biophysics, plasma physics, and in the near future, robotics. My academic interests were also complemented by my love for writing, music, and art. Throughout my life, I’ve been able to engage and enhance my creativity and skills in these different subjects.
Having completed my Masters, and on the verge of finishing my second book, I’m now motivated to unite my interests toward a unique career. I have no idea what exactly it will be, but it certainly will have a mix of everything from being a scientist, writer, and an artist. It will be an infusion of the freedom and happiness I’ve found in my writing, engaging my imaginations and bringing them to fruition through my art and music, and sharing my comprehension of what I learn about the surrounding world to my friends, family, and to all of you! Part of that effort will now involve my dedication toward revamping the promotions on my first book Our Last Summer: A Personal Memoir. I will use The Pensive Reverie (and the Facebook group) along with my Twitter account to provide for promotional materials every now and then ranging from tidbits from the book, to free e-book passes, and reviews.
I sincerely ask all those who follow this blog to help and support my efforts by spreading the word as much as they can and getting others to tune in to the blog as well as my book. The book is available online (just Google it), as well as on popular bookstores (Chapters, Barnes and Noble, Kobo etc.) I will provide more info, including some promo materials, and sneak peeks on Our Last Summer along with my next post On the Nature of Knowledge.
Just wanted to send out a brief update on the topic I have decided to discuss for my next post. It took a few days of deliberation and careful thought, and given my recent completion of graduate studies, I felt it would be ideal to discuss On the nature of knowledge.
I’m well aware of the various intricacies and the large volume of literature dedicated to this subject (it is in fact a field called epistemology.) As usual, my treatment of the topic will revolve around my personal experiences albeit with some casual references to quotations and critical analyses provided by professional savants.
I wish to focus, in particular, on the role of knowledge, and how it is integrated and implemented in current educational trends at schools and universities. As an aspiring PhD student, and as an autodidact, my views on education vary from the classroom to my personal work-space at home. I have often questioned the purpose of the knowledge that I have accumulated throughout my life, both in social and academic contexts, and how to appropriately and selectively apply said knowledge in my daily adventures as a foundation towards a healthy lifestyle. Such a thought has also widely influenced my methods of finding means to an end when it comes to my dreams to be a multi-talented and well-rounded individual.
Having successfully completed another major phase of education in my Masters degree, I felt it would be entertaining to discuss a question that has been quite significant in my daily life, and is pretty much a common occurrence in almost everyone’s daily lives and careers.
I should have the post up by the end of this weekend. Until then, toodles!
It has been over a month since my last post. My absence was of necessity as in that time I successfully defended my Masters thesis, and completed my graduate degree in Physics. The whole ordeal has kept me busy for over two months, and I’m now happy to return and engage everyone again on this blog.
Just yesterday, I received official confirmation of my thesis’ approval. The reality is yet to sink in but having spent the afternoon clearing up my desk space at home, and organizing a large pile of scrap including research papers and calculations, I can say I’m thoroughly enjoying this new reality that is Ajay Peter Manuel, MSc. Physics.
Leading up to the thesis defense, I was surprised that I wasn’t nervous at all. My classmates and supervisor attributed this to my hard work over the past two years, and consequently, a collective boost in confidence concerning my research. The defense began somewhere along the lines of,
and ended along the lines of,
Jokes aside, it was an engaging and wonderful learning experience, as I thoroughly enjoyed jousting with the audience and the committee’s questions. I then spent the following week making the necessary revisions (a short and easy process) for my thesis, format it according to the rules and regulations set by the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, and finally got it approved yesterday!
And now, I’m all set to embark on a new adventure in my life. While working part-time as a student tutor, I will be studying in preparation for my PhD in Robotics on September 2017. The year long transition will allow me to relax, and sink back into my writing, music, art, and just about enjoy life everyday. Meanwhile, this will also provide me ample time to consistently write posts on The Pensive Reverie. I thank everyone for being patient so far! Look forward to an update very soon on my next post!
Also, a big shout out to my loving parents and sister, my wonderful partner, and all my friends who have supported and helped me make it this far. Thanks so much!
Electricity is an ubiquitous phenomenon. It is now ingrained in the various facets, and activities of our daily lives, to the point where its existence, and influence is very much taken for granted, with nothing more than a modicum of appreciation, for the singular force that powers the technologies that serve as the foundations of modern-day society. So, what exactly is electricity?
Honestly, it’s a difficult question. In my opinion, one of the greatest delights of being a physicist, involves a deep admiration for the unknown, and an acknowledgment of my own lack of knowledge. It has motivated me to persevere, and strive hard to learn as much as I can about the world that we occupy, and its myriad mysteries.
Electricity is one such mystery.
If I were to teasingly paraphrase Master Kenobi’s words,
“Electricity is what gives technology its power. It’s an energy field…it surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”
In a way, this is true (a more precise statement would substitute electromagnetism for electricity), as we find electricity everywhere: from the lightning overhead, to the crackling static sparks of warm laundry, and even the functional impulses of the human nervous system. Electricity powers our world, and our bodies.
In this article, I’ll try to illuminate, to my best effort, the nature of electricity, its origins, and its practical applications.
Off to Miletus
Science finds its origins in the experimental method, which in ancient times, largely concerned the observation, and analysis of the surrounding world. The Greeks were stalwarts of both ancient philosophy, and science, and among them lived a philosopher of high regard, named Thales of Miletus (624-546 B.C.).
Thales was one among the legendary Seven Sages of Greece, a title given by ancient Greek tradition, to seven early 600 B.C. philosophers, statesmen, and law-makers who were renowned for their wisdom throughout the centuries.
Now, while the Greeks didn’t fully understand electricity, they certainly were aware of its existence. Thales is considered to have been the first human to have studied electricity. He found that by rubbing amber, or fossilized tree resin, with fur, he was able to attract lightweight objects like dust, and straw. He also noticed that lodestone (a naturally magnetic material) attracted bits of iron (magnetism is a close friend of electricity, but much about that later.) The word electricity is coined from the Greek word elektron, which also means amber. Thales’ work involved the first experiments of electrostatics, the study of stationary electric charges or static electricity.
Centuries would pass until electricity would find a foothold in modern science, and engineering. During this transition, and particularly in the 1700s, electricity was conceptualized to be a fluid. Familiar names such as Luigi Galvani, who asserted electricity to be the source of animation or animal motion, William Gilbert, an amateur scientist, who repeated Thales’ experiments, and Ben Franklin, who proved that lightning is electric in nature, and is constituted of positive, and negative elements, are among the many personalities who helped the scientific community form a clearer picture on how electricity works.
In the end, it was a French scientist named Charles Augustin de Coulomb, who summed up the work of his peers, and through his experiments, formulated what is now popularly known as Coulomb’s Law.
Coulomb’s law states that like charges repel, and opposite charges attract, with a quantified electric force that is proportional to the product of the two charges, and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
Despite all this progress, the fundamental nature of electricity still eluded the scientific community.
Enter the Atomic Theory
Matter, as we now know, is composed of atoms. An atom is in itself composed of subatomic particles such as protons, and neutrons, concentrated in a nucleus, and surrounded by orbiting electrons. (A particle physicist may offer a slightly different description, as we have now found that protons, and neutrons are also made of constituent particles called quarks.)
Scientists discovered the existence of electrons in the early 19th century. This discovery set the stage for the rise of subatomic theory, and the beginning of the modern era of electricity, followed immediately by a rush of advances in technology.
There are various types of materials, but in the world of electricity, there are two primary categories: electrical insulators, and electrical conductors. Electrical insulators are materials that don’t conduct electricity very well. Wood is a wonderful example of an electrical insulator. Material or matter interactions are predominated by the sharing or exchange of electrons. But insulating materials are very reluctant in sharing electrons. This is because the electrons in insulators are tightly bound to their atoms.
Conductors,as you may have guessed, allow for this interaction, as their electrons can detach from their atoms, and fly about freely. These loose or free electrons make it easy for electricity to flow through these materials, aptly confirming their namesake as electrical conductors. Most metals are conductors. The motion of electrons transmits electrical energy from one point to another.
This simple premise opens the gateway to the many applications of modern day electricity each of which was the answer to a fundamental question:
(1) How can we make electricity flow from one point to another? Generators
(2) How do we make electricity? Power plants
(3) How do we contain this electricity? Circuits
Electricity is the flow of electrons. A generator helps stimulate this flow, using a magnet! We’ve often observed how we can move paperclips, and small bits of metals about a surface using a magnet. This is the principle behind the working mechanism of a generator. The motion of the paper clip is in response to the motion of electrons induced by the magnetic field.
Electricity, and magnetism are equal proponents of the other, as by running electricity through a metal wire, one can form a magnetic field around the wire! Such observations are definitive of a link between electricity, and magnetism, which eventually culminated in the successful formulation of Maxwell’s Laws of Electromagnetism.
But for now, let’s focus on electricity! Ultimately, the generator is a device that uses a magnet near a wire or conducting material to create a steady flow of electrons, and is the foundation of a power plant where electricity is made!
Power is the rate of doing work. It is defined as the ratio of energy consumed per unit time. To cause a particular change in a system, a necessary amount of energy is required, along with a specified interval of time in which the change is allowed to occur.
In physics, it is common to confuse work with power but they are distinct quantities. Work is the net change in the state of a system. A person carrying a crate up a set of stairs does the same amount of work whether he runs or walks, but more power is required for running while carrying the crate up the stairs, as the work being done is accomplished in a shorter period of time.
Power plants make use of this concept. They work to provide electricity over a period of time. But to do so, a power plant requires a generator. Michael Faraday conceived an early form of a generator where coils of copper wire are rotated between the poles of a magnet to produce an electrical current. In order to rotate the disk, a crank was utilized. This would be similar to the motions of using a pencil sharpener.
These old fashioned pencil sharpeners consist of a wheel, an axle, and a wedge. The handle serves as the axle that turns a wheel that is attached to the gears inside the sharpener to sharpen the pencil.
Now, imagine using a similar apparatus to crank out electricity for a neighborhood! It isn’t practical or viable! We would have to put a lot of work over a long period of time to generate even a reasonable amount of electricity! We have a generator, but the challenge is to apply the technology in an efficient manner to provide mass outputs of electricity.
In order to convert the input of mechanical (of cranking the handle) energy to a viable output of electrical energy, power plants seek the help of mother nature. There are many sources of electrical energy from hydro-electrical energy, to wind energy etc. All these technologies function using a fundamentally similar approach towards a common goal of producing electricity in mass.
Falling water has often been used as an energy source in ancient farms to modern day dams, and hydro-electricity plants, that use the enormous kinetic energy (or moving energy) delivered by falling water to crank out electricity. Engineers begin by building a dam across a river to create a reservoir. This reservoir of water is allowed to flow through the dam wall along a narrow channel called a penstock. At the end of a penstock, there is a turbine, or a large propeller. The shaft from the turbine goes up into the generator. When water moves across the turbine, the propellers spin, causing the shaft to rotate which in turn causes the copper coils of the generator to rotate. As these copper coils spin about the magnets, electricity is produced. Power lines carry this electricity from the plant to homes, and distant areas. Et voilà!
Now, while we have been successful in using a generator to “generate” electricity, there must be a means to contain this system of moving electrons. The answer to this involves the use of electrical circuits!
An electrical circuit helps monitor the flow of electricity. A simple circuit would look like this:
Circuits are pretty much analogous to subway maps. The more complicated the circuit, the more complicated the map. During my early years in Edmonton, I felt quite confident about my ability to get around the city, using the LRT (Light Rail Transit). This was partly due to how simplified the system was,
I remember proudly mentioning to Leina, my partner, that if I were to ever travel to Japan, I should not have a problem finding my way about the city, only for her to show me the Tokyo subway map, and challenging me to find a particular route:
My answer speaks for itself. But, just as we gain familiarity with our knowledge of our daily routes to work/school through the frequent use of public transport, by understanding the central principles of circuit theory (which sometimes, depending on how deep you want to go in the field, may involve a good undergraduate degree in electronics or so), one may eventually find their way about a circuit board like this,
Now, what does this all have to do with electricity? Circuits are necessary to monitor, and regulate electricity. No matter the source of electricity, be it a battery, a fuel cell, or a solar panel, the source of electricity generally has two terminals, a positive, and a negative terminal.
With reference to the simple circuit shown at the beginning of this section, electrons are pushed out of the negative terminal at a certain voltage (think of it as a force/pressure used to push the electrons, similar to how we may use a pump to push water out of a pipe). The electrons then flow from the negative terminal to the positive terminal through a conductor of choice (like copper wires). These wires form a closed path from the negative to the positive terminal, forming a circuit.A load, such as a light bulb, in the middle of the circuit may use the electricity flowing through the wire as a power source to generate light. While electrical circuits can get exceedingly complex, these basic principles of electron motion from the source generator, through a load, and back remain the same.
This concludes our discussion. Generators are the core mechanisms involved in making electricity, and are housed in power plants, which distribute the output electrical power to homes, and businesses, via power lines, and electrical circuits.
So what’s the point of all of this?
The point is…electricity is awesome!
My Masters thesis focuses on a simple circuit involving what is called a Single Dielectric Barrier Discharge (SDBD) Plasma Actuator. While I could write a book (which I have indeed, namely, my thesis) on the device, and its mechanisms, a simple description should be good for now.
An actuator is a device that converts an electrical input to produce a mechanical output (like the human body, neural “electrical” impulses from our brain, translate to our mechanical actions.) The SDBD plasma actuator does the same but does so using a medium known as a plasma, which is basically a soup of charged particles. Placing this device on an airplane wing, and turning it on, helps modify the airflow over the wing, reducing turbulence, and drag, while enhancing lift.
What’s this drag? For example, when you’re in a car, and you reach out the window, you can feel the force of the air against your open palm. This force is often referred to as the “drag” that your hand feels as air flows past it. It’s the same as when you walk through water, you feel its resistance, making your collective motions slower.
Airplanes are no different, feeling this frictional drag as they move through the atmosphere. The SDBD plasma actuator helps nullify this drag to a certain extent, aiding in the airplane’s motion through the air. But, in order to get the device to work in the first place, we need an electrical current! The SDBD plasma actuator is a Micro-Electro-Mechanical (MEM) System. Electricity is practically everywhere!
My goals for this review had been to talk about this physical force that is the primary benefactor of our daily lives, and a central principle behind the future of a technologically advanced human civilization. I hope I haven’t left anyone behind in the explanations provided above. I’ve tried my best to make the discussion concise, and enjoyable for those with, and without a scientific background. I hope everyone enjoyed reading this article!
“Electricity.” Britannica Encyclopaedia. August 22, 2016 https://www.britannica.com/science/electricity
Young, Hugh D., Freedman, Roger A., Ford, Lewis. University Physics. 2008.
Gundersen, P. Erik. The Handy Physics Answer Book. Visible Ink Press. 2003.
I apologize for the brief absence. The last two weeks have been a hectic affair. It mostly involved me sitting in front of my computer, editing, and re-editing my thesis in what seemed then to be an endless cycle.
All of this contributed to a lack of sleep,
mixed with a great sense of pride, and achievement, as I submitted the final copy of my thesis to the committee today.
Of course, there is still the possibility of future revisions, but the major chunk of editing has been done, and as such it should hopefully be a cake walk from here on. I will be defending my thesis in four weeks, and will be busy with preparations for that particular occasion.
I’ve also begun making my plans for the next phase of my life after the completion of my Masters, which will involve a one-year transition period before I begin my PhD studies in Robotics. It’s an exciting prospect, and I can’t wait to get started.
I now have more time in my hands to play with, and provide for frequent updates on the blog. In my previous post, I’d mentioned that my next critical review would involve the subject of Electricity: Principles, and Applications. I’ve decided instead to tweak the subject matter, and will use my Masters thesis research on a device called the Single Dielectric Barrier Discharge (SDBD) Plasma Actuator (I admit, it’s a mouthful) as a platform to discuss the topic. The review should be up on the blog by the end of this week!
The myriad thunderstorms, hail, and the unexpected blackout made for an adventurous, and delightful long weekend. A most notable account would involve the consistent hail that battered against my balcony windows, followed by severe lightning flashes that struck close to my apartment, persuading me to disconnect my electrical devices (lest they got fried), along with the ensuing thunder that caused my eardrums to ring periodically.
The whole scenario had its share of perks, namely some delicious dining at home, lots of board games, romantic walks in the rainfall, and pure, unadulterated procrastination. The highlight of the weekend was the blackout the day before yesterday. I could attribute the event to be equivalent to what this guy had to experience,
A lightning strike near our neighborhood resulted in a loss of electricity across the entire block, lasting for three hours. I enjoyed the throwback to a world without electricity. Having just returned from Chapters, following the purchase of an updated summer reading list,
Leina, and I passed the hours, reading, and discussing the significant contributions of electricity to modern day life. It was relieving to not be bogged down with the usual streams of technology governing our daily entertainment.
The experience also provided ample food for thought, particularly on humanity’s dependence on technology, as well as the plight of third-world nations that may struggle for such basic (as would seem to those who live in first-world countries) resources.
All of which leads me to the subject of my next critical blog post: Electricity: Principles, and Applications. The post will be a brief review of the theory behind electricity, as well as its principal applications in our daily lives. The review will follow upon the format of various other popular science articles, and I hope to make it concise, and understandable for all my readers.
Meanwhile, I will spend the week continuing to edit my thesis. A preliminary date for my defense has been chosen, though it is yet to be confirmed. Apart from this, I’m also busy finishing up my second novel!
The long weekend was apt for inspiration, and I have several writing, art, and music projects aligned for the future! I hope to fill the absence until I post Electricity with brief updates on my daily thoughts, adventures, and blog modifications!
I’m yet to successfully defend my thesis before the supervisory committee, and as such can make no claims to having completed my thesis. Nevertheless, this won’t stop me from relishing the relief that follows having “hammered” out a 100 page first draft detailing my work over the past two years.
My personal treat on the eve of this achievement was to go to my first movie premiere. It was a Tamil movie, titled ‘Kabali.’ The movie features the actor Rajinikanth, who is possibly one of my favorites among various others in the South Indian film fraternity.
Along with Leina, and a good friend, we attended the premiere last Thursday. While we enjoyed the movie, our night ended with partial deafness, and loss of hearing, from the raucous cheering, and entertainment that the audience (about 300 other Tamilians) provided throughout the outing.
The entire event was reminiscent of the chaotic fun that results in the premiere of every Rajinikanth movie in India, and it was a once in a lifetime experience for the three of us.
All of which leads me back to where I am now. Come September 2016, I will have lived in Edmonton for a total of 7 years. Time has certainly flown by! It still feels like yesterday when I was sitting in an old lecture hall, voraciously digesting the lecture notes for a Physics 101 course.Having recently turned 25, I feel an even greater sense of responsibility, and ambition that I intend to carry over to the next phase of my life.
Much of August will focus on editing my thesis, and making the necessary preparations for my defense. I’m hoping that everything will go according to plan. And now, I shall leave you all with this brief update, as I contemplate the subject of my next blog post. I intend to have it up by this weekend, along with an “info” sheet on the various new additions that will be made to the blog, and its structure. Until then, toodles!