Space Sex is Serious Business: A Hilarious Short Animation Addresses Serious Questions About Human Reproduction in Space

Back in the late 80s, there was a rumor float­ing around that Earth Girls Are Easy.

40 some years of sci­en­tif­ic and social advance­ment have shift­ed the con­ver­sa­tion­al focus.

We’re just now begin­ning to under­stand that Space Sex is Seri­ous Busi­ness.

Par­tic­u­lar­ly if SpaceX CEO Elon Musk achieves his goal of estab­lish­ing a per­ma­nent human pres­ence on Mars.

Sure­ly at some point in their long trav­els to and res­i­dence on Mars, those pio­neers would get down to busi­ness in much the same way that rats, fruit flies, par­a­sitic wasps, and Japan­ese rice fish have while under obser­va­tion on pri­or space expe­di­tions.

Mean­while, we’re seri­ous­ly lack­ing in human data.

A pair of human astro­nauts, Jan Davis and Mark Lee, made his­to­ry in 1992 as the first mar­ried cou­ple to enter space togeth­er, but NASA insist­ed their rela­tions remained strict­ly pro­fes­sion­al for the dura­tion, and that a shut­tle’s crew com­part­ment is too small for the sort of antics a nasty-mind­ed pub­lic kept ask­ing about.

In an inter­view with Mens Health, Colonel Mike Mul­lane, a vet­er­an of three space mis­sions, con­firmed that a space­craft’s lay­out does­n’t favor romance:

The only pri­va­cy would have been in the air lock, but every­body would know what you were doing. You’re not out there doing a space­walk. There’s no rea­son to be in there.

Short­ly after Davis and Lee returned to earth, NASA for­mal­ized an unspo­ken rule pro­hibit­ing hus­bands and wives from ven­tur­ing into space togeth­er. It did lit­tle to squelch pub­lic inter­est in space sex.

One won­ders if NASA’s rule has been rewrit­ten in accor­dance with the times. Air lock aside, might same sex cou­ples remain free to swing what het­ero-nor­ma­tive mar­rieds (arguably) can­not?

This is but one of hun­dreds of space sex ques­tions beg­ging fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion.

Some of the most seri­ous are raised in Tom McCarten’s wit­ty col­lage ani­ma­tion for FiveThir­tyEight, above.

Name­ly how dam­ag­ing will cos­mic radi­a­tion and micro­grav­i­ty prove to human repro­duc­tion? As more humans toy with the pos­si­bil­i­ty of leav­ing Earth, this ques­tion feels less and less hypo­thet­i­cal.

Mag­gie Koerth-Bak­er, who researched and nar­rates the ani­mat­ed short, notes that Musk por­trayed the risks of radi­a­tion as minor dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at the 67th Inter­na­tion­al Astro­nau­ti­cal Con­gress in Guadala­jara, Mex­i­co, and breathed not a peep as to the effects of micro­grav­i­ty.

Yet sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies of non-human space trav­el­ers doc­u­ment a host of repro­duc­tive issues includ­ing low­ered libido, atyp­i­cal hor­mone lev­els, ovu­la­to­ry dys­func­tion, mis­car­riages, and fetal muta­tions.

On its web­page, NASA pro­vides some infor­ma­tion about the Repro­duc­tion, Devel­op­ment, and Sex Dif­fer­ences Lab­o­ra­to­ry of its Space Bio­sciences Research Branch, but remains mum on top­ics of press­ing con­cern to, say, stu­dents in a typ­i­cal mid­dle school sex ed class.

Like achiev­ing and main­tain­ing erec­tions in micro­grav­i­ty.

In Phys­i­ol­o­gy News Mag­a­zine, Dr. Adam Watkins, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of Repro­duc­tive and Devel­op­men­tal Phys­i­ol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Not­ting­ham, sug­gests that inter­nal and exter­nal atmos­pher­ic changes would make such things, par­don the pun, hard:

First­ly, just stay­ing in close con­tact with each oth­er under zero grav­i­ty is hard. Sec­ond­ly, as astro­nauts expe­ri­ence low­er blood pres­sure while in space, main­tain­ing erec­tions and arousal are more prob­lem­at­ic than here on Earth. 

The excep­tion­al­ly forth­right Col Mul­lane has some con­tra­dic­to­ry first hand expe­ri­ence that should come as a relief to all humankind:

A cou­ple of times, I would wake up from sleep peri­ods and I had a bon­er that I could have drilled through kryp­tonite.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Free Online Astron­o­my Cours­es

Watch Fam­i­ly Plan­ning, Walt Disney’s 1967 Sex Ed Pro­duc­tion, Star­ring Don­ald Duck

The Sto­ry Of Men­stru­a­tion: Watch Walt Disney’s Sex Ed Film from 1946

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

‘The Character of Physical Law’: Richard Feynman’s Legendary Course Presented at Cornell, 1964

Lec­ture One, The Law of Grav­i­ta­tion:

“Nature,” said physi­cist Richard Feyn­man, “uses only the longest threads to weave her pat­terns, so that each small piece of her fab­ric reveals the orga­ni­za­tion of the entire tapes­try.”

With those words Feyn­man end­ed the first of his famous 1964 Mes­sen­ger Lec­tures at Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty, a talk enti­tled “The Law of Grav­i­ta­tion, an Exam­ple of Phys­i­cal Law.” (See above.) The lec­tures were intend­ed by Feyn­man as an intro­duc­tion, not to the fun­da­men­tal laws of nature, but to the very nature of such laws. The lec­tures were lat­er tran­scribed and col­lect­ed in The Char­ac­ter of Phys­i­cal Law, one of Feyn­man’s most wide­ly read books. In the intro­duc­tion to the Mod­ern Library edi­tion, writer James Gle­ick gives a brief assess­ment of the charis­mat­ic man at the lectern:

Feyn­man, then forty-six years old, did the­o­ret­i­cal physics as spec­tac­u­lar­ly as any­one alive. He was due to win the Nobel Prize the next year for his ground­break­ing work in the 1940s in quan­tum elec­tro­dy­nam­ics, a the­o­ry that tied togeth­er in an exper­i­men­tal­ly per­fect pack­age all the var­ied phe­nom­e­na at work in light, radio, mag­net­ism, and elec­tric­i­ty. He had tak­en the cen­tu­ry’s ear­ly, half-made con­cep­tions of waves and par­ti­cles and shaped them into tools that ordi­nary physi­cists could use and under­stand. This was eso­teric science–more so in the decades that followed–and Feyn­man was not a house­hold name out­side physics, but with­in his field he had devel­oped an astound­ing stature. He had a mys­tique that came in part from sheer prag­mat­ic brilliance–in any group of sci­en­tists he could cre­ate a dra­mat­ic impres­sion by slash­ing his way through a dif­fi­cult problem–and in part, too, from his per­son­al style–rough-hewn, Amer­i­can, seem­ing­ly uncul­ti­vat­ed.

All sev­en of Feyn­man’s lec­tures were record­ed by the British Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion and pre­sent­ed as part of BBC Two’s “Fur­ther Edu­ca­tion Scheme.” In 2009 Bill Gates bought the rights to the videos and made them avail­able to the pub­lic on Microsoft­’s Project Tuva Web site.

Since then the series has become avail­able on YouTube for eas­i­er view­ing. As you scroll down the page you can access the videos which, “more than any oth­er record­ed image or doc­u­ment,” writes physi­cist Lawrence Krauss in Quan­tum Man: Richard Feyn­man’s Life in Sci­ence, “cap­ture the real Feyn­man, play­ful, bril­liant, excit­ed, charis­mat­ic, ener­getic, and no non­sense.”

You can find the remain­ing video lec­tures below:

Lec­ture Two, The Rela­tion of Math­e­mat­ics to Physics:

Lec­ture Three, The Great Con­ser­va­tion Prin­ci­ples:

Lec­ture Four, Sym­me­try in Phys­i­cal Law:

Lec­ture Five, The Dis­tinc­tion of Past and Future:

Lec­ture Six, Prob­a­bil­i­ty and Uncertainty–The Quan­tum Mechan­i­cal View of Nature:

Lec­ture Sev­en, Seek­ing New Laws:

You can find this course indexed in our list of Free Online Physics Cours­es, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, ‘The Char­ac­ter of Phys­i­cal Law’: Richard Feyn­man’s Leg­endary Course Pre­sent­ed at Cor­nell, 1964.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The “Feyn­man Tech­nique” for Study­ing Effec­tive­ly: An Ani­mat­ed Primer

How Richard Feynman’s Dia­grams Rev­o­lu­tion­ized Physics

The Feyn­man Lec­tures on Physics, The Most Pop­u­lar Physics Book Ever Writ­ten, Is Now Com­plete­ly Online

Albert Einstein in Four Color Films

We all think we know just what Albert Ein­stein looked like — and broad­ly speak­ing, we’ve got it right. At least since his death in 1955, since which time gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren around the world have grown up close­ly asso­ci­at­ing his bristly mus­tache and semi-tamed gray hair with the very con­cept of sci­en­tif­ic genius. His sar­to­r­i­al rum­pled­ness and Teu­ton­i­cal­ly hang­dog look have long been the stuff of not just car­i­ca­ture, but (as in Nico­las Roeg’s Insignif­i­cance) earnest trib­ute as well. Yet how many of us can say we’ve real­ly tak­en a good look at Ein­stein?

These four pieces of film get us a lit­tle clos­er to that expe­ri­ence. At the top of the post we have a col­orized news­reel clip (you can see the orig­i­nal here) show­ing Ein­stein in his office at Prince­ton’s Insti­tute for Advanced Study, where he took up a post in 1933.

Even ear­li­er col­orized news­reel footage appears in the video just above, tak­en from an episode of the Smith­son­ian Chan­nel series Amer­i­ca in Col­or. It depicts Ein­stein arriv­ing in the Unit­ed States in 1930, by which time he was already “the world’s most famous physi­cist” — a posi­tion then mer­it­ing a wel­come not unlike that which the Bea­t­les would receive 34 years lat­er.

Ein­stein returned to his native Ger­many after that vis­it. The Amer­i­ca in Col­or clip also shows him back at his cot­tage out­side Berlin (and in his paja­mas), but his time back in his home­land amount­ed only to a few years. The rea­son: Hitler. Dur­ing Ein­stein’s vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor­ship at Cal Tech in 1933, the Gestapo raid­ed his cot­tage and Berlin apart­ment, as well as con­fis­cat­ed his sail­boat. Lat­er the Nazi gov­ern­ment banned Jews from hold­ing offi­cial posi­tions, includ­ing at uni­ver­si­ties, effec­tive­ly cut­ting off his pro­fes­sion­al prospects and those of no few oth­er Ger­man cit­i­zens besides. The 1943 col­or footage above offers a glimpse of Ein­stein a decade into his Amer­i­can life.

A cou­ple of years there­after, the end of the Sec­ond World War made Ein­stein even more famous. He became, in the minds of many Amer­i­cans, the bril­liant physi­cist who “helped dis­cov­er the atom bomb.” So declares the announc­er in that first news­reel, but in the decades since, the pub­lic has come to asso­ciate Ein­stein more instinc­tive­ly with his the­o­ry of rel­a­tiv­i­ty — an achieve­ment less imme­di­ate­ly com­pre­hen­si­ble than the apoc­a­lyp­tic explo­sion of the atom­ic bomb, but one whose sci­en­tif­ic impli­ca­tions run much deep­er. Many clear and lucid pré­cis of Ein­stein’s the­o­ry exist, but why not first see it explained by the man him­self, and in col­or at that?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New­ly Unearthed Footage Shows Albert Ein­stein Dri­ving a Fly­ing Car (1931)

Hear Albert Ein­stein Read “The Com­mon Lan­guage of Sci­ence” (1941)

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe Explains Rel­a­tiv­i­ty to Albert Ein­stein (in a Nico­las Roeg Movie)

When Albert Ein­stein & Char­lie Chap­lin Met and Became Fast Famous Friends (1930)

Einstein’s The­o­ry of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty Explained in One of the Ear­li­est Sci­ence Films Ever Made (1923)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

See Every Nuclear Explosion in History: 2153 Blasts from 1945–2015

There have been more than 2,000 nuclear explo­sions in all of his­to­ry — which, in the case of the tech­nol­o­gy required to det­o­nate a nuclear explo­sion, goes back only 76 years. It all began, accord­ing to the ani­mat­ed video above, on July 16, 1945, with the nuclear device code-named Trin­i­ty. The fruit of the labors of the Man­hat­tan Project, its explo­sion famous­ly brought to the mind of the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist Robert J. Oppen­hemier a pas­sage from the Bha­gavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, destroy­er of worlds.” But how­ev­er rev­e­la­to­ry a spec­ta­cle Trin­i­ty pro­vid­ed, it turned out mere­ly to be the over­ture of the nuclear age.

Cre­at­ed by Ehsan Rezaie of Orbital Mechan­ics, the video offers a sim­ple-look­ing but decep­tive­ly infor­ma­tion-rich pre­sen­ta­tion of every nuclear explo­sion that has so far occurred. It belongs to a per­haps unlike­ly but nev­er­the­less deci­sive­ly estab­lished genre, the ani­mat­ed nuclear-explo­sion time-lapse, of which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured exam­ples from Busi­ness Insid­er’s Alex Kuzoian and artist Isao Hasi­mo­to here on Open Cul­ture.

The size of each cir­cle that erupts on the world map indi­cates the rel­a­tive pow­er of the explo­sion in its loca­tion (all infor­ma­tion also pro­vid­ed in the scrolling text on the low­er left); those det­o­nat­ed under­ground appear in yel­low, those det­o­nat­ed under­wa­ter in blue, and those det­o­nat­ed in the atmos­phere in red.

Trin­i­ty cre­at­ed an atmos­pher­ic explo­sion above New Mex­i­co’s Jor­na­da del Muer­to desert. (Oth­er­wise Oppen­heimer would­n’t have been able to wit­ness it change the world.) So did Lit­tle Boy and Fat Man, the bombs dropped on Japan in World War II. Those remain the only det­o­na­tions of nuclear weapons in com­bat, and thus the nuclear explo­sions every­one knows, but they, too, rep­re­sent only the begin­ning. As the Cold War sets in, some­thing of a test­ing vol­ley emerges between the Unit­ed States and the Sovi­et Union, cul­mi­nat­ing in the colos­sal red dot of 1961’s Tsar Bom­ba, still the most pow­er­ful nuclear weapon ever test­ed. With the USSR long gone today, the explo­sions have only slowed. But in recent years, as the data on which this video is based indi­cates, nuclear test­ing has turned into a one-play­er game — and that play­er is North Korea.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Nuclear Bomb Explo­sion in His­to­ry, Ani­mat­ed

53 Years of Nuclear Test­ing in 14 Min­utes: A Time Lapse Film by Japan­ese Artist Isao Hashimo­to

200 Haunt­ing Videos of U.S. Nuclear Tests Now Declas­si­fied and Put Online

Watch Chill­ing Footage of the Hiroshi­ma & Nagasa­ki Bomb­ings in Restored Col­or

U.S. Det­o­nates Nuclear Weapons in Space; Peo­ple Watch Spec­ta­cle Sip­ping Drinks on Rooftops (1962)

J. Robert Oppen­heimer Explains How He Recit­ed a Line from Bha­gavad Gita–“Now I Am Become Death, the Destroy­er of Worlds” — Upon Wit­ness­ing the First Nuclear Explo­sion

Haunt­ing Unedit­ed Footage of the Bomb­ing of Nagasa­ki (1945)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Italian Physicist Laura Bassi Became the First Woman to Have an Academic Career in the 18th Century

The prac­tice and priv­i­lege of aca­d­e­m­ic sci­ence has been slow in trick­ling down from its ori­gins as a pur­suit of leisured gen­tle­man. While many a leisured lady may have tak­en an inter­est in sci­ence, math, or phi­los­o­phy, most women were denied par­tic­i­pa­tion in aca­d­e­m­ic insti­tu­tions and schol­ar­ly soci­eties dur­ing the sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion of the 1700s. Only a hand­ful of women — sev­en known in total — were grant­ed doc­tor­al degrees before the year 1800. It wasn’t until 1678 that a female schol­ar was giv­en the dis­tinc­tion, some four cen­turies or so after the doc­tor­ate came into being. While sev­er­al intel­lec­tu­als and even cler­ics of the time held pro­gres­sive atti­tudes about gen­der and edu­ca­tion, they were a decid­ed minor­i­ty.

Curi­ous­ly, four of the first sev­en women to earn doc­tor­al degrees were from Italy, begin­ning with Ele­na Cornaro Pis­copia at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pad­ua. Next came Lau­ra Bassi, who earned her degree from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bologna in 1732. There she dis­tin­guished her­self in physics, math­e­mat­ics, and nat­ur­al phi­los­o­phy and became the first salaried woman to teach at a uni­ver­si­ty (she was at one time the university’s high­est paid employ­ee). Bassi was the chief pop­u­lar­iz­er of New­ton­ian physics in Italy in the 18th cen­tu­ry and enjoyed sig­nif­i­cant sup­port from the Arch­bish­op of Bologna, Pros­pero Lam­ber­ti­ni, who — when he became Pope Bene­dict XIV — elect­ed her as the 24th mem­ber of an elite sci­en­tif­ic soci­ety called the Benedet­ti­ni.

“Bassi was wide­ly admired as an excel­lent exper­i­menter and one of the best teach­ers of New­ton­ian physics of her gen­er­a­tion,” says Paula Find­len, Stan­ford pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry. “She inspired some of the most impor­tant male sci­en­tists of the next gen­er­a­tion while also serv­ing as a pub­lic exam­ple of a woman shap­ing the nature of knowl­edge in an era in which few women could imag­ine play­ing such a role.” She also played the role avail­able to most women of the time as a moth­er of eight and wife of Giuseppe Ver­at­ti, also a sci­en­tist.

Bassi was not allowed to teach class­es of men at the uni­ver­si­ty — only spe­cial lec­tures open to the pub­lic. But in 1740, she was grant­ed per­mis­sion to lec­ture at her home, and her fame spread, as Find­len writes at Physics World:

 Bassi was wide­ly known through­out Europe, and as far away as Amer­i­ca, as the woman who under­stood New­ton. The insti­tu­tion­al recog­ni­tion that she received, how­ev­er, made her the emblem­at­ic female sci­en­tist of her gen­er­a­tion. A uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ate, salaried pro­fes­sor and aca­d­e­mi­cian (a mem­ber of a pres­ti­gious acad­e­my), Bassi may well have been the first woman to have embarked upon a full-fledged sci­en­tif­ic career.

Poems were writ­ten about Bassi’s suc­cess­es in demon­strat­ing New­ton­ian optics; “news of her accom­plish­ments trav­eled far and wide,” reach­ing the ear of Ben­jamin Franklin, whose work with elec­tric­i­ty Bassi fol­lowed keen­ly. In Bologna, sur­prise at Bassi’s achieve­ments was tem­pered by a cul­ture known for “cel­e­brat­ing female suc­cess.” Indeed, the city was “jok­ing­ly known as a ‘par­adise for women,’” writes Find­len. Bassi’s father was deter­mined that she have an edu­ca­tion equal to any of her class, and her fam­i­ly inher­it­ed mon­ey that had been equal­ly divid­ed between daugh­ters and sons for gen­er­a­tions; her sons “found them­selves heirs to the prop­er­ty that came to the fam­i­ly through Laura’s mater­nal line,” notes the Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty col­lec­tion of Bassi’s per­son­al papers.

Bassi’s aca­d­e­m­ic work is held at the Acad­e­my of Sci­ences in Bologna. Of the papers that sur­vive, “thir­teen are on physics, eleven are on hydraulics, two are on math­e­mat­ics, one is on mechan­ics, one is on tech­nol­o­gy, and one is on chem­istry,” writes a Uni­ver­si­ty of St. Andrew’s biog­ra­phy. In 1776, a year usu­al­ly remem­bered for the for­ma­tion of a gov­ern­ment of leisured men across the Atlantic, Bassi was appoint­ed to the Chair of Exper­i­men­tal Physics at Bologna, an appoint­ment that not only meant her hus­band became her assis­tant, but also that she became the “first woman appoint­ed to a chair of physics at any uni­ver­si­ty in the world.”

Bologna was proud of its dis­tin­guished daugh­ter, but per­haps still thought of her as an odd­i­ty and a token. As Dr. Eleono­ra Ada­mi notes in a charm­ing biog­ra­phy at sci-fi illus­trat­ed sto­ries, the city once struck a medal in her hon­or, “com­mem­o­rat­ing her first lec­ture series with the phrase ‘Soli cui fas vidisse Min­er­vam,’” which trans­lates rough­ly to “the only one allowed to see Min­er­va.” But her exam­ple inspired oth­er women, like Cristi­na Roc­cati, who earned a doc­tor­ate from Bologna in 1750, and Dorothea Erxleben, who became the first woman to earn a Doc­tor­ate in Med­i­cine four years lat­er at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Halle. Such sin­gu­lar suc­cess­es did not change the patri­ar­chal cul­ture of acad­e­mia, but they start­ed the trick­le that would in time become sev­er­al branch­ing streams of women suc­ceed­ing in the sci­ences.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Marie Curie Became the First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize, the First Per­son to Win Twice, and the Only Per­son in His­to­ry to Win in Two Dif­fer­ent Sci­ences

Joce­lyn Bell Bur­nell Changed Astron­o­my For­ev­er; Her Ph.D. Advi­sor Won the Nobel Prize for It

Women Sci­en­tists Launch a Data­base Fea­tur­ing the Work of 9,000 Women Work­ing in the Sci­ences

“The Matil­da Effect”: How Pio­neer­ing Women Sci­en­tists Have Been Denied Recog­ni­tion and Writ­ten Out of Sci­ence His­to­ry

The Lit­tle-Known Female Sci­en­tists Who Mapped 400,000 Stars Over a Cen­tu­ry Ago: An Intro­duc­tion to the “Har­vard Com­put­ers”

Real Women Talk About Their Careers in Sci­ence

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Watch an Exquisite 19th Century Coffee Maker in Action


Cold brew

Sin­gle ori­gin

Cof­fee snob­bery may seem like a recent phe­nom­e­non, but the quest for the per­fect­ly brewed cup has been going on for a very long time.

Behold the Con­ti­nen­tal Bal­anc­ing Siphon, above — a com­plete­ly auto­mat­ic, 19th-cen­tu­ry table top vac­u­um brew­er.

There’s an unmis­tak­able ele­ment of cof­fee mak­ing as the­ater here… but also, a fas­ci­nat­ing demon­stra­tion of phys­i­cal prin­ci­ples in action.

Vin­tage vac­u­um pot col­lec­tor Bri­an Har­ris breaks down how the bal­anc­ing siphon works:

Two ves­sels are arranged side-by-side, with a siphon tube con­nect­ing the two.

Cof­fee is placed in one side (usu­al­ly glass), and water in the oth­er (usu­al­ly ceram­ic). 

A spir­it lamp heats the water, forc­ing it through the tube and into the oth­er ves­sel, where it mix­es with the cof­fee. 

As the water is trans­ferred from one ves­sel to the oth­er, a bal­anc­ing sys­tem based on a coun­ter­weight or spring mech­a­nism is acti­vat­ed by the change in weight. This in turn trig­gers the extin­guish­ing of the lamp. A par­tial vac­u­um is formed, which siphons the brewed cof­fee through a fil­ter and back into the first ves­sel, from which is dis­pensed by means of a spig­ot.

(Still curi­ous? We direct you to Har­ris’ web­site for a length­i­er, more egghead­ed expla­na­tion, com­plete with equa­tions, graphs, and cal­cu­la­tions for sat­u­rat­ed vapor pres­sure and the approx­i­mate tem­per­a­ture at which down­ward flow begins.)

The bal­anc­ing siphon was to 1850’s Paris and Vien­na what Blue Bottle’s three-foot tall Japan­ese slow-drip iced cof­fee-mak­ing devices are to ear­ly 21st-cen­tu­ry Brook­lyn and Oak­land.

Does the fla­vor of cof­fee brewed in a bal­ance siphon mer­it the time and, if pur­chased in a cafe, expense?

Yes, accord­ing to Maria Tin­de­mans, the CEO of Roy­al Paris, whose 24-carat gold and Bacar­rat glass bal­anc­ing siphon retails for between $17,500 and $24,000:

The cof­fee from a syphon can best be described as “crys­tal clear,” with great puri­ty of fla­vor and aro­ma and no bit­ter­ness added by the brew­ing process.

More afford­able bal­anc­ing siphons can be found online, though be fore­warned, all siphons are a bitch to clean, accord­ing to Red­dit.

If you do invest, be sure to up the cof­fee snob­bery by telling your cap­tive audi­ence that you’ve named your new device “Gabet,” in hon­or of Parisian Louis Gabet, whose 1844 patent for a coun­ter­weight mech­a­nism kicked off the bal­anc­ing siphon craze.

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How to Make the World’s Small­est Cup of Cof­fee, from Just One Cof­fee Bean

The Life Cycle of a Cup of Cof­fee: The Jour­ney from Cof­fee Bean, to Cof­fee Cup

Wake Up & Smell the Cof­fee: The New All-in-One Cof­fee-Mak­er/Alarm Clock is Final­ly Here!

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

A Dancer Pays a Gravity-Defying Tribute to Claude Debussy

Most dancers have an intu­itive under­stand­ing of physics.

Chore­o­g­ra­ph­er Yoann Bour­geois push­es this sci­ence beyond the stan­dard lifts, leaps, and pirou­ettes, draw­ing on his train­ing at the Cen­tre Nation­al Des Arts du Cirque for a piece mark­ing the cen­te­nary of com­pos­er Claude Debussy’s death, above.

Giv­en the occa­sion, the choice of Clair de Lune, Debussy’s best loved piano work, feels prac­ti­cal­ly de rigueur, but the tram­po­line comes as a bit of a shock.

We may not be able to see it, but it plays such an essen­tial role, it’s tempt­ing to call this solo a pas de deux. At the very least, the tram­po­line is an essen­tial col­lab­o­ra­tor, along with pianist Alexan­dre Tha­rau and film­mak­er Raphaël Wertheimer.

Bour­geois’ expres­sive­ness as a per­former has earned him com­par­isons to Char­lie Chap­lin and Buster Keaton. His chore­og­ra­phy shows that he also shares their work eth­ic, atten­tion to detail, and love of jaw­drop­ping visu­al stunts.

Don’t expect any ran­dom boing­ing around on this tramp’.

For four and a half min­utes, Bour­geois’ every­man strug­gles to get to the top of a stark white stair­case. Every time he falls off, the tram­po­line launch­es him back onto one of the steps — high­er, low­er, the very one he fell off of…

Inter­pret this strug­gle how you will.

Psy­che, a dig­i­tal mag­a­zine that “illu­mi­nates the human con­di­tion through psy­chol­o­gy, philo­soph­i­cal under­stand­ing and the arts” found it to be “an abstract­ed inter­pre­ta­tion of a child­like expe­ri­ence of time.” One view­er won­dered if the num­ber of steps — twelve — was sig­nif­i­cant.

It’s no stretch to con­ceive of it as a com­ment on the nature of life — a con­stant cycle of falling down and bounc­ing back.

It’s love­ly to behold because Bour­geois makes it look so easy.

In an inter­view with NR, he spoke of how his cir­cus stud­ies led to the real­iza­tion that “the rela­tion­ship between phys­i­cal forces” is what he’s most inter­est­ed in explor­ing. The stairs and tram­po­line, like all of his sets (or devices, as he prefers to call them), are there to “ampli­fy spe­cif­ic phys­i­cal phe­nom­e­non”:

In sci­ence, we’d call them mod­els – they’re sim­pli­fi­ca­tions of our world that enable me to ampli­fy one par­tic­u­lar force at a time. Togeth­er, this ensem­ble of devices, this con­stel­la­tion of con­struct­ed devices, ten­ta­tive­ly approach­es the point of sus­pen­sion. And so, this makes up a body of research; it’s a life’s research that doesn’t have an end in itself. 

The rela­tion­ship with phys­i­cal forces has an elo­quent capac­i­ty that can be very big; it has the kind of expres­sion that is uni­ver­sal.

Watch more of Youann Bour­geois’ physics-based chore­og­ra­phy on his YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Hear Debussy Play Debussy: A Vin­tage Record­ing from 1913

Quar­an­tined Dancer Cre­ates Shot-for-Shot Remake of the Final Dirty Danc­ing Scene with a Lamp as a Dance Part­ner

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

How Richard Feynman’s Diagrams Revolutionized Physics

If you want to under­stand the­o­ret­i­cal physics these days—as much as is pos­si­ble with­out years of spe­cial­ized study—there are no short­age of places to turn on the inter­net. Of course, this was not the case in the ear­ly 1960s when Richard Feyn­man gave his famous series of lec­tures at Cal­tech. In pub­lished form, these lec­tures became the most pop­u­lar book on physics ever writ­ten. Feynman’s sub­se­quent auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal essays and acces­si­ble pub­lic appear­ances fur­ther solid­i­fied his rep­u­ta­tion as the fore­most pop­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tor of physics, “a fun-lov­ing, charis­mat­ic prac­ti­cal jok­er,” writes Mette Ilene Holm­nis at Quan­ta mag­a­zine, even if “his per­for­ma­tive sex­ism looks very dif­fer­ent to mod­ern eyes.”

Feynman’s genius went beyond that of “ordi­nary genius­es,” his men­tor, Hans Bethe, direc­tor of the Man­hat­tan Project, exclaimed: “Feyn­man was a magi­cian.” That may be so, but he was nev­er above reveal­ing how he learned his tricks, such that any­one could use his meth­ods, whether or not they could achieve his spec­tac­u­lar results. Feyn­man didn’t only teach his stu­dents, and his mil­lions of read­ers, about physics; he also taught them how to teach them­selves. The so-called “Feyn­man tech­nique” for effec­tive study­ing ensures that stu­dents don’t just par­rot knowl­edge, but that they can “iden­ti­fy any gaps” in their under­stand­ing, he empha­sized, and bol­ster weak points where they “can’t explain an idea sim­ply.”

Years before he became the fore­most pub­lic com­mu­ni­ca­tor of sci­ence, Feyn­man per­formed the same ser­vice for his col­leagues. “With physi­cists in the late 1940s strug­gling to refor­mu­late a rel­a­tivis­tic quan­tum the­o­ry describ­ing the inter­ac­tions of elec­tri­cal­ly charged par­ti­cles,” Holm­nis writes, “Feyn­man con­jured up some Nobel Prize-win­ning mag­ic. He intro­duced a visu­al method to sim­pli­fy the seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble cal­cu­la­tions need­ed to describe basic par­ti­cle inter­ac­tions.” The video above, ani­mat­ed by Holm­nis, shows just how sim­ple it was—just a few lines, squig­gles, cir­cles, and arrows.

Holm­nis quotes Feyn­man biog­ra­ph­er James Gle­ick’s descrip­tion: Feyn­man “took the half-made con­cep­tions of waves and par­ti­cles in the 1940s and shaped them into tools that ordi­nary physi­cists could use and under­stand.” Feyn­man Dia­grams helped make sense of quan­tum elec­tro­dy­nam­ics, a the­o­ry that “attempt­ed to cal­cu­late the prob­a­bil­i­ty of all pos­si­ble out­comes of par­ti­cle inter­ac­tions,” the video explains. Among the theory’s prob­lems was the writ­ing of “equa­tions meant keep­ing track of all inter­ac­tions, includ­ing vir­tu­al ones, a gru­el­ing, hope­less exer­cise for even the most orga­nized and patient physi­cist.”

Using his touch for the relat­able, Feyn­man drew his first dia­grams in 1948. They remain, wrote Nobel Prize-win­ning physi­cist Frank Wilczek, “a trea­sured asset in physics because they often pro­vide good approx­i­ma­tions to real­i­ty. They help us bring our pow­ers of visu­al imag­i­na­tion to bear on worlds we can’t actu­al­ly see.” Learn more about Feyn­man Dia­grams in the video above and at Holm­nis’ arti­cle in Quan­ta here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The “Feyn­man Tech­nique” for Study­ing Effec­tive­ly: An Ani­mat­ed Primer

The Feyn­man Lec­tures on Physics, The Most Pop­u­lar Physics Book Ever Writ­ten, Is Now Com­plete­ly Online

What Made Richard Feyn­man One of the Most Admired Edu­ca­tors in the World

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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