Electricity is a wonderful energy source that has been an unquestionable benefit to mankind. The problem is that, at the same time, it can be a confusing and perilous thing.
I had a great aunt - she has since passed - who was a bit of a conspiracy buff before it became as prevalent as it is today. In her later years, she was under the horrible suspicion that electricity was dripping invisibly all over the house.
It leaked, she contended, out of empty sockets. She would hastily go around screwing in light bulbs and, if they lit up, it confirmed her fears and she would quickly turn off the wall switch.
This leads us to our two-part scientific question for today.
Electricity: What the heck is it, and where does it go after it leaves your microwave oven?
Try this simple experiment.
On a cool, dry day, scuff your feet along a carpet. Then, while your spouse is asleep, reach into his or her mouth and touch a dental filling.
Did you notice how they twitched and cried out in pain?
This teaches us that electricity can be a fun thing, as well as a very powerful force.
It also teaches us that we should never do this to someone you live with that has access to the carving knives.
What happens when you scuffed your feet is you picked up a bunch of electrons, which are very small objects that are weaved into the carpet by manufacturers to attract dirt.
The electrons travel through your body and collect in your finger, where - if you scuff your feet long enough without touching anything - so many electrons will build up that your finger will explode.
But this is nothing to worry about unless, of course, you have a lot of carpet.
One of the early pioneers in electricity was Benjamin Franklin. While putting up his new invention, the Lightning Rod, Ol’ Ben received an electrical shock so severe that he started speaking only in simple random proverbs, such as “A penny saved is a penny earned,” “The Doors of wisdom are never shut,” “Hunger never saw bad bread” and God-only-knows how many thousands of others.
Eventually, people got so irritated with him they demanded he be made ambassador to France just to get rid of him.
Many other electrical pioneers followed whose names are now part of our electrical terminology, including Jerome Volt, Robert Watt, Anna Lue Amp and Billy Bob Transformer.
But the greatest electrical pioneer of all time was Thomas Alva Edison, who - despite a lack of a formal education and having a goofy middle name - became a brilliant inventor.
His greatest achievement came in 1880, when he invented the electric company.
Edison’s design was an innovative adaptation of a simple electrical circuit: The electric company sends electricity through a wire to the customer and then immediately gets it back through another wire and sends it right back to the customer.
Since very few customers can understand their bill, the electric company can then resell the same batch of electricity over and over again. That is why they have so much spare time to lobby and apply for rate increases.
My Great Aunt would have been so relieved to know that it doesn’t leak out all over the house: it just gets recycled.