Scientific American The Amateur Astronomer (Scientific American (Wiley))

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How Do We Measure the Distance to Stars?

How to use the piezoelectric eff ect to make an electric clock keep ac- curate time. A Closing Challenge The amateur is invited to design experi- ments of his own — and to consider, as a starter, the as yet unsolved riddle of the skipping. It immediately raises the question of what is an amateur, and for that matter what is a scientist. One definition of an amateur is that he is an individual who pursues a study for the fun of it. This is hardly the point.

Most professional scientists get fun out of their efforts; in fact many of them get so much satisfaction and enjoyment out of their work that they devote only secondary attention to the subject of what they are paid for their efforts. Amateurs have no monopoly on enjoyment. Another definition is that an amateur derives no income from his efforts.

Scientific American The Amateur Astronomer (Scientific American (Wiley))

We hear that the great strides in science in England in the early days were made by amateurs. This is only partly true. Such scientists as Priestley, Cavendish and Boyle were men of means, who experimented and wrote on natural philosophy as a proper undertaking for a gentleman. Sterling, a Scottish clergyman, invented the first really successful engine using a fixed gas cycle, which was not improved upon much for a cen- tury, and he certainly derived no income from his efforts.

Cer- tainly one of the prime attributes of the amateur is that he does his work without thought of personal gain. For the amateur sci- entist, necessity is not the motlier of invention. Unfortunately, it is also customary to regard the amateur as a chap who knows only a little about a subject and who dabbles, in contrast with the professional, who knows a great deal and who creates.

Of course there are many amateurs who do simple things crudely. After all, it is necessary to learn to walk before one can leap and run. I think back with much amusement to some of the things I did early in life. One evening a few years ago I spent many interesting hours with Orville Wright. We spent the whole time telling each other about things we had worked on which did not pan out, and he took me up to his attic and showed me models of all sorts of queer gadgets. In fact, my old thesis has a prime fallacy in it, fortunately one that neither I nor the faculty discovered at the time.

Amateurs, generally, are content to be modest, and to plug away without acclaim, recognizing that they are a long way from the top in their subjects. But every ama- teur has in the back of his mind, carefully concealed, the thought that some day. It was an amateur who discovered the planet Pluto, and an ama- teur who was primarily responsible for the development of vitamin Bi.

The motivation of the scientist, professional or amateur, is the sheer joy of knowing.

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In fact, that is one of the principal satis- factions of being alive. The man who learns one new thing, small though it be, that has never before been known to anyone before him in the whole history of the human race, is in the same posi- tion as the man who first climbs a difficult mountain and looks out upon a vista never before seen, Erwin Schrodinger wrote: ''Art and science are the spheres of human activity where action and aim are not as a rule determined by the necessities of life; and even in the exceptional instanees where this is the case, the creative artist or the investigating scientist soon forgets this fact — as indeed they must forget it if their work is to prosper.

There are lots of amateur scientists, probably a million of them in this country. The Weather Bureau depends on some 3, well-organized amateur meteorologists. Other groups observe bird and insect migrations and populations, the behavior of variable stars, the onset of solar flares, the fiery end of satellites, earth tremors, soil erosion, meteor counts, and so on. The American Philosophical Society noted 8, 0 laymen in Philadelphia alone, interested in science; and of these, had made contributions to knowledge important enough to merit professional recognition.

There are science clubs in the city with national affiliations. One reason, of course, is that we have more leisure today. This is due to the strides of science and its applications, which have rendered it possible to secure the necessities and some of the luxuries of life with much less labor. The days are gone when multitudes labored from dawn to dusk in order that a few might have time to think and to acquire some sort of culture.

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  • Of the dozens who have time on their hands, one or two turn to seri- ous study, and especially to science. In the aggregate there is: an army of men and women with the leisure to delve into science, and the opportunity lies before them. This leads me to write a word about science itself. There is a prevalent opinion today that all science is carried on by great groups in expensive laboratories, using particle accelerators. X-ray spectrometers, radio telescopes and other costly parapher- nalia. There is also the feeling that all true research is conducted by men wlio liave prepared for the task by long years of patient study.

    Also that one has to be a genius in order to create. But this is not all the truth by any means. It took genius to discover the phenomenon of transduction of gencjtic characteristics, one of the greatest scientific advances of the last decade, more important than tak- ing a shot at the moon, too complex to be explained in this short note.

    But it did not take great apparatus at the expense of tax- payers. It did not take genius in the early days for radio amateurs, supposedly crowded out of all useful radio chan- nels, to open up a whole new part of the spectrum. Nor does it take enormous organization and support to accomplish very useful things.

    The great rush into atomistics and nucleonics, into: space exploration, into atomic energy, has left relatively neg- lected great areas of what was once classical physics and chem- istry. Many of them require no more than careful, patient observation and the skill to fit results into the jigsaw puzzle of advancing biological science.

    And who is it that has the skill? It may indeed be you. So I introduce this book with enthusiasm. May there be many like it. And from its influence, and the influence of many good books that are appearing today, may there be satisfaction for many an amateur in science.

    The world is being remolded by science. It is worth while to have a part, even a small part, in its transformation. First, I have supposed that you revel in your simian heritage of curiosity. You take boundless delight in finding out what makes things tick, whether the object of your interest has been fashioned by nature or man.

    Second, you are an inveterate tinkerer.

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    You love to take organized structures apart and put them together again in new and interesting ways — be they rocks, protozoa, alarm clocks or ideas. Third, you can usually drive a nail home on the first try, put a fairly good edge on a knife, and manipulate a Bunsen burner without broiling your thumb. In short, I assume you are an Amateur Scientist; the projects and discussions that follow are presented accordingly.

    Although every project has been tested and successfully per- formed by a number of amateurs you may, nevertheless, encounter difficulty in duplicating a few of the experimental results. This must be expected. Not all of the experiments are easy to do. Moreover, as mentioned here and there in the text, experimental work is beset by Murphy s Law, which holds that 'Hf something can go wrong, it willL Dont permit the intrusion of Murphy to discourage you.

    The fact that an experiment delivers an un- expected answer means simply that you have not asked the ques- tion you assume you have asked. The various pieces in it give you pertinent information, as you read, in relation to the scientific points being made. Hence I urge the amateur who is about to perform an experiment to be- gin work only after he has 1 read through the subsection con- taining the experiment and 2 glanced through the entire section.

    The admonition to read through before starting work applies especially in experiments dealing with high-energy radiation, where simple but important safety measures must be taken. I want to thank Gerard Piel, Dennis Flanagan, Donald Miller and their associates on the staff of Scientific American, where much of this material originally appeared, for permission to re- print it here and, most especially, for their numerous helpful suggestions and editorial assistance.

    I am equally grateful to Roger Hayward, architect, optical designer and accomplished artist, whose illustrations adorn these pages. Haywards remarkable talent for simplification is reflected both in the drawings and experimental procedufes.

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    Their keen eyes and nimble minds have spared read- ers the annoyance of combing out errors that might otherwise have been carried over into this volume. Without the contribu- tions of the several experimenters named in the text there would have been no book, of course. To them goes fullest credit. A special word of thanks is due to Dr. Vannevar Bush who, despite heavy professional responsibilities of national concern, took out time to address some words of encouragement to those who turn to science for recreation.

    Finally, I cannot believe that it falls to the lot of many writers to enjoy the help of two women more wonderful than the pair behind this enterprise. Miss Nina Bourne, my editor at Simon and Schuster, has been untiring in her effort to make this the kind of book you want it to be. Her contribution has been fully matched, if not paralleled, by that of my gifted wife, who not only typed the original manuscript and read proof with painstaking care but throughout the long months of preparation displayed an understanding of and tolerance for the human male that professional psychologists may well envy.

    Full text of "Projects for the Amateur Scientist Scientific American"

    Stong XXI 1. Astronomical Diversions 2. A Simple Telescope for Beginners 3. A Transistorized Drive for Telescopes 4. An Electronic Star-Twinkle Suppressor 5. Using Sluidowed Starlight as a Yardstick 7. A Universal Sundial 8. Why do some stars look red and others blue? When did the celestial fires burst into flame and what will happen when their fuel is spent? These and like questions have challenged the imagination of every ago. In searching for answers man has looked up into the star-filled night and glimpsed, or thought he glimpsed, the dwell- ing place of his gods, the forces that shape his destiny and, more recently, the structure of his universe.

    No intellectual diversion has engrossed him through a longer span of history or exerted a deeper influence on his way of life. Astronomy has always been a favored game for amateurs — since it first brought creases to the brow of Homo neanderthal- ensis. Merely learning to find one's way among the stars can be- come a rewarding experience. In the course of nightly tours the novice will encounter fascinating objects which most laymen rarely take out time to see.

    The marching constellations soon become familiar as celestial guides, and our sun a kind of clock which ap- pears to govern the parade. Occasional comets liven the scene as well as meteors, auroras and man-made satellites. Of the billion stars comprising our local galaxy the eye can see a mere 2,; and of the galaxies in uncounted billions that wheel through space beyond the Milky Way — only one. The un- aided eye can distinguish color differences between the stars but it fails to analyze the spectral composition, to sense their signifi- cance.