Granta’s recent trip to MS&T in Pittsburgh, the Steel City, reminded me that this year marks a hundred years since the invention of stainless steel, or at least since the first patents were granted to Strauss and Maurer in 1912 for the austenitic stainless steel they branded Nirosta. At about the same time in Sheffield, England, Harry Brearley discovered a corrosion resistant martensitic alloy which, although designed for gun barrels, first found fame as the new, shiny entrance canopy material for the Savoy Hotel. Continue reading
A Silly Mistake?
No one set out to develop Silly Putty: it was a novelty by-product during research aiming at new silicone elastomers to replace scarce rubber. In 1943, an engineer at General Electric, James Wright, was working in the New Haven laboratory when he accidentally dropped boric acid into silicone oil: the result was a bouncing silicone putty. The new material stretched more than rubber, even at high temperatures, but it also had some more interesting and unusual properties. Over long timescales or at high temperatures it flowed like a fluid. But at shorter timescales it bounced and behaved like an elastic solid. GE started marketing it, but it only really took off when the novelty value of this new material caught the attention of Peter Hodgson, a marketing consultant. He bought the rights from GE, and started marketing his ‘solid liquid’ as ‘Silly Putty®’.
As the 2012 Olympics open in London this week, athletic achievements, and gold medals in particular, are drawing everyone’s attention. At the original Olympics in ancient Greece, the winner simply received an olive wreath: when the games first restarted in 1894, winners received a trophy. For most of the recent Olympic history, however, the crowning glory of any athletic career has been the Olympic Gold Medal. But behind the excitement of sporting prowess, we wanted to know more about the gold in the medals themselves.