Aspiring writers visit Hartford, political buffs vacation in Ottawa and every scientist knows West Orange. At least you should. Here is an overview of Thomas Edison’s lab and four other laboratories that changed or are changing history.
Thomas Edison’s Lab
Thomas Alva Edison, probably best known for his incandescent light, conducted extensive research in a laboratory in West Orange, NJ. The lab was opened for Edison’s use in the 1800s and continued to play home to his work until his death in 1931. Various other inventions, including the phonograph, motion picture camera and carbon microphone (which was used in telephones through the ‘80s) were developed here. Nowadays, the laboratory is a large-scale exhibit, having been revamped to show off more of Edison’s work. The public is able to visit the site, in which a replica of the Black Maria, the first ever movie studio, can be seen as well as the original phonograph Edison built in 1877.
Nikola Tesla’s Lab
Jack-of-all-trades Nikola Tesla had a hand in several scientific arenas. The noted inventor, who was active from the 1880s to the 1940s, worked with Edison on electric equipment and eventually branched out on his own, focusing much of his efforts on developing alternating current (AC) motors. Of course, another of Tesla’s pet projects was in the area of radio transmission, something he had in common with Edison.
In 1900, backed by J.P. Morgan, Tesla attempted to construct a behemoth radio tower, the Wardenclyffe Tower facility, in New York. Faced with a stock market crash and dwindling funds, however, Tesla built a lab but was unable to complete the tower itself, pleading with Morgan for 5 years to provide additional funding. He did conduct experiments in the laboratory, but financial backers never emerged for the tower. Tesla himself realized his failure and the dream of world-wide wireless radio transmission died. His tower was demolished in 1917. Over the years, first in 1967, efforts have been made to proclaim the Wardenclyffe property as a historic site. Despite various nominations for “historic designation,” the property could not be named as such, as it was ownerless. In August of last year, however, plans were put in motion to erect a Tesla Science Center at the site, in part to keep it from becoming commercial property. The property purchase is entirely donation-funded, and plans are in the works.
Marie Curie’s Lab
Marie Curie, noted physicist, chemist and Nobel Prize winner, conducted several experiments in a laboratory in Arcueil, near Paris, in the early 1930s. Curie is known to the world for her experiments with radioactivity and discovery of the elements, polonium and radium and also as the first female winner of the Nobel Prize. Though the woman died in 1934, scientific groups continued to use her lab to further the work she began. The location has been closed, however, on a handful of occasions to the public due to health concerns. First closed in 1978, the building was blamed for the high cancer rate in Paris in the early 1980s, as Curie’s work with radiation was believed to have contributed. The area has been decontaminated on various occasions, first in 1991, and continually monitored for radioactivity from the mid-1990s to the present. Though it was discovered in 1997 that radioactivity was low, to eliminate any risk, the building is set to be decontaminated again and destroyed by 2015.
Tucson, AZ is home to a “mini world” called Biosphere 2. Two missions, in 1991 and 1994 were intended to determine the survivability of researchers who resided inside the enclosed, mangrove wetland and grassland-laden environment. The project, by and large, was an immense failure, as the first foray into the Biosphere was cut short by technical issues and the second one was not much better. Nowadays, the University of Arizona runs the facility for university projects and does indeed get a large volume of visitors. The site itself houses a Technosphere, which is the core of electrical, plumbing and mechanical processes as well as man-made “ocean,” complete with real coral reef.
Berkeley’s “Kaz Lab”
The University of Berkeley boasts an incredibly innovative laboratory, affectionately called the “Kaz Lab,” after Homayoon Kazerooni, the director of Berkeley’s Robotics and Human Engineering Laboratory. Kaz Lab has been working tirelessly for a few years now, on technology aimed at upping the “might” of the human body. Kazerooni and his team have worked to develop robotic exoskeletons, which in the future may aid military troops by adding robotic strength to that of their own muscles. Much more basic than this, Kazerooni has developed apparatuses for persons with disabilities to wear and simply get back on their feet. The initial research was performed on a paraplegic student at the school, Austin Whitney, who wanted nothing more than to walk across the stage when he graduated in 2011. The long hours and tireless robotic experimentation paid off, as the team’s test subject walked across the stage that year. The team and its lab have since redoubled their efforts to create even better devices than Whitney used, which will be more affordable to people and insurance companies.
Did these sites spark your interest? Think about visiting the Canada Science and Technology Museum or the American National Inventors Hall of Fame. There’s just so much to see.
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