What single technology has changed your life the most?

Mudassir Ali
Mar 12, 2020 12:42 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Mar 12, 2020 12:42 PM

What single technology has changed your life the most?
17 Answers
Garry Kitchen
Garry Kitchen, B.S. Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, Fairleigh Dickinson University (1980)
Answered Feb 15, 2018
I previously posted this answer to the question:

Q: Which discoveries have had a great affect on our way of life?

– – – – –

In my opinion, the technological discovery that has changed our lives the most came from a self-taught scientist in London, England, almost 200 years ago.

Did you ever ask yourself where we get this seemingly endless supply of electricity that we use today to power our electric cars, smartphones, computers, drones, etc, etc, etc? I know I have.

Like most people, I learned that the earliest methods of generating electricity were based on the primitive method of converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. Mechanical energy, captured from sources like wind or moving water, was used to turn a wheel, which was connected to some sort of generator. The generator then converted the rotating motion of the wheel into electricity.

We’ve all seen examples of these sorts of devices dating back to the 1800’s, such as the waterwheel:

Or the windmill:

However, over time, new, more technologically advanced methods were developed, with the generation of electricity being handled by huge utilities, operating massive power plants, harnessing electricity from fossil fuels like coal, natural gas or petroleum.

The splitting of the atom brought even more technological advances, with nuclear power plants harnessing electricity from the splitting of the atom.

But what was this modern-day technology by which power plants and nuclear reactors generate electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear fission? The processes must be mind-boggling. Once again I had to know.

Well, when I did the research, what I learned pretty much knocked me out of my chair.

Essentially, a nuclear power plant is nothing more than a tea kettle, which uses the power released by the split of the atom to boil water, which generates steam to turn a 19th century-style waterwheel. Same for the largest power plants, which burn fossile fuels to boil water to create steam to turn a 19th century-style waterwheel. And finally, how about Hoover Dam? Well, water falls downhill and turns a 19th century-style waterwheel. All of these modern-day waterwheels are attached to a generator, which converts the motion of the wheel into electricity.

Oh, come on, 200 years and we haven’t come up with anything better than this?

In fact, the vast majority of electricity generated today (outside of solar) can be traced back 186 years, to the work of one man, Michael Faraday. Born in 1791 in London, England, Faraday, with only a basic formal education, spent his life performing scientific experiments, many in the areas of electricity and magnetism. In 1831, Faraday’s experiments led to the discovery of electromagnetic induction, the principle by which the movement of a magnet through a loop of wire generates an electrical current. Stated another way, by rotating magnets around a center wire, an electric current can be generated in the wire. Using this principle, Faraday invented the first electric generator, which converted motion into electricity. While his first generator was based on hand-cranking magnets around a wire, it didn’t take long for scientists to adapt his idea to systems in which motion was created by the flow of water or the movement of a windmill’s blades, either from wind or steam.

So with all of the advances in technology in the last 186 years, no one has come up with a more efficient way to generate electricity than through electromagnetic induction, the principle discovered by Michael Faraday. In 186 years, we haven’t improved on his basic concept of moving magnets through or around a loop of wire to generate a current.

Wow, ask yourself where we’d be without that discovery? And why haven’t more people heard of Michael Faraday?

P.S. And by the way, if that wasn’t enough, Michael Faraday also built the first functioning electric motor, demonstrating what he called electromagnetic rotation. The motors in the Tesla Model S operate under the same principle as Michael Faraday’s 1821 prototype electric motor.

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