Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ben Franklin and Our Scientific Heritage

Benjamin Franklin was born 300 years ago today. While much is made of the religious beliefs of our founding fathers, Franklin represents the rational, scientific roots of our culture and democracy.
With their shared love of practical science, gifts of gab, fondness for music and appreciation of pretty women, Ben Franklin and Richard Feynman would have gotten along famously.
Franklin created the convention of labeling electrical charges positive and negative, which is still used today, as seen in this Feynman diagram.
It's not hard to imagine Franklin nodding in appreciation for Feynman's famous experiment as a member of the Challenger Commission in which he used a cup of ice water and a vise to demonstrate that the space shuttle's o-rings lost their flexibility when subject to freezing temperatures. Franklin would have appreciated this use of this elegant, direct experiment in the public interest.

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