Search America's historic newspaper pages from 1777-1963 or use the U.S. Newspaper Directory to find information about American newspapers published between 1690-present. Chronicling America is sponsored jointly by the
National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. external link Learn more
Image provided by: Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Newspaper Page Text
Toys of Science
* Çrown - Up Scientists Today ι/fre Inlaying" with Toy Trains, Toy Bridges and Sven Toy Tfivers. But It Is Serious VIay—From Their Toys They zJlre J^earning to Build (Cheaper and Better ^Carvels of engineering By George W. Gray • Children would call them to#», but they are the work things oj scientists. 1. Δ tiny model oj the longest sus pension span on earth — the George Washington Bridge. 2. Those little metal forms, heaped with tand, test the strength Sff structural materials. 3. Turn the crank and this apparatus gives ffou high tide or low — it's a miniature Photomontage by Charte* Fhelp· Cuahing model oj part oj the Cape Cod Canal. 4. Thit lookt like a doll'β haute, but ift really an architect't model oj a email home. S. Ninety-mile gale» whittle through this wind tunnel at Mattachutettt "Tech"; a "toy" plane it being tetted. 6. Thit doll-on-a-ttick it helping to eolve the problem oj vibration, vitaI to tmooth-running machinery. IN Washington, at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution, a man was shooting arrows into hot molten quartz. As an arrow cut through the plastic mass, it dragged some of the liquid into long streamers tapering into fine threads, which instantly solidified to the hardness characteristic of quartz. "That's how we get filaments fine enough for delicate detectors." explained the scientist in charge of this archery. At the Westinghouse Laboratory, near Pittsburgh, a doctor of philosophy was "playing" with a toy train. A 12-year-old boy would have gone into whoops of ecstacy over that set-up, but the scientist worked very quietly, assembling the various parts into a streamlined sequence which he placed in a wind tunnel and tested under varying velo cities of wind — to measure air resistance. Out of such experiments are emerging new designs of locomotives and cars for tomorrow's age of speed. The idea is not new — it is only the applica tion' of this familiar engineering strategy to railway train design, to automobile design, and even to skyscraper design, that is novel. For a half century, shipbuilders have been guided by tests of models in towing tanks. For a quarter century, the wind tunnel and the small-scale model have been indispensable tools in the advancement of aeronautics. During the depression, with its accelerating demand for economies, the practice has spread with lightning speed into many branches of engineering research; and today there is hardly an important project in any field of applied science that may not first be tested in the small, and worked out in essential details before being committed to the large. Sometimes the problem is not to facilitate motion, but rather the opposite. In New York, at the research laboratory of the Columbia School of Mines, I saw the model of a retaining wall. The model was carved out of trans parent bakelite, and back of this toy wall was a load of sand to simulate the load of earth that will burden the real wall. The whole did not weigh more than live pounds — 1 held it in my hand — and it seemed over-optimistic to expect such a toy-like thing to tell anything important about the stresses which the hundred-times larger wall of concrete would be called on to endure. But the researchers have ways to get around the obvious. In this Columbia labor atory is an ingenious whirling machine. It can multiply a load 3.000 times — that is, increase the "weight" of a pound to a ton and a half! When the model was placed in this apparatus and whirled, centrifugal forces were generated which made the toy load of sand press against the toy wall with a force directly proportional to that of gravitation. A Hashing light illu minated the model for an instant at each revolution, enabling a fast camera to photo graph the behavior of the wall under the strain — and the weak spots were glaringly revpaled. It would be more direct, of course, to test the concrete wall itself, full size, under the natural conditions of its site. But this would cost thousands of dollars and months of time, and would eat up in advance any possible saving. The small model costs a few dollars only, it can be set up within a few hours, and by applying the mathematical law of simil itude the critical facts about the wall can he learned as accurately from the toy as from the full-scale structure. As a result of this dis covery, whole laboratories are given over to the fascinating pursuit of tinkering with marvelously exact scientific toys. At the government's Waterways Experi ment Station on the Mississippi near Vicks burg. for example, is a 140-acre tract on which every dangerous curve and contour of the Mississippi river has been worked out in miniature. Recently, as a result of these studies with a toy river, seven bends in the Mississippi were cut through, shortening the stream by seventy miles and simplifying the problem of flood control. Before the first concrete for Boulder I)am was poured, the whole project had been tried out in plaster models at the laboratory of the Bureau of Reclamation in Colorado. Mercury was used to simulate water in the miniature dam. Similar studies guided the Norris Dam engineering in the Tennessee Valley. A unique tower construction has been adopted for the San Francisco Bridge, now being built across the Golden Gate. This innovation was perfected through tests of steel models, performed at Princeton Univer sity and at the University of California. The Port Authority of New York used brass as the material fora model of the span of its Bayonne Bridge; and by means of this model learned the economy of using a less expensive steel than had been thought necessary. At Cambridge, Mass., is a shaking platform geared to make motions like an earthquake. This jigger grew out of certain experiences in California in 1933, when a quake put many elevated water tanks out of use, seriously crippling fire protection. So a group of fire insurance companies began to ask questions. Are elevated tanks peculiarly vulnerable to earthquake shocks? What structural type will stand most securely? They turned to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with these questions — and the answer is being sought from tank models on that shaking platform. Already these studies have demon strated that some of the forms which have been designed to add strength to a structure are in reality sources of weakness under earth quake conditions. Arcnnecis are using models to try out preliminary plans. When the new laboratory building of the Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh was projected a few years ago, a four-foot high model of the proposed nine-story building was erected. Certain changes resulted, and then a nineteen-foot model showed the design in larger scale. Now a full-size model of a corner of the building, and full-size models of two typical laboratory rooms have been erected for detailed studies of arrangement, furniture and service features. Altogether $60,000 was spent on these models — but results justified it, say the engineers. One of the current ingenuities of the experts is to make the toy model out of glass, cellu loid, bakelite, or some other transparent material. When a strain is applied under polarized light, beautiful patterns of rainbow bands show up at various areas, and by reading these rainbows the designer can tell where the part is weak and the degree of its strength. In a study of a certain dirigible air ship, 3,000 parts of its structure were repro duced in miniature in celluloid and tested under the polariscope.