Chew On This: Heat, flames and the Kindle

Things change. Get used to it.


With each new week, countries collaborate, hunters hunt, associates associate, narratives narrate, gardeners garden and everything eventually plays its part in modifying the world in which we live. (If you did not catch it the first time around, read the previous sentence again, paying close attention to the alliterative pairs of words to see what they spell. Maybe your perspective will change.)


If you take a look at your life last year, you will undoubtedly see that change has made its mark, big or small as it may be. Even in the last few months, change has been rearranging our world.


Xinwei Wang, an Iowa State associate professor of mechanical engineering, recently conducted a study on thermal conductivity in spider webs and emerged from his study with extraordinary results. Wang found that spider silk conducts heat at the rate of 416 watts per meter Kelvin — beating copper by 15 watts and harnessing conductivity nearly 700 times greater than that of skin tissue.


Apparently, spider silk boasts the highest thermal conductivity for organic materials, even besting excellent conductors like silicon, pure iron and aluminum. Wang also discovered that stretching the silk to its limit increases its conductivity — an unusual effect in the world of conductors. These recent findings might very well lead to innovations with basic applications in life: cooler clothes, better bandages and exceptional electronics. (The alliteration was purely for fun this time.)


Now flip the pages of time back 2000 years or so and you will notice gigantic gaps between the common characteristics of marketplace conversation. For the Greeks, as they made their way through the agora, the topic of the universe’s four elements might arise. Nowadays, the 118 elements of the periodic table might come up in a discussion between scientists out for coffee or even fifth graders out for recess.


Ideas change and as they do, perceptions do, too.


As one of the four elements in ancient Greek thought, fire is something that is good at throwing the mind for a loop.


Contrary to what you might have believed growing up, fire itself is not matter; it results from matter’s metamorphosis from one form to another. When oxygen and a fuel of some sort react chemically, gases ascend into the air, along with carbon atoms that emanate light when heated up. That is what gives the appearance of a flame.


The inner workings of fire’s mechanisms go far beyond what I just touched upon, but the truth still remains: Fire, as we know it, is a façade. Only a closer look can shed light on its true nature.


One more change in the world that caught my attention just last week was the role of the encyclopedia. The English-language’s eldest encyclopedia is leaving behind its hardback binding and transitioning to the digital realm of existence, tagging along with popular, new e-readers (like the Kindle Fire, for instance).


As changes take place — all the way from the laboratory holding Wang’s specimens to the bookcase holding the last edition of Britannica — we change, too. Change is here. Let us make the most of it.




Mark Miller is a sophomore journalism major from Lancaster, Penn. He loves traveling near and far because he gets the opportunity to visit new places and see new faces. A poet and musician at heart, he also enjoys learning new languages. He often spends time outside, watching hummingbirds fly by, and he gets a kick out of playing tennis with friends every now and then.


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