Aqua-Lung

JACQUES COUSTEAU

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.”

Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a seasoned scientist, researcher, and author in his own right. Simultaneously, he was an explorer, innovator, filmmaker, and impassioned conservationist. Although Cousteau and the average physicist may disagree on how to escape gravity (see above quote), his view of the sea inspired generations of curious minds to dive deeper.

In 1943, while a refugee in World War II Europe, Cousteau set out to direct and produce Par dix-huit mètres de fond (18 meters deep), the first French underwater documentary. Using a depth-pressure-proof camera case developed by mechanical engineer Léon Vèche, Cousteau and a colleague were able to capture rare footage of what life looked like below the ocean’s surface. That same year, he filmed Épaves (Shipwrecks) using two of the first Aqua-Lung prototypes, the same technology that enabled the development of the first SCUBA tanks. In 1956, his film Silent World required the assistance of Jean Mollard to develop a “diving saucer,” an experimental underwater vehicle that could reach a depth of 350 meters.

800px-Flying-saucer I’m most often drawn to people and ideas that straddle the threshold between science and art. Cousteau is a logical candidate. His body of work not only drove science and technology in terms of catalyzing undersea research, but it also brought the deep sea, an otherwise inaccessible world, to people through film. Though his nascent research may not taken him to the Verne-ian extent of 20,000 leagues below, Cousteau was certainly in a league all his own.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Fred Hoyle and the Unsteady Steady State Theory

Fred Hoyle coined the name for the Big Bang Theory during a 1949 BBC Radio debate when he stated,  

“These theories were based on the hypothesis that all the matter in the universe was created in one big bang at a particular time in the remote past.”

Ironically, though he originated this term, Hoyle spent most of his academic career developing  an alternative mathematical model of the Universe called the Steady State theory. In this version of the Universe, unlike in the Big Bang Theory, matter is continuously created at a rate that keeps the average density of the Universe the same as it expands. Though this idea is discredited today, it pushed Big Bang supporters to back up their theory with evidence.

In a 1969 BBC special, Fred Hoyle reflects on his Steady State theory:

Rumor has it that the Steady State Theory was inspired by the 1945 ghost movie Dead of Night. The movie consists of a series of ghost stories, but the final scene contains a twist: the movie ends just like it began. The plot was circular, with no beginning or end–which, Hoyle and his colleagues proposed, was how the Universe worked. Instead of having a beginning or end, the Universe simply “was.”

Thanks to YouTube, I was able to find the full version of Dead of Night online, for anyone curious enough to watch:

 

While Hoyle was a viewed as a repugnant contrarian by his peers, he was warmly accepted by lovers of BBC radio. In the 1950s, the BBC decided to air science lectures every Saturday evening, to which Hoyle contributed five lectures. The series was called “The Nature of the Universe” and ended up mesmerizing the nation, inspiring the next generation of astronomers. (Listen to one of his radio lectures here.)

This post was largely inspired by Michio Kaku’s Parallel Worlds, which keeps my head constantly spinning. Pick up a copy; you won’t be disappointed. More contemporary BBC Science lectures can be found here via podcast.