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Spring 2002 | Volume 17 |  Issue 4

Seeing With Electrons

THANK YOU, TIM Palucka, for “Making the Invisible Visible” (Winter 2002), with its stunning illustrations and its previously unpublished reminiscences from James Hillier and others. I have two observations.

First, neither Reinhold Rudenberg—my father— nor Ernst Ruska began his work toward the electron microscope with knowledge of the concept of electron waves and their much smaller wavelength than that of visible light. Rudenberg conceived his microscope, in 1930-31, on the premise that the small size of electrons would enable them to surpass the resolution of a light microscope. And Ruska began not with the goal of a microscope but wanting to confirm experimentally the lens formulas proposed by Hans Busch, who had first described the focusing properties of magnetic coils surrounding an electron beam. Only subsequently did the two engineers realize what physicists had known since 1923: that the minute wavelength of accelerated electrons was the key to higher resolution.

Second, early workers in the field received many awards, and in a ceremony in July 1941, Theodor Vahlen, president of the Berlin Academy of Science, wearing his black SS major general’s uniform, presented the 1941 Leibniz medal to Ruska, Bodo von Borries, and others for their contributions to the electron microscope. By then Rudenberg had left Germany for the United States. In 1946 he received the Stevens Honor Award from the Stevens Institute of Technology for his role in the invention.

H. Gunther Rudenberg

Seeing With Electrons

TIM PALUCKA’S EXCELLENT article aroused old memories. I am a sort of secondgeneration electron microscopist. Our institute director at the Max Planck Gesellschaft in Berlin was Ernst Ruska; the leader of the lab exploring uses for the microscope was his brother Helmut Ruska; and the instrument there was a Siemens UM 10Ob. My first contact with the marvelous device was in 1936, when as a high school student I saw it on exhibit. That determined my entire career as a scientist and brought me to the United States.

At first the instrument was known not as an electron microscope but by the now-abandoned term Ubermikroskop (super microscope). It’s a pity that wasn’t retained. We would have been called super microscopists instead of just electron microscopists. In the 1950s I joined a group working on diatom shell formation. Most of us were biologists and dentists, but we spent a considerable time developing the means to prepare our specimens and instruments, as there still weren’t established methods. Four times a year we had to remove the carbon deposits from the insides of the microscope and clean the apertures.


Bernhard E. F. Reimann

Learning From Failure

I READ WITH GREAT INTER est Raoul Drapeau’s “Pipe Dream” (Winter 2002), the story of the ill-conceived, overpriced, under-capacity Canol pipeline constructed during World War II. It is important that failed projects get full documentation instead of being a suppressed part of history because of the embarrassment of those who were responsible for them. Otherwise, we are destined to repeat our mistakes again and again.

In the 1990s there were several competing projects to provide low earth orbiting satellites for personal communication, despite clear evidence from the beginning that they would be overpriced and not serve enough customers to be profitable. Sure enough, several of the efforts have already gone under, some after spending billions of dollars launching satellites that will ultimately need to be destroyed at further great cost. A good history of other failed projects might have given enough people the clue that these plans were not practical and stopped them before major damage was done. After all, we have the National Transportation Safety Board to study each airplane and train disaster. Perhaps we need similar attention to failed business and engineering projects.



Richard Levine

A Pathbreaking Mouse

I ENJOYED “THE MAKING OF the Mouse” a great deal, but I’d like to take issue with the statement that an optical mouse wasn’t available until recently. There was a company, Mouse Systems, making optical mice back in the eighties; I have three, and they still work. The earliest has to be at least 15 years old. It’s all optical, but it does require a special pad, and the pad is wearing out. I work in a machine shop and went through half a dozen roller-ball mice before I found this unit. I’d like to find a new pad for it.


Greg Volkland

The Turn Of The Screwdriver

TWO RECENT ISSUES OF your magazine carried very interesting references to the pros and cons of the Phillips screwdriver (“Object Lessons,” by Curt Wohleber, Fall 2001, and “Letters,” Winter 2002). They happened to coincide with a project I was involved with at a local university, where I was asked to explain how I went about selecting employees for a unique business that required people of unusual talent. Since I frequently refer to your magazine when attempting to explain difficult issues, I thought the least I could do would be to share with you one such story that relates to the Phillips screwdriver.

Several years ago I decided I needed a new hobby. I wanted something I could do completely by myself, and I chose sailing. I was recovering from a very serious back problem, yet I wanted to be able to rig a boat for sailing by myself. I settled on a Hobie Cat, which had a removable mast that enabled it to be trailered behind a car, and I came up with a simple device that enabled me to raise and lower the mast with no risk to my back.

Eventually I decided to sell the boat. I put an ad in a local newspaper and got a response from a young businesswoman, but she said she had been told she shouldn’t even consider buying my boat because she wouldn’t be able to handle it. I told her about my bad back and how I’d added several enhancements to make the boat easier to use, and she ultimately decided to consider it. But first, she said, I’d have to meet her at the lake and show her how to put everything together and use it. She had never sailed before.

I met her at the sailing lot and started showing her how to raise the mast. I hadn’t sailed in a while, and when checking out the rigging, I noticed that a critical bolt had come loose. Having no tools, I tried to use a coin to tighten the bolt. Corrosion had set in, and I couldn’t do it. I told the woman that unless she happened to have a flat-bladed screwdriver in her car, I’d have to go home, 20 miles, to get one, since I didn’t want to risk selling her the boat until I knew it was in perfect shape.

Without any comment, she reached out and grabbed the handle of a Phillips screwdriver I’d used as a removable pivot pin for the hinging device I’d made to raise and lower the mast. I started to tell her that that screwdriver was for a different kind of bolt, but her look silenced me. She must have sensed that I was about to speak, because I detected what I thought was a look of disgust over my inability to deal with a simple problem that she knew automatically how to solve.

Without saying a word, she placed one of the edges of the Phillips screwdriver’s point in the slot of the corroded bolt, and with the leverage provided by holding the screwdriver’s long handle horizontally, she tightened it. I doubt she could have turned the frozen bolt with a blade-type screwdriver. Then she placed the screwdriver back where she’d gotten it.

I couldn’t say a word, not that I was surprised that I hadn’t instantly come up with the same solution. Yet her expression indicated that she’d never met anyone as dumb as me. What had taken place astounded me. And that’s the kind of person I try to hire to work for me.

Paul H. Wright

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