QUESTION: What famous real science experiment inspired the fictional coming to life of Dr. Frankenstein's monster? Could a dead person be similarly "animated" today?
ANSWER: Wind the reel back to the 1780s, when Luigi Galvani of Italy made the stunning observation that electricity could make legs removed from a dead frog quiver as if alive, says Joe Schwarcz in "Dr. Joe and What You Didn't Know."
This was strong stuff, given the newness of science and the mystery of electricity. The English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley caught the spark and soon took his new wife Mary - later the author of "Frankenstein" - to a public lecture on "galvanism." The story is told that after witnessing the frog leg experiment, Mary dreamt of a stillborn baby being brought back to life with electricity.
"The stage was set for the creation of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster." The experiment worked not because the frog or even the legs were alive in any real sense but the CELLS were still alive, says Harvard professor of environmental health Joseph D. Brain. They don't die for half an hour or so, when rigor mortis sets in, true of human body cells as well.
So human animation can occur within this very short interval of time, but don't look for any monsters. By the way, electrical stimulation can be of real medical benefit to people who become paralyzed through illness or injury and who need help moving muscles to keep them from atrophying.
QUESTION: We've come a long way since 1910 when Swedish electrical engineer Lars Magnus Ericsson built a telephone into his wife's car - the vehicle connected by wires and poles to overhead telephone lines - then cranked up the power and got his mobile phone to work. Today, cell phones are truly polyglot affairs, requiring material resources from around the globe. How polyglot?
ANSWER: In every cell phone are capacitors which store electric charge, the best of these using a metal called tantalum, perhaps from Australia or the Congo, says Jon Agar in "Constant Touch."
The nickel in the battery might come from a mine in Chile, the microprocessor chips and circuitry from North America, the plastic casing and liquid in the LCD were manufactured using petroleum products from the Gulf, Texas, Russia or the North Sea, and molded into shape in Taiwan.
While the work might be coordinated via corporate headquarters in Sweden, Finland, the U.S., Germany, France, Korea, Japan, "the finished phone could have come from manufacturers in many other countries."
Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at email@example.com.