Inventing Velcro: Excerpts from George de Mestrel’s Journal

1941

It’s been a while at the machine shop and frankly I need a break. Even Monique has been asking me to quit working so hard and relax for a bit. I think she is right. The work was so exciting in the beginning. Now it is mostly routine and I want to do something different for a change. Maybe I will just go for a hike in the Alps, take Linus along with me. Maybe even hunt some game while I am at it. I know Linus would love that!

—-

So I am here in the Jura Mountains and plan to spend the next two weeks here. I went for a hike today. A fine morning prevailed when I set out. There was the slightest of breeze, gently stroking the exposed skin of my face and ruffling up Linus’ hair. Linus loped along easily beside me as I set out on a brisk walk with my hunting rifle slung easily across my left shoulder. After a lengthy but invigorating hike, I returned back home at around mid-day, empty-handed. Either I am getting particularly bad at shooting or the birds have become especially adept at eluding shots from the hunter’s rifles.  

As usual when I got back, Monique kicked up a row about Linus making a mess inside the house so I went out to clean him and I noticed that there were so many cockleburs clinging to his coat and mine. It is an irksome task removing them all because they attach themselves so well, it is hard to get them off. Anyhow as I removed them sticky little burrs, I couldn’t help but observe their structure and be fascinated by their design. So after cleaning Linus and myself up, I took the burrs and observed them under a microscope. What I saw was pure genius. There were these tiny hooks at the end of each burr which would very smartly attach themselves onto small loops in my socks or my dog’s fur.

This has now set me thinking. I was wondering if I could somehow replicate this mechanism and create some sort of an attachment device for fastening things together. This would make life so much easier. Perhaps even the zipping system could be done away with if this works.

1948

I have actively begun working on developing a prototype and have been conferring with several fabric and cloth experts in Lyon. It isn’t an easy job though – convincing the weavers to help me out. Most of them are pretty dismissive of my idea. However, I am not giving up so easily. I went to ten of them weavers yesterday, I will go to twenty others tomorrow till I find one willing to help me out.  

—-

So I finally found this guy who shared my passion for inventing things and has agreed to make the hook and loop fabric for me. However, the few initial trials have not been very successful. Either the loop or the hook are too big and just don’t fit right. One weaver, working on a small loom by hand, managed to weave two cotton tapes that, when pressed together, fastened just as strongly as the burrs did. Maybe this might work after all.
1955

So I have finally been granted a patent for my invention. Combining the French words VELours (meaning “velvet”) and CROchet (meaning “hook”), I call the hook and loop fastener VELCRO. I also hope to receive patents for the product in Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Italy, Holland, Belgium, France, Canada and the US soon.

May 13, 1958

The trademark name Velcro has officially been registered. Having already quit my job at the firm, I now plan to obtain a $150,000 loan to perfect this concept and establish my very own company to manufacture hook and loop fasteners.

1960

I have a wonderful news. The space agency NASA has decided to use velcro in its space suits and space mission. This could give velcro the much needed boost to its popularity and also pave the way for its applications to a variety of other fields. All these years I have been so preoccupied with the designing and patenting of the product that I have given little thought and consideration to its applications. I realize now, that any product, no matter how ingenious it might be, fails to stick if it doesn’t have a viable commercial application. But now, after years of struggle, things have begun to look more optimistic and hopefully velcro will stick around for a long time to come.

[Disclaimer: I, the author, Purvi Asthana, have taken some liberties with the article and fictionalized it to a certain degree. Mestrel’s dog’s name “Linus” for instance is purely fictitious. I could not find its real name so had to use a substitute instead.

Picture Credits: Lavanya]

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The Curious Case of Omega (Ω)

Omega
The Omega Symbol

Sitting on the cold bed, snug yet strangely chilled under the quilts, slate grey fog rolling outside, watching “End of Days” on TV; a little memory I keep locked in my brain. As I gobbled up the film, all that mad craze about Illuminati, Satanists, lost symbols, old twisted runes came back rushing, in a storm and I literally sat up till 3am , sifting for those symbology facts in my well thumbed copies of Dan Brown. It was then , in those night candle moments that symbol Omega struck me.Of course, there has always been a hype around it. To most people, it just seems cool. But, as for me, I get a peculiar sensation whenever I think of this half eluding , shadowy symbol with a tinge of leering Goth.

Omega ( Capital:Ω , Lower case: ω) is the 24th and last letter of the Greek alphabet. Now, the word in reality means “great O” ( O – mega , mega meaning great), something colossal and immense.In English literature, Omega is mainly used as a symbol of the last and final nature of something.But, you will be surprised to know that Omega interestingly, originated in Sumeria where it epitomized creation and rebirth. The Sumerian Omega first appeared as a symbol for a medical device, because of it’s use in cutting of the umbilical cord of a newborn child. This soon translated into a symbol for the meaning of life or beginning of life.

What an ambiguous nature!

Somehow, this curious symbol has maintained it’s presence in science and mathematics, most famously as – ohm. Ohm is the SI unit of electrical resistance in physics. We do often encounter in textbooks and articles , as –

1) In Statistical mechanics, Omega (Ω) refers to the multiplicity in a system.

2) In Particle Physics , it represents Omega baryons, a family of subatomic hadron particles.

3) In Astronomy or Cosmology, Omega (Ω) refers to the density of the universe, also called density parameter.

4) In Chemistry, oxygen -18, a natural and stable isotope of oxygen is shown by Omega.

5) And of course, the essential Omega-3 fatty acid from fish oil, which is tremendously important for the heart health.

You will be amazed to know  the following few facts about Omega-

  • ” The Omega” was the name of the last sailing ship used for ferrying cargo on a regular basis.It was renamed Omega when the second last cargo ship went out of business.
  • In the Metroid II video game, the Omega metroid is the final metamorphosis of those scary and weird aliens and is the most difficult to kill.
  • Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In Christianity, they signify that God is “the beginning( alpha) and the end (omega),” meaning that God is eternal.

Thus, the ominous symbol oscillates to and fro, from it’s age old badge of Gothic eeriness to the green freshness of the revival.

Omega , just like the phoenix in it’s life cycle, justifies the saying” Where I did end there shall I begin?”

FIBBO..NACHOS!

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, …

If you think I have started hurling random numbers at you, look a little more closely.
Try and observe a pattern.
When you see it, read on. (If you can’t, scroll to the bottom of the article for a hint, for I know curiosity kills the cat.)

Now gather a ruler and a scale and make squares with these widths.
What you will observe is a spiral, appearing as if by magic.

Are you up for one last fun exercise? Take any two successive numbers from this sequence and divide them by each other.
What you get is 1.618034, which is also called the Golden Ratio.
Go on, pick any two numbers from the sequence.

This isn’t just an arbitrary sequence, it lies at a core of many a phenomenon, most of which you must be encountering in your everyday life and overlooking.

Although named after Leonardo Pisano Bogollo, who lived between 1170 and 1250 in Italy, and had the nickname Fibonnaci, it wasn’t first observed by him. The Fibonacci sequence appears in Indian mathematics, in connection with Sanskrit prosody.
 In the Sanskrit tradition of prosody, there was interest in enumerating all patterns of long (L) syllables that are 2 units of duration, and short (S) syllables that are 1 unit of duration. Counting the different patterns of L and S of a given duration results in the Fibonacci numbers: the number of patterns that are m short syllables long is the Fibonacci number Fm + 1.



So let’s get our detective glasses on and discover this amazing pattern in nature, shall we?

Ever looked at a plant and marveled at the way the leaves are arranged in a specific way to receive optimum sunlight?
By dividing a circle into Golden proportions, where the ratio of the arc length is equal to the Golden Ratio, we find the angle of the arcs to be 137.5 degrees. In fact, this is the angle at which adjacent leaves are positioned around the stem.fibona45

In the case of tapered pinecones or pineapples, we see a double set of spirals – one going in a clockwise direction and one in the opposite direction. When these spirals are counted, the two sets are found to be adjacent Fibonacci numbers.

Similarly, sunflowers have a Golden Spiral seed arrangement. This provides a biological advantage because it maximizes the number of seeds that can be packed into a seed head.

The inside of fruits, the branching point of stems and the number of petals are all exhibited in Fibonnaci Order. Fibonacci numbers also appear in the pedigrees of idealized honeybees, according to the following rules:

  • If an egg is laid by an unmated female, it hatches a male or drone bee.
  • If, however, an egg was fertilized by a male, it hatches a female.

Thus, a male bee always has one parent, and a female bee has two.

If one traces the pedigree of any male bee (1 bee), he has 1 parent (1 bee), 2 grandparents, 3 great-grandparents, 5 great-great-grandparents, and so on. This sequence of numbers of parents is the Fibonacci sequence. The number of ancestors at each level, Fn, is the number of female ancestors, which is Fn−1, plus the number of male ancestors, which is Fn−2.[65] .tumblr_m9upzapr9g1qmslsno1_1280

 

 

An enthusiast could also arrange nachos in this way!

It is also worthwhile to mention that we humans have 8 fingers in total, 5 digits on each hand, 3 bones in each finger, 2 bones in 1 thumb, and 1 thumb on each hand.

The ratio between the forearm and the hand is the Golden Ratio!

The Golden Ratio is seen in the proportions in the sections of a finger.

Fascinating, isn’t it?
How there is order within what seems like chaos, how symbols and sequences jump out of theories and pages, hiding in plain sight, waiting to be discovered.
How Mathematics interwines with nature to produce the lovechild called Fibonnaci sequence.

This November 23rd (11/23, get it? Get it?) let everyone know.

(P.S The next number in the sequence is found by adding up the =previous two numbers. Example 1+0=1, 1+1=2, 2+1=3, 3+2=5, you get the drift.)

Hark the Herald! : The Caduceus Symbol

The wing, the staff and the serpent
Whereat my guide was pleased that I should see

The creature eminent in beauty once,
He from before me stepp’d and made me pause.
“Lo!” he exclaim’d, “lo! Dis; and lo! the place,
-Dante’s Inferno Canto 34(The Divine Comedy)

Caduceus
The Caduceus Symbol

The unremitting infatuation with Satan is a guilty pleasure of both the devout and the skeptic. Evidences to this romance are strewn all over history and if one goes picking the bread crumbs, they would get lost in the woods of ancient mysticism. While meandering in these woods, one comes across the most prominent satanic symbol; The Sabbatic Goat, created by occult author Eliphas Levi. It is a humanoid goat entrapped in a pentagram with a winged staff entwined by two serpents arising from its abdomen. This winged staff is called the Caduceus, a symbol with an illustrious past. In the Sabbatic Goat, the two serpents signify male and female energies that unite to create life and also enunciates that Satan is androgynous as compared to an andric God. This is directly antagonistic to concept of Christianity and hence this symbol donned the garb of evil. But this is just one among the plethora of meanings that it holds.
Caduceus is originally depicted as the staff carried by Hermes in Greek mythology or Mercury in Roman mythology; both messenger’s of gods, guides to souls, patrons of gamblers and merchants and gods of trade. Consequently, Caduceus was adopted as the international symbol for commerce and trade.
Flipping through archaic symbology, this symbol crops up yet again, manifested as an olive wand used by Mercury to end a deadly combat between two serpents. This led to the olive branch being declared the symbol for peace. Furthermore, modern astrology has subtle references to Caduceus when proclaiming Mercury rules Gemini; the two children personifying the entwined snakes. If these facts have set the cogwheels of the mind whirring rapidly, time to fuel the engine with a little insight into the Hindu texts, namely the Upanishads. It recites that each one of us harbours the Caduceus within us! The staff represents our spine called Sushumna and the snakes indicate interweaving energies that unite to form the 7 Chakras of our body. This concept bestows great power to Caduceus as it is the ultimate map of human body and the aura emanating from it. Thrown aback yet? If not then brace yourselves for a shocking revelation.
The connection of this symbol with medicine is one big accident!
Pop goes the bubble of comfortable ignorance as one unearths that symbol for medicine and healthcare is the Rod of Asclepsius that is a rod wound by a single serpent. It pertains to the Greek god Asclepsius; deity with healing powers. The erroneous usage was popularised due to adoption of Caduceus by US Army Medical Corps back in 1902 at the insistence of a single officer. Imagine how one man’s conviction in his misfounded beliefs plunged the world into confusion. This has brought modern medicine under unjust criticism as people are now viewing the healthcare industry in the light of notorious symbolic references to Caduceus. Hence, it’s time to ascend from the labyrinthine realm of symbology and be the harbingers to transform this esoteric domain into pure science. As Dante befittingly expresses-

By that hidden way
My guide and I did enter, to return
To the fair world: and heedless of repose
We climb’d, he first, I following his steps,
Till on our view the beautiful lights of Heaven
Dawn’d through a circular opening in the cave:
Thence issuing we again beheld the stars.

The Journey of ‘Pi’

Pi
The symbol ‘pi’, which has so diverse historical contexts

Immemorial tales of flourishing love, the ones of like Antony and Cleopatra’s, Romeo and Juliet’s, Odyesus and Penelope’s, Elizabeth and Darcy’s left the world awestruck of the impregnable with ionisation of two souls, albeit fictional.

The generations dawned with love in their hearts to feel the intimacy of unspoken connection. They felt the raging strength in surging red body fluid to overcome even some of the dreadfully challenging hurdles to meet, when separated from their love. Such beautiful bonds and relations serve as the sunshine of literature or are anecdotes in the pages of history.

But when it comes to an inevitable relation, which has been there behind some of most heart throbbing dreams coming to discoveries and inventions, we still seem to be blindfolded.

 

Yes, my genial intellectuals, the lovely relation of science with symbols. The adhesion of science with symbols is since and for forever.

 

The study of symbols is known as semiotics. It has sprouted subfields in various branches of science such as bio- semiotics , Cognitive semiotics etc.

One such symbol out of infinite other symbols which had been holding the string of scientific calculations is something which I felt like probing in: The one which is a constant value still varying as per the assignation by influenced minds of different nations. The one which is the definite value one gets when the circumference of a circle is divided by its diameter. Being an irrational and transcendental number it can be calculated to over trillion digits beyond decimal without repetition.  It is none other than π. This Greek letter has become so significant that its significance is celebrated on 14th march, which is referred to as the Pi-Day.

Delving a bit in history let’s probe its birth. The earliest textual evidence of pi dates back to 1900 BC; both the Babylonians and the Egyptians had a rough idea of the value. The Babylonians estimated pi to be about 25/8 (3.125), while the Egyptians estimated it to be about 256/81 (roughly 3.16).  It was calculated to seven digits, using geometrical techniques by Chinese. Archimedes is largely considered to calculate the approx value of π by the process of inscribing polygons inside the circle. He come up with a value that fell between 3.1408 – 3.14285.      Historically, the first exact formula for π, based on infinite series was not available until a millennium later, when in the 14th century the Madhava-Leibniz series was discovered in Indian mathematics. In the 20th and 21st centuries, mathematicians and computer scientists discovered new approaches that, when combined with increasing computational power, extended the decimal representation of π to, as of 2015, over 13.3 trillion (1013) digits.  Ramanujan is remembered for his dedicated endeavour in obtaining a formula referred as Ramanujan formula for calculating the digits after decimal.

With the complications it has in its value, it has uninhibitedly been useful in simplifying down the perplexed complications of science and maths. It may not cover more than few centimetres of paper or screen, but it has ruled vast peripherals of science and reinforced it.

 

From the Editor’s Desk

Eureka_symbols
This logo for Eureka has been designed by Shrija Ghosh, our designer

If I may, I would like to start by saying that symbols solve the existential crisis of some of the concepts of science. No one can imagine science without the multitude of symbols it has for various representations. Science and symbols have gone hand in hand since the advent of the time when science started being developed.

Think about how difficult it would have been to distinguish between recycled and reusable products had it not been for the recycling symbol with its numeric codes. When you see two snakes winding around a winged staff, your mind always jumps to ‘hospitals, or maybe something medical-related’.

So, one day not long before, when I was having scrambled eggs with a strong coffee, I pondered upon the idea of one of the content writers for Eureka to work on ‘Science and Symbols’. My neurotransmitters were going haywire: if only Robert Langdon would have been there to approve the idea! As he says, in The Da Vinci Code,

“Telling someone about what a symbol means is like telling someone how music should make them feel.”

Dear me, if we could have had a lecture with him on symbols! But then, since Professor Langdon can ever be with us ony through the words, and works of Dan Brown, we decided to research on some symbols on our own, and present them to you all, here, on Eureka’s blog.

So, let’s get excited, because we’ll be diving into the engaging and exhilarating world of science and symbols. Taking your leave with another of Dan Brown’s quotes from The Lost Symbol:

“Sometimes all it takes is a tiny shift of perspective to see something familiar in a totally new light.”

– Puspangana Singh

To Infinity… and Beyond!

Lemiscate
The Lemniscate

Buzz Lightyear and I were born in the same year and we have grown up together or at least, I certainly have grown up with him. He was too busy with Woody and Jessie and protecting the universe from Evil Emperor Zurg. But not just as a kid, even today as a so called “adult”, I am still fascinated and thoroughly entertained by this character, even more so by his favourite catchphrase: “to infinity… and beyond.” Sort of inspiring, don’t you think? I mean, to have no limits, to be able to reach a place unreachable and quite incomprehensible to the human mind. But what really does  Buzz Lightyear mean when he says, “To Infinity and beyond!”? A few professionals at Harvard investigated the origin of this quote and traced it back to its limits. According to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, “Buzz Lightyear is a metaphor of a function which approaches a certain number, but never actually reaches it.” Researchers at MIT have even hypothesized that Buzz Lightyear might be a metaphor for vertical asymptotes which one may never be able to cross.  Basically, Buzz Lightyear himself seems to be the embodiment of the concept of infinity.

The concept of infinity is not a modern one. The Taittiriya Upanishad, in describing it, says: “yuatho vacho nivartante, apraaya manasa saha” – where mind and speech return, unable to comprehend. Similar to the Upanishadic world view is Jain cosmology which recognizes five different types of infinities: infinite in one direction, in two directions, in area, infinite everywhere and perpetually infinite. In mathematics, infinity is the conceptual expression of a “numberless” number. It is but natural that such an important concept would have its very own symbol and this symbol is the lemniscate which looks like an eight, drunk and fallen over( ). This symbol was first used in the 1600s by the mathematician John Wallis. However, it bears a close resemblance to the ancient symbol of the Ouroboros or the symbol of Ananat, the great serpent of lord Vishnu. The great “adisesha” of eternity is always represented coiled up in a figure of 8 just like the lemniscate.

In algebraic geometry, a lemniscate is any of several figure-eight or-shaped curves. The word comes from the Latin lēmniscātus meaning “decorated with ribbons”, which in turn may come from the ancient Greek island of Lemnos where ribbons were worn as decorations, or alternatively may refer to the wool from which the ribbons were made. The most commonly used form of the lemniscate is the Bernoulli’s lemniscate which can be described by the following cartesian equation:

[(x-c)2+y2][(x+c)2+y2]=c4

where both sides of the equation have been squared. Expanding and simplifying then gives

(x2+y2)2=2c2(x2-y2).

 Further investigation of the curve led to the development of elliptic functions.
A friend of mine often cracked this joke: “My laziness is like the figure eight. When I lie down, it becomes infinite.” Whether you use it to symbolise your laziness or solve mathematical conundrums or answer philosophical queries, this is one symbol with limitless applications, taking us to infinity and beyond!