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Science: Light on the Future

2 minute read

In perhaps the calmest burst of amazing prophecy on record, General Electric’s famed Physicist-Chemist Irving Langmuir recently predicted that man would some day speed up to 5,000 miles an hour in a vacuum tube. He thought it would be perfectly possible to build an airtight vehicle, magnetically suspended in the tube and electronically controlled, in which travelers might zip from New York to San Francisco in an hour.

Though such an achievement may be far away, the fantastic new possibilities of electricity and electronics have already been widely apparent both in war and industry (TIME, Feb. 8 et seq.). Last week Westinghouse gave an especially striking illumination of the future of heating and lighting. In a Manhattan show for architects and designers, Westinghouse engineers displayed: > Brilliant fluorescent lamps, not attached to any wiring, carried freely around the room. The energy that lit these wireless lamps came from a high-frequency radio beam generated by a physician’s ordinary diathermy set. (Westinghouse admitted that this was a stunt, said that wireless electric power might not be commercially practical for many years. But the Federal Communications Commission is already planning to reserve part of the postwar radio spectrum for wireless heating and cooking.) > An electric heat lamp. Resembling a flat-lensed sealed beam headlight, with a 750-watt bulb inside, the device generated so much heat that bacon & eggs could be cooked on it. Such lamps are now used to dry paint on military equipment in three minutes.

>Sterilizing lamps. Already used in air conditioning and to sterilize dishes, these lamps will soon be available in small sizes with many new uses: on toothbrush racks they will keep the brushes germfree; in shoe trees they will kill fungi, prevent athlete’s foot.

> A shatterproof light bulb, with a strong filament and lacquer coating, that could be banged on a table without breaking.

> A compact new sun lamp, combining warming infrared and tanning ultraviolet rays, that needs no reflector, can be plugged into any electric outlet.

> A 10,000-watt mercury vapor lamp (so hot that it must be water-cooled) which is one-fifth as bright as the sun at its surface. It could be used for lighting factories, large halls, athletic fields, etc.

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