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On September 19, 1970, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” premiered: a mainstream sitcom about women in the workplace that millions of Americans could relate too. Today, its star, a feminist icon in her own right, Mary Tyler Moore, died. She was 80 years old.
Though “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” ran for seven season and became one of the most decorated shows of all time, it almost didn’t make it past its first season. The reason was because of its time slot, explains Jennifer Keishin Armstrong in her definitive book on the series, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And all the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic.
The show, Armstrong writes, was initially slated to run on Tuesday nights on CBS. The competitive lineup would have spelled doom for the fledgling sitcom. But then, CBS’ head of programming Fred Silverman got his hand on the pilot. What happened next changed the show's fate. Silverman was so impressed that after he finished screening the episode, he immediately called up his boss. “You know where we’ve got it on the schedule? It’s going to get killed there, and this is the kind of show we’ve got to support,” he said, as Armstrong reports.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” got moved to Saturdays at 9:30, and the rest was history.
It's not hard to see why the pilot episode had Silverman hooked. Just take the scene where Moore's character, Mary Richards, gets hired as an associate producer for a Minneapolis television station—it's one of the most famous job interviews in television history.
During it, news producer Lou Grant (a loveable Ed Asner), gives Richards a hard look. “You know what? You’ve got spunk,” he says, grudgingly.
Moore, wearing a long brown wig to differentiate herself from the character she played on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” nods, graciously. “Well, yes.”
Grant’s face then does a 180. “I hate spunk,” he says, his eyes bugging out.
The scene is played for laughs, but it also served as an important mission statement for what “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” would be. In its 24-minute pilot, the show set itself up to tell the story of a 30-something single woman in the workplace with unapologetic “spunk.”
The last episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” aired seven years later on March 19, 1977. Fittingly called “The Last Show” it serves as a poignant way to say goodbye to Moore today. After her character turns off the lights in the newsroom for the last time at the end of the episode, the entire cast comes on for the show’s first and only curtain call.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” an announcer tells the Hollywood studio audience to thunderous, poignant applause. “For the last time, Mary Tyler Moore.”
In 1928, a U.S. Geological Survey mathematician determined the geographic center of North America by balancing a cardboard cutout of the continent with a pin stuck through it on his finger, reports April Baumgarten at Forum New Service. His result, reports Baumgarten, was an area roughly six miles west of the tiny town of Balta, North Dakota, which is 16 miles southwest of Rugby—the town that claimed the title. And in 1931, the community erected a monument, declaring itself the “Geographical Center of North America,” and joining a list of roadside attractions.
But Steph Yin at The New York Times reports that Rugby’s claim to fame may belong to another. Peter Rogerson, geography professor at the University of Buffalo, created a method for determining geographic centers. When he applied his method to North America, he found is that the geographic center of the continent actually lies 145 miles southwest.
“When I ran my computer program and looked at the final latitude and longitude, I was astounded to see that it was in a place called Center,” Rogerson tells Yin.
Rick Schmidt, the Extension agent based in Oliver County, where Center is located, was shocked by the news. “I am not sure that being the center of North America has really set in yet,” he tells Baumgarten. “I would say that it is fun to be the center of attention.”
Rogerson’s pronouncement puts to rest a controversy that has been simmering in North Dakota for the last couple years. James MacPherson at the Associated Press, reports that in 2015 the patrons of Hanson’s Bar in Robinson, North Dakota, 85 miles south of Rugby, collected $350 and bought the trademark for the phrase “Geographical Center of North America,” which Rugby had let lapse in 2009.
Bill Bender, mayor of Robinson and one of the bar's many owners tells MacPherson that “barstool science” validates the town’s claim since global warming has melted arctic sea ice, pushing North America south until the geographic center of the continent ended up smack-dab in the center of Hanson’s 45-foot long bar. ‘We're pretty confident if you come in and have a beer you’ll see we can very well make the case,” Bender tells MacPherson.
Rogerson’s methods, however, more compelling. Yin explains that the professor uses what's called an azimuthal equidistant map projection. There are a range of different methods to project a curved object on a flat surface, but Rogerson's method specializes in accuracy of positioning in the central region, Yin writes, "at the expense of shape and size toward its edges. (Think of the flag of the United Nations, centered on the North Pole.)"
Even so, the USGS has no official definition of a geographic center and no agreed upon method for determining it, Yin reports. And the current center does not include islands in the Caribbean, which are part of North America. There is also no particularly compelling scientific reason to calculate or debate the point. It's more of a matter of civic pride than scientific advancement, Rogerson tells Baumgarten.
Bender says that while he respects Rogerson’s work, his town is going to continue to push its claim as the geographic center—and in August will hold what it hopes is the first of many CenterFest celebrations.
William Shakespeare knew his way around a map—just look at how King Lear divides his kingdom into three parts, creating chaos while he pursues his “darker purpose.” But what did the world look like when the Bard still walked the earth? An exhibition at the Boston Public Library celebrates the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death through historical maps. The play might be the thing for Shakespeare, but these maps, Linda Poon reports for CityLab, shed light on the playwright’s unique perspective and how he created drama for 16th-century theatergoers.
Shakespeare Here and Everywhere, which can be viewed at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library through February 26, 2017, uses maps to show how Shakespeare thought of far-off worlds. Though he was based in England, the Bard often used foreign settings to create exotic stories—and thanks to the development of maps and atlases during his era, he was able to elevate what amounted to armchair traveling into fine art.
International travel was treacherous and expensive during Shakespeare’s day, so it’s not surprising that neither he nor many of his contemporaries ever left England. But in a time before TV or the internet, maps were a source not just of coveted information, but of entertainment. As the British Museum notes, to own or look at a map meant the viewer was literally worldly, and atlases and wall maps were used not as ways of navigating places most people would never encounter, but as symbols of education and adventure.
Can’t make it to Boston? Do some armchair traveling of your own: You can view the maps in the exhibition on the library’s website. Or explore the locales mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays with Shakespeare on the Map, a project that uses Google Maps to show how the playwright used location.
Editor's note, December 6, 2016: The piece has been updated to reflect that the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center is an independent organization located at the Boston Public Library.
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Curator Dr. Katherine Ott invited students in Dr. Samuel J. Redman's Museum/Historic Site Interpretation Seminar to explore the museum's disability history collections and write blog posts sharing their research.
The American Disabilities Act, signed in the White House on July 26, 1990, was groundbreaking for people with disabilities. But it was also groundbreaking for all American people, as it attempted to prevent the discrimination against people with disabilities that prevented them from having the full rights of citizenship. It gave people with disabilities rights for which many thousands had been fighting for decades. The disability-rights movement was a grassroots movement, and in many ways it culminated with the signing of this Act. It is the first comprehensive list of laws specifically addressing the rights of people with disabilities. It radically challenged old, discriminatory laws, and touched almost every area of society, as transportation and employment policies were updated. For the first time in history, the United States government officially defined the rights of people with disabilities. It ultimately changed the way America viewed people with disabilities as a whole.
Before the American Disabilities Act was signed:
- People using wheelchairs who wanted to ride a bus or train would need to abandon their wheelchairs.
- A restaurant could refuse to serve a person with disabilities.
- A grocery store could prevent a disabled person from buying the goods there.
- If a person in a wheelchair could actually physically enter a library, he or she might not be able to check out library books, because of the wheelchair.
- "Homosexuals" could be considered disabled. There was no previous legal definition of disability and homosexuality was considered a disease until 1973.
- Any place of employment could refuse to hire a person just because of his/her disability.
- A person with disabilities could legally be paid less just because of his/her disability, even if he or she was doing the same work as another person.
- Because the restrooms on trains were not accessible, people often had to wear precautionary diapers when they traveled.
Want to learn more? Here's a short list of new laws initiated by the ADA:
- Section 12132 of this title and section 79 of title 29, it shall be considered discrimination for a public entity to fail to have at least 1 vehicle per train that is accessible to individuals with disabilities, including individuals who use wheelchairs, as soon as practicable but in no event later than the last day of the 5-year period beginning on the effective date of this section.
- General rule. No individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.
- Homosexuality and bisexuality. For purposes of the definition of "disability" in section 12102(2) of this title, homosexuality and bisexuality are not impairments and as such are not disabilities under this chapter.
- General rule. No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
- General rule. No covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual on the basis of disability in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement, or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment.
You can find the full text of the ADA here.
Samantha Lombard is an undergraduate History and Art History Major at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
A letter and a spinning wheel were the basis of a friendship between American car pioneer Henry Ford and Mohandas Gandhi, leader of a non-violent resistance movement in India against British rule.
On this day in 1941, Ford wrote to Gandhi. “You are one of the greatest men the world has ever known,” he wrote in the brief letter. “May God help you and guide your lofty work.” In return, Gandhi sent Ford his portable spinning wheel. The relationship between two men from such different worlds might seem surprising, until you realize that they were united behind one aim: peace.
But Ford's pacifism stemmed from a grim place. He was an anti-Semite. Years before he wrote to Gandhi, he was publishing an anti-Semitic newsletter, The International Jew, which inspired Hitler in forming his racist and delusional theories.
Ford opposed the United States entering World War I, and even financed the ill-fated Peace Ship, a vessel that carried a group of activists to Europe in 1915 in an attempt to work things out between the warring nations. By the time the ship reached its destination of Oslo, passengers had been stricken by a flu, and the mission was a wash, writes Garrett Fisk for Military History of the Upper Great Lakes.
Ford “believed that war was solely a means of profiteering for the people who stood to make money from the conflict,” Fisk writes. For Ford, that meant Jews. He believed that Jewish-owned businesses stood to reap financial gain from war, and opposed wars on those grounds.
When World War II started, Ford opposed the United States joining on the grounds of his own racist brand of pacifism. By the time he sent the letter, writes History.com, he had “reluctantly bowed” to government pressure and opened the massive Willow Run plant to manufacture B-24E bombers for the Allies–putting him in the position of making money from war. (Ford’s company also produced war vehicle parts during World War I, though on a smaller scale.)
Gandhi, who also flirted with anti-Semitism, didn’t actually get Ford’s letter until December 8, 1941, writes History.com– the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, throwing the United States into war. The spinning wheel, called a charkha, that he sent back was one of the ones he used to make his own cloth, symbolizing his economic independence from British colonial rulers. The charkha was a symbol of Gandhi’s movement and India’s greater independence from Britain. Gandhi, who History.com writes was “greatly pleased,” signed the gift in both Hindi and English. It travelled 12,000 miles back to Ford in Greenfield Village, Michigan, reaching him in December 1942.
“Ford kept it as a good luck charm,” writes History.com. Today it sits in the Henry Ford Museum. It's a symbol of a complicated time in history, before the full horrors of the Holocaust were known, when two men with complicated ideologies tried to connect.
Early in July 1943, more than 160,000 troops in Patton's Seventh Army hit the beach in Sicily under a deafening naval bombardment. With them was an unarmed G.I. who could hear and smell things no ordinary soldier could detect. Although some of his companions wondered what use he could be against tanks and machine guns, they would soon be glad he was on their side. His name was Chips and he was a dog.
As Chips and his handler pushed inland and approached a hut, it erupted in machine-gun fire. The dog sprinted inside, and moments later an Italian soldier staggered out with the dog at his throat. Chips had captured his first prisoner.
Some 10,000 dogs were trained for military service during World War II. They hauled ammunition through the snow, carried messages through enemy lines and traversed suspected mine fields. After the war, and a brief retraining, the canine heroes often went quietly back to their doghouses.
Only about 200 of the several thousand canines that served in Vietnam ever made it back home. While hundreds were sent on to other military assignments, perhaps a thousand were turned over to the Vietnamese, a fact some veterans equate with abandonment or a death sentence in a country where dogs were sometimes eaten for dinner. About 300 were killed in action.
This year the War Dog Memorial Fund erected two memorials to honor the contributions of military dogs one in Riverside, California, the other at Fort Benning, Georgia. A bill that passed the House and Senate in October will allow handlers and other qualified persons to adopt the dogs when their service is over, a situation not permitted in recent decades.
Hugh Turvey calls one of his earliest images Femme Fatale. Using an x-ray, he scanned his wife’s foot in a dangerously high stiletto.
“I think we all understand that your foot is going through quite a lot when it is in a stiletto, but to actually physically see it and to see the angle of the bones,” says the British artist. He completes his thought, I imagine, with a shiver. “Not only do you have this distorted foot, but you have these small nails that were in the actual construction of the shoe. It just looked like a torture device.”
That was about 20 years ago.
Since then, Turvey has walked the line between photography and radiology, creating art using x-ray equipment from the medical and security industries. He has coined the term “xogram” to describe his medium, a mash-up between an x-ray and a photogram, made by placing an object on light-sensitive paper.
For a while, the artist obsessed over flowers. It was challenging to use x-ray to bring out the internal structure of something as thin as a petal, and he invested a lot of time in perfecting his technique. One by one, he’d scan dahlias, calla lilies, gerbera daisies and thistles. Later on, he captured a series of eggs that shows a chick’s development from yolk and white to ready-to-hatch egg in 21 days. And, then there was the elephant skull. “It is a strange looking item when it doesn’t have its flesh on it,” he says.
Turvey has produced compelling xograms of a wide range of objects: wrapped presents, suitcases, motorcycles and musical instruments. “You tend to start viewing everything from a density point of view,” he says. “I view most of the world around me in terms of how I imagine it is internally and how it would look if we were to try and x-ray it.” Smithsonian commissioned Turvey to shoot the cover of its May 2012 travel issue (see it here). And, recently, he turned to portraits—x-ray portrayals of people’s most precious possessions. “By ‘exposing’ these objects in x-ray, I ‘expose’ the owner,” he says.
Of course, Turvey isn’t just taking x-rays of his subjects; he always adds his artistic touch. To achieve the level of detail he desires, enough to convey the subject to the viewer as quickly as possible, he sometimes layers photographs onto the x-ray. Turvey also enhances the images with color. “X-ray is a gray scale process, and color is an amazing tool to control where the viewer looks and in what order over an object,” he says. “It actually puts the depth back into the image in quite a lot of cases.”
Since 2009, Turvey has been an artist-in-residence at the British Institute of Radiology. In this role, he aims to help create better healthcare environments and to improve the patient experience. His artistic interpretations of x-ray are used as educational tools. “It helps patients understand the process that they are going to go through when they see everyday objects x-rayed,” Turvey explains.
“When you are a child, and you’re seeing things for the first time, everything is exciting. As you go on, maybe that excitement gets lost and you just take things for granted,” says Turvey. Ultimately, he wants viewers of his images to see the world with fresh eyes. To help, he has started to adhere large vinyls of his images onto glass partitions in offices and hospitals.
“Beauty isn’t skin deep. The world is so much more complicated than it appears,” says the artist. “When you are able to see just a little bit deeper, I think you become a better person.”
About 70 of Turvey’s images, spanning his career, will be on display in “X-POSÉ: Material and Surface,” an exhibition at gallery@oxo at Oxo Tower Wharf in London’s South Bank from February 12 to February 23, 2014.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History says the tail is about 15 feet (5 meters) long and resembles that of a hadrosaur or crested duckbill dinosaur.
says it’s not yet possible to confirm the species, but it would be the first full tail of that kind in Mexico.
The 72 million-year-old tail finding is quite rare, Reuters reports. A hip and other bones have also been found nearby.
Scientists have been working to clear the 50 vertebrae of sediment for the past three weeks or so. The remains were actually found last summer, however, when locals stumbled upon them and contacted Mexico’s National Institute for Anthropology and History, writes Reuters.
If the tail does turn out to belong to a duckbilled dinosaur, then it would have comprised about half of the animal’s body length, which totaled around 30 to 35 feet, LiveScience reports.
Hadrosaurs, apparently, have a reputation for leaving around well-preserved skeletons. One hadrosaurus discovered in 1858 became the most complete skeleton ever found up until that time, according to New Jersey State, and it became the first dinosaur skeleton on display ten years later. Today, it’s New Jersey’s state dinosaur, though Mexico may be equally inclined to a slice of the hadrosaur fame after this newest fossil is unearthed.
More from Smithsonian.com:
Did you ever wish you could change your skin color like a squid, to blend in with your surroundings? It would be a useful talent, no doubt, for napping during boring meetings.
Squid and octopi are some of the only animals on Earth with this unique skill, which they can use to hide from predators on the ocean floor. Using their muscles, they expand or expose pigment sacks in their skin to achieve a specific color or pattern. They can also texturize their skin at will, going from smooth to wrinkled or rippled.
Now, a team of scientists at the University of Connecticut has figured out a way to replicate this color- and texture-changing process. It might not help you blend into your desk chair, but it could help create new technologies, such as anti-glare screens, embedded encryption, privacy windows and even color-change clothing.
The team, led by materials scientist Luyi Sun and his colleague Songshan Zeng, as well as their collaborator Dianyun Zhang, has created materials that can change color, texture and transparency. The materials take advantage of the property called ‘mechanochromism,’ or color change due to the application of mechanical force.
“We learned that some squid, they can change their skin muscle to disclose or reveal some of the pigments embedded in their skin layer,” says Sun. “We said ‘oh, that’s something we could probably mimic.'”
The team created a two-layer material—a rigid film of polyvinyl alcohol and clay composite on top of a more elastic bottom layer of polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) embedded with dye. The top layer develops tiny cracks and ridges when stretched; the material then reveals what’s below. This set up can be used to create materials that go from transparent to opaque, become more luminescent, or change color entirely.
They also created a material with a rigid top film of polyvinyl alcohol, without the clay composite, on a bottom layer of PDMS. When exposed to moisture, the material wrinkles, much like human fingers after a long swim. This wrinkling can be engineered to be reversible or non-reversible.
These technologies have several potential applications, says Zeng. The mechanochromic technology could be used to create smart windows that look clear in their resting state, but can be made opaque when stretched, creating instant privacy. They could also be used to create a new generation of color-change display optics, toys or even clothing. The moisture responsive wrinkle technology could be useful for making anti-glare computer, tablet and smartphone screens as well. The irreversible wrinkling technology could also be used for encryption—a message is embedded in the material that can only be seen when moistened, and can be made to disappear instantly after it’s read, James Bond style.
The base materials are all quite low-cost, and the process of creating the color- and texture-change technology is quite simple, Sun says. He plans to partner with industries to come up with more real world applications for the material in the near future. The next steps will be to improve and expand the technology. Right now the color change needs to be activated by UV light; the team would like to develop it so it can be used in any kind of light. They’re also interested in using different stimuli besides mechanical force to make the color and texture changes happen, perhaps creating a material that could be altered by temperature change, for example.
“We are working really hard right now to further improve and make advances, and we’ve achieved some real nice progress,” Sun says.
The team presented their research at the 252nd National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society, held last week in Philadelphia.
From Playboy to Polar Bears: A Fashion Photographer’s Journey to Document Climate Science in Northernmost Alaska
Barrow, Alaska is not the pristine wilderness touted by the American imagination. It is not home to sparkling bays where whales jump against a backdrop of crystal white mountains to the delight of passing cruise ships. Rather, it is northernmost Alaska—“gravel and coast and tundra,” says photographer Florencia Mazza Ramsay. Flat land stretches for miles. The climate is harsh and wild. “It feels like you are in the middle of nowhere and that’s the end of the world and there’s nowhere else to go,” she says.
Mazza Ramsay’s photography credits include Playboy Spain and Porsche, so as she was trekking alongside scientists in Barrow last summer on high alert for polar bears, she paused to consider the contrast.
“I went from five-star hotels and celebrities to carrying a shotgun [for defense] in the Arctic,” she says with a laugh.
Originally from Argentina, Mazza Ramsay now lives in El Paso, Texas, with her husband, a research assistant for Systems Ecology Lab (SEL), whose work includes monitoring coastal erosion in Barrow during the summer months. Through him, Mazza Ramsay learned about the very real impact of climate change in the Arctic town, including an average of 60 feet of coastal erosion in the past decade.
Inspired to share the realities of this far-off place with the El Paso community, she applied for a grant from the University of Texas El Paso, which runs SEL, to document the research being done in Barrow. Project approved, she set out with her husband from June to September 2015.
When the Ramsays arrived, SEL's principal investigator had hoped they would have a chance to see frozen Barrow. “That’s what gets everyone excited and that makes really interesting photos,” Mazza Ramsay explains. “The thing is that we barely got to see the frozen Barrow."
This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Barrow Observatory observed snowmelt on May 13, the earliest in 73 years of record-keeping. The melt followed a winter that was 11 degrees above normal for the state. According to NOAA, Barrow is one of the last places in the United States to lose snow cover. The effects of earlier ice melts include changes in vegetation as well as wildlife breeding and migration patterns.
Over the course of four months, Ramsay accompanied scientists from several organizations studying a range of these effects, from erosion to changes in snowy owl habits. A few of the scientists she accompanied had traveled to Barrow for many years and provided her with valuable, firsthand insight into the realities of Barrow’s climate. Among them was George Divoky, who has studied the population of black guillemots, a black and white waterbird, on Cooper Island for more than 40 years.
In that time, Divoky has witnessed many changes to the tiny island off the coast of Barrow. Notably, this summer was the black guillemot’s earliest breeding season yet. While he used to camp on the island, he now lives in a hut to stay away from hungry polar bears and in 2002, he had to be airlifted off the island when polar bears ripped up his tents. Divoky attributes this change to the degradation of the their natural habitat, Arctic pack ice.
Outside of documenting scientific work, Mazza Ramsay engaged with the local community and came to understand the effects of a changing environment on their way of life. From her conversations, she learned that warmer currents and changing sea ice conditions have made conditions more difficult for whalers, who must travel on ice to reach whales and are setting out on their hunts later than usual. This is a significant change, says Mazza Ramsay, due to limited resources in the Arctic tundra: "Barrow culture is rooted deeply in subsisting off the land. People really need to hunt to survive." Elders also shared memories with her of days past when they would sled down now-eroded hills.
Mazza Ramsay hopes that her photographs highlight the importance of climate change beyond political boundaries and put a face to the ways in which scientists are working to understand its effects.
Looking forward, she aspires to return to Barrow to explore the relationship between scientific and local communities. She would like to get a sense of whether the research being done is inspiring for the younger, native generation or viewed as intrusive. Much of the native community is receptive to the scientists’ presence, she explains, but others are wary yet.
Sometime between 600 and 900 AD, Chinese chemists stumbled upon gunpowder and the long history of fireworks began. The celebratory rockets spread around the world, morphing from simple firecrackers to the bright blossoming showers of color that wow watchers around the world today.
Fireworks in the 21st century are still essentially the same as they ever were—a shell full of gunpowder that launches a payload of black powder and chemically treated “stars” into the sky. But technology has added a few twists in the last decade, creating new shapes, brighter colors and better choreography. In Japan, building and launching elaborate fireworks has even become a competitive sport, adding new meaning to the phrase “the beautiful game.” Here are a few things to look out for in the future of fireworks:
For many people the best part of a fireworks display is the big-decibel booms. But not everyone is interested in the noise; in fact, Steph Yin at The New York Times writes that more and more areas are outlawing noisy aerial shows in order to reduce stress on animals and livestock, protect people’s hearing and comply with local ordinances.
That has led to the rise of “quiet fireworks” displays in Europe. Yin reports there aren’t new quiet rockets, just shows designed with existing shells that don’t make quite as much bang. The practice could make fireworks more child-friendly and protect people with PTSD, writes Kate Horowitz at Mental Floss. The town of Collecchio, Italy passed a quiet fireworks ordinance earlier this year and a wedding venue in Great Britain has gone silent-fireworks only, she reports.
Traditionally, fireworks need the backdrop of a dark night sky to really pop. But Ian Hardy at the BBC reports that corporate requests for daytime displays are pushing fireworks makers to create displays that can be visible during the day. That means making colors brighter and even adding other display options like Flogos, corporate logos or designs made out of foam bubbles.
Most daytime displays are still no match for nighttime boomers. But Chinese artist Cai Guo Qiang, the architect of the fireworks show at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is on the right track. In 2011 he showed how a daytime show could go with “Black Ceremony,” a fireworks display celebrating the opening of the Arab Museum of Modern Art in Qatar. The show included over 8000 shells that made puffs of deep black and pastel colored smoke in the shape of a rainbow.
Fireworks were remained yellow or orange for several centuries until Italian pyrotechnicians began fiddling with the recipe, writes Shannon Hall for Nautilus. They added trace amounts of metals to expand the rainbow of their displays. But the one thing that has eluded fireworks makers to this day is a consistently deep blue tone.
Colors like red, green and orange are easy to produce, John Conkling, former director of the American Pyrotechnics Association tells Audie Cornish at NPR. The copper compound used to produce blues, however, is finicky, and destroys the color if temperatures get too hot.
“It’s a bit like playing The Price is Right, because as you raise the flame temperature, the colors get brighter and brighter, but if you get too hot, then you destroy the [metal] species that’s emitting the color, and you just get a washed-out white,” Conkling tells Hall. “You have to balance.”
But Conkling says that more precise temperature control means good pyrotechnicians can produce blue more consistently than ever before. And he’s confident the secret to a simpler, more stable blue is around the corner. “It’s lurking somewhere out there,” he tells Hall. “It just hasn’t been found yet.”
Fireworks choreographed to music have been around for decades, but since the turn of the century electronically controlled shows are allowing designers to time their shells down to the millisecond. Chris Gaylord at The Christian Science Monitor reports that, in contrast, hand-lit shells take four or five seconds to launch.
Computer simulations and 3-D modeling allows pyrotechnicians to view their shows from various audience perspectives and to try out new ideas digitally, according to Alyssa Danigelis at IQ. Advanced programs like Visual Show Director compensate for wind and gravity. Designers can combine their blasts with musical scores then load the data into a firing computer that runs the actual show.
This allows creation of new, breathtaking choreography, explains Gaylord, such as the 300-foot Transient Rainbow, which is the explosion of 1,000 synced shells in just 15 seconds.