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"I want to be quoted as doing nothing but smile," declared Thomas S. McCaleb, instructor in Geographical Exploration, when questioned about Guglielmo Marconi's flendish invention. Swathed in rumor, this 'micro-wave' machine is supposed to stall the ignition system of airplanes in mid-air.
Interest in this apparatus was aroused by cryptic articles appearing in several newspapers, which declared that Marconi and his 'micro-wave' machine will soon be on the African frontier, ready to frustrate dusky aviators as soon as they dare leave the ground, and force their bare feet back to mother earth.
Although appearing to be made more of rumor than fact, this story was partly verified by an experience of Kirsopp Lake, professor of History. While in Italy last winter, an acquaintance of his, a certain German working in the Vatican Library, related how his car had mysteriously stalled while on the road from Ostia to Rome.
It seems that all the cars within sight stopped functioning for five minutes, and then, equally mysteriously, were able to start again. Next day, all the Rome papers ran a story declaring that Marconi's new invention had proved successful by crippling the magnetoes of all automobiles on the Ostia-Rome highway.
This statement, however, was vigorously denied in all subsequent publications, and the whole incident was hushed up. Professor Lake says that whenever he mentioned the matter to Italians, he was given to understand that it should not be discussed, but considered a deep secret.
But Professor McCaleb's antile summed up the opinions of several members of Harvard's skeptical scientific faculty. "I'd have to see it to believe it," was the rather bromidic way in which Robert P. Siskind, assistant professor of Electrical Engineering expressed his skepticism, while Harry R. Mimno, assistant professor of Physics, varied this with "I don't believe it."
The principal reason for the belittling of this rumor was the ease with which radio waves, short enough to transmit sufficient power to effect a magneto, could be shielded. These waves are of optical range, that is to say, their power of penetration is little better than that of light. This means that the hood of a car would be more than sufficient to render them impotent.
To demonstrate the sensitivity of these ultra-short waves, Professor McCaleb showed an apparatus which he had in his laboratory. There was a small transmitter to set up power-producing waves, and a receiver to record them. Even when a hand was passed between the sender and receiver, fluctuations were very marked.
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