The Sciences

Lost: Faraday Cages

Science Not FictionBy Stephen CassApr 24, 2009 7:12 PM
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Wednesday’s night’s episode of Lost was a clip job, leaving unanswered some burning questions about the show’s resident physicist, Daniel Faraday, that we hope will be answered soon. One question that had occurred to me can be answered. Is Daniel a descendent of Michael Faraday, the 19th century English physicist, chemist and (until recently) featured star on the back of British 20-pound notes? The writers of Lost like to have fun with historical names (John Locke and Jeremy Bentham, for instance, and Daniel Faraday's own mother, Eloise Hawking). But the original Faraday had a special interest in electromagnetism, so the thought crossed my mind: Could Daniel be his great-great-great-grandson? Naw. Michael Faraday had a wife but no kids. So much for that, unless he was igniting someone else's Bunsen burner on the side. But there may be another Faraday connection hidden in the science of "Lost." At least one online denizen has speculated that "Faraday cages" have already -- and will -- play roles in the show. Made from an electrically conducting material, such as metal, a Faraday cage blocks electromagnetic signals from entering or exiting the cage. Elevators often act as kind of Faraday cage, which explains why your cell phone doesn't like to work in them; the outer shell of an airplane is another (lightning can hit plane's structure but not fry everyone inside thanks to this phenomenon). Faraday cages can also be used to protect electronics from electromagnetic pulses, or stop electronics from leaking giveaway signals, so they are often found in military and aerospace hardware. These days, Faraday cages are a hot topic in an unexpected field: privacy. RFID tags, those devices that track everything from library books to food products, are a major bugaboo for privacy activists. But you can prevent the tags from being detected by using a portable "RFID shield," a very basic kind of Faraday cage. (This site sells credit-card shields for $9.99 in "five attractive colors.") By Randy Dotinga

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