La Brea Assumption Pit

The other day one of my colleagues sent me an article about a tummy rocket that runs on stomach acid and jets about doing sensor and/or chemical things. Then I got a pointer to this article [Link] on a wirelessly powered 3mm x 4mm x thin chip that goes into the human circulatory system (no teleporter, sorry!) and putts about (maybe) and does mechanical things like sensing or zapping.

What makes this notable to me is not the technology per se, but that the developer, a boffin at Stanford U, got to this by questioning an old assumption.

“scientists were approaching the problem incorrectly. In their models, they assumed that human muscle, fat, and bone were generally good conductors of electricity, and therefore governed by a specific subset—the “quasi-static approximation,” to be exact—of the mathematical principles known as Maxwell’s equations.
Poon (the researcher) took a different tack, choosing instead to model tissue as a dielectric—a type of insulator. As it turns out, human tissue is a poor conductor of electricity. But radio waves can still move through tissue. In a dielectric, the signal is conveyed as waves of shifting polarization of atoms within cells.”

Simply put someone assumed a while ago that human bodies are good conductors and that sidetracked the technology. The critical question is why didn’t they question the assumption and make actual measurement?

Electricity was early associated with frog muscles, which experiments seem to contradict the assumption prima facie. But someone decided humans acted like copper wires. If anything this is a good example of how good science is based on continually questioning assumptions and testing them.

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