Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Electrophorus electricus

No matter how much you rub a balloon in your hair while wearing a polyester pantsuit and dragging your feet through a shag rug, you will never generate the zap of these most steampunk of creatures, Electophorus electricus. When I tried to capture the frankensteinian characteristics of this eel in its tank at the New York Aquarium (ever notice that odd seam that runs down both its sides?) it turned away from me as if pained by one with such pathetic electrical conductivy. It's true, fish, I am no super conductor like you, with 4/5 of your body packed with electroplaques that generate a charge which can course through your body at a rate of 1,000 meters per second.

The 1937 Time Magazine article from which I learned this includes comments from Dr. Coates, one time resident scientist at the Aquarium, pictured on the display below the Coney Island eel's tank. The writer mentions that Dr. Coates snorted. That is, he snorted when asked if he thought the energy of eels would ever be harnessed for use as a commercial power source. He must have had quite a sense for the creatures based on the stunts he coordinated exploiting the eel's voltage for the amusement of eager audiences.

The article describes the eel as "a wormish thick as a man's thigh." Did someone say man's thigh? The hadron device (... das star maker!) below looks like it must be considerably thicker than a man's thigh, but still bearing some of the strange tension and faint creasing molded into the eels turgid form, and adding to it the sinuous curls of an octopus' tentacles swirling to yin-yang counterpoints. Perhaps we should view the stunt in which an eel lit a 2,000,000 "candlepower" beacon in Radio City as a gateway stunt for things like the super colliders some fear will wreak havoc with reality as we know it. Do we really want to find out what happened at the time of the Big Bang, first hand? I can leave it alone. There's no need to act like a Nimrod and scratch the firmament with a gimlet.

Image from The Long Now Foundation