I promise this story about microwaves is interesting.

I promise this story about microwaves is interesting.

I found an article that said “The microwave was invented to heat hamsters humanely in 1950s experiments.” And I thought, no it wasn’t. …was it?

Pull down the description for thorough references and credits.

Thanks to James Lovelock for his time! His latest book is Novacene: https://amzn.to/3hmKsWz [that is, of course, an Amazon affiliate link]

Filmed safely: https://www.tomscott.com/safe/ – thanks to jabs, PCR tests, isolation and distancing.

I did consider whether to do an extended interview with Dr Lovelock, but the Science Museum has already done far better than I ever could:

On cyborgs, asteroids and Gaia theory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fg-3wBBpM_M

On his greatest epiphany: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxYMl4ZBxBk

An extended 90-minute interview from the Lovelock Centenary Conference: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGziItCwDJA


I Burrell, in the Independent, 1997: “Your money, or the cat gets microwaved”: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/your-money-or-the-cat-gets-microwaved-1246775.html
M Blitz, “The Amazing True Story of How the Microwave Was Invented by Accident”: https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/a19567/how-the-microwave-was-invented-by-accident/
E Schliephake, “Ultra-short waves in medicine” in Short Wave Craft, Vol. 3, No. 11, March 1933, p. 646 [PDF]: https://worldradiohistory.com/Archive-Short-Wave-Television/30s/SW-TV-1933-03.pdf
E Ackerman, “A Brief History of the Microwave Oven”, IEEE Spectrum: https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/space-age/a-brief-history-of-the-microwave-oven

Radarange photo from Acroterion: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NS_Savannah_microwave_oven_MD8.jpg – image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

James Lovelock in 1962: Photo by Donald Uhrbrock/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

A Smith, J Lovelock, A Parkes, 1954: Resuscitation of Hamsters after Supercooling or Partial Crystallization at Body Temperatures Below 0° C.. Nature 173, 1136–1137. https://doi.org/10.1038/1731136a0
R K Andjus, J E Lovelock, 1955: Reanimation of rats from body temperatures between 0 and 1° C by microwave diathermy. The Journal of Physiology, 128. https://doi.org10.1113/jphysiol.1955.sp005323.
Lovelock, J E, Smith A U, 1959, Heat transfer from and to animals in experimental hypothermia and freezing. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 80: 487-499. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.1959.tb49226.x

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and on Instagram as tomscottgo

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40 Responses

  1. Tom Scott says:

    One of the limitations of YouTube as a medium is that you have to summarise a whole story into a title and thumbnail. I couldn’t do that here without being unfair to the people I’m talking about, or giving away a big part of the piece too early, or using too many words. Ah well. I hope everyone else finds the story as interesting as I did!

  2. Stefan Milo says:

    What a fantastic story. One of your best Tom

  3. Technology Connections says:

    I can’t think of a single reason why a story about microwaves wouldn’t be immensely interesting!

  4. ProGamerDude says:

    You could talk about anything and make it interesting Tom

  5. G1Z1 says:

    1:40 ‘don’t mess about with these unless you know what you’re doing’
    *_Electroboom joined the chat_*

  6. Miniarts says:

    “Can I borrow your magnetron?”

    “Oh, no, just take it!”

    50s science was a wonder

    • Jay Terref says:

      You know one the best things about science? This still happens quite a lot. I am finishing my Master’s research right now and if there’s just one piece of advice I can give you, it’s this: if you need something from another researcher, ask away! Sure, not all of them will help you, but you’d be surprised how many researchers are willing to go way out of their way to help you

  7. Maki Němečků says:

    A 101 year old scientist explaining his crazy experiments is the best smile I ever saw.

  8. Andrew F. says:

    101 year old guy is more coherent than me. What an absolutely incredible dude

  9. silversleeper says:

    You know that being asked about this made James Locklove’s entire year. We need to interview more former scientists and history makers about the things the school books don’t feel important enough to talk about

  10. Just Some Guy without a Mustache says:

    I’m grateful that a legend like him is still with us at 101 years old!

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