Today the Smithsonian Institution Archives launches its new web resource about Joseph Henry, the Smithsonian’s first Secretary. For the past few months I worked on the team that brought these new pages to life. And though at this point I am very much looking forward to moving on to some new research projects, I realized I just can’t seem to shake this guy.
Every day before I get to work I encounter several of Henry’s legacies. For instance, when my alarm clock goes off, the batteries operating that machine are based on Henry’s research, when he demonstrated through experimentation that a high-intensity source worked best with the coils connected end-to-end. After I rub the sleep out of my eyes and turn on the news, I am hit again with one of Henry’s projects. The National Weather Service, established in 1891, grew out of the Smithsonian's network of volunteer meteorologists, established in the 1840s. Henry cultivated these volunteers, sent them equipment to record weather observations, and collected all of the data to make some of the earliest forecasts in the country.
As I walk out the door and send some text messages, I touch upon yet another element of Henry's scientific research. Though we all know that Samuel Morse invented the electromagnetic telegraph, one of the earliest versions of a "text message", much of the science incorporated into the creation of the telegraph came from Henry's research on the relationship of electricity and magnetism. And as I walk on and swipe my metro card’s magnetic strip in order to take the train to work, I benefit from more of Henry's electromagnetic research.
So there you have it, even though I get a little break from writing about Henry, his work still has an impact on my day and yours. Not to mention, when I come to work each day, I am at the Institution he helped set on its course. So if you would like to check out some more about Henry, his life, scientific career, and work at the Smithsonian, explore the new site. You can read his documents, look at images from the early years of the Institution, and find out how his scientific research has an effect on our day to day lives.