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Inside Einstein's Refrigerator

The Bat Bomb, The Miracle Headless Chicken and Other Strange Tales

By Buck Wolf

Aug. 9, 2001 — Imagine this: You're the world's greatest super-genius. You've won the Nobel Prize. You probably have better things to do than design refrigerators. But that's exactly what Albert Einstein was doing in the late 1920s.

"Einstein was already the most famous scientist in the world," says Steve Silverman, author of Einstein's Refrigerator and Other Stories From the Flip Side of History (Andrews McMeel). "And yet he gave a lot of thought to the fridge."

Einstein caught the world's imagination when he theorized that time slows down as one approaches the speed of light. But does the light really go off when you shut the refrigerator door? I'd like to see his theory on that. Maybe it explains why he never combed his hair.

Silverman tells his students at Chatham High School, near Albany, N.Y., that the refrigerator was actually once a fairly dangerous appliance.

"Einstein was moved when he read an account of an entire family killed in their sleep by the poisonous coolant that leaked out of their fridge," he says. "It was a fairly dangerous thing."

So Einstein and another scientist who changed the course of history — Leo Szilard — began designing refrigerators with fewer moving parts. Szilard is the man who envisioned a nuclear chain reaction that could be used to build weapons of mass destruction. Thank God they were designing kitchen appliances for our side.

The Electric Pickle

At Chatham, Silverman has the reputation as the science teacher with 1,000 different stories to excite young minds. Take his class and you will see how a pickle, properly hooked up, can shine like a light bulb, thanks to the magic of electricity.

"Kosher pickles work best," he says. "They have the most salt and salt has conductivity."

Maybe it's a small lesson, just a brief distraction from the typical text book slop. "I teach 80-minute classes, 180 days a year," he says. "You've got to hold these kids' attention."

Internet users who hunt for the bizarre know Silverman as the ringmaster of the Useless Information Home Page. It's the place to go to find the guy who used 14,000 matchsticks to create a working violin, complete with bow.