That Sweet Scent of Rain

by Anupum Pant

When rain starts falling after a long dry spell, most of us notice a sweet-musky scent around us. Sometimes, it is as if you can smell the rain coming. Have you ever wondered what causes this peculiar smell?

Well, scientists have also wondered the same for a long time and now they have some concrete answers for us. According to them, this evocative scent is a mixture of several individual smells. In essence, there are three factors which combine to form the “petrichor” – The smell of rain.

  1. Bacteria – The best (my favorite) of all the three is caused because of a specific type of bacteria in mud called Actinomycetes. The force, with which the rain water falls, disrupts the bacteria-produced-spores in dry mud, and the moisture present in the air carries them to our noses. Most people love this odor and associate it with rain.
    So, spores of bacteria are responsible for the kind of smell you get, when rain falls on dry mud.
  2. Plant Oils – A blend of oils produced by plants during the dry spell is another main source of this aroma. When it rains, volatile parts of these oils get released into the air. It is the kind of smell you get when you are getting wet in the woods.
  3. Ozone – Another smell associated with the rain, is a minor part of petrichor and it smells like burning wires. This is produced by a reaction caused when lightning strikes, the Nitrogen and Oxygen present in air to form Ozone molecules.

Subjective senses

Besides that, smell is a subjective sensation. That means, you can’t explain a smell to someone, and you can never know what the other person smells. So, it becomes really hard for scientists to communicate to us, which scent is which.

Some of us like the bacteria smell, while others might like the third component of petrichor.

Some like the smell of rain, others don’t. But we’ll never know accurately, if the scent you adore is the same as the one your friend hates. One way to communicate some information about these scents is by comparing them with other popular smells (like I did above). This could probably give you a vague idea, but the exact sensation will remain elusive. It is like trying to explain the color red to a person who’s been blind all his/her life.

Plasma Speakers

by Anupum Pant

Not many would have heard of speakers other than those which use magnetic materials to produce sound. But if you still haven’t heard about Plasma speakers or ionic plasma tweeters, you are really missing something great. Read on for more.

About Plasma Speakers

I talked about sound a few days back and mentioned that it is something that propagates through a medium due to pressure changes. Normally, magnetic speakers create these pressure waves by moving a diaphragm with the help of a varying magnetic field. But, plasma speakers do this by varying the air pressure through a high energy electric arc. This arc is produced by ionizing the gas present in between two terminals (ionizing reduces the electrical resistance of air which creates a visible arc).

These speakers use an extremely high energy arc which also increases the temperature of surrounding volume of gas to very high levels. So, before learning anything about them, the first thing you have to know is that these seemingly harmless things can kill you.

The Dangers

Plasma speakers are not toys. Old men, people with heart problems, kids etc should stay away from them. Even if an adult is handling them, they need to be informed about what they are doing first. It is better to have someone close who knows well, how these things work. Although the commercially available speakers are fairly safe, DIY kits can prove to be fatal. The kind of dangers involved with these devices:

1. The electric discharge – Think of it as a lightning. The dangerous high voltage device has the potential to kill you, if any of your body part comes close. Keep all bodily parts away.

2. Gas danger – The constant supply of ozone used for this project can actually be much more dangerous than the electric arc. Ozone used in this project, silently increases in concentration which can be fatal. It is important to keep the room well ventilated.

A few more things about them

Invented by WIlliam Duddells in the year 1900 these are not speakers, but tweeters. That means, that there will be no window cracking bass that is going to come out of them. Unlike magnetic diaphragms, the arcs have no weight and are able to produce a very crystal clear sound by moving back and forth very quickly. See the video below.

They work by changing temperature inside the gas chamber which makes them go red to purple as the frequencies of a song change. However, an un-modulated arc will just produce noise, something like you hear at first in the video. Also, they need a constant supply of Helium and Ozone coming into the chamber. These gases get ionized inside to produce the arc.

[Read this for more history]

Where can I get them?

In 1970 Magnat used to produce them, but they no longer produce plasma speakers now. The point is, they were the pioneers in bringing this to the masses.
Acapella sells them for an eye-popping price of 23000$. These costly ones are revered for their sound quality.
Other DIY kit can be bought for as low as 100$ [here]
Build one on your own for cheaper. (if you are willing to risk your life) [tutorial here]