Love your voice on World Voice Day

It’s 16 April, and today we celebrate World Voice Day. To quote the official website, “World Voice Day is a worldwide annual event devoted to the celebration of the phenomenon of voice.”

Today we celebrate our voices and the “enormous importance of the voice in our daily life, as a tool of communication, and as an application of a large number of sciences, such as physics, psychology, phonetics, art, and biology.”

Whether you're a professional singer or can hardly hold a tune, your voice is unique to you, and deserve to be cared for and celebrated. (© All Rights Reserved)
Whether you’re a professional singer or can hardly hold a tune, your voice is unique to you, and deserve to be cared for and celebrated.
(© All Rights Reserved)

We use our voices to communicate, to share our thoughts and ideas, to educate, to make music, to laugh, to cry. Our voices are unique to each of us, and even as we age, our vocal ‘fingerprint’ remains uniquely ours.

World Voice Day serves as a reminder that our voices are fragile, and need to be treated with the same care we afford our eyes, hearing etc. In the same way that we exercise and train our muscles, starting with light training and moving on to more strenuous training as our strength and fitness increase, we can also exercise our voices and mouths with daily voice warm-up exercises. These are particularly valuable if you are likely to find yourself in vocally strenuous situations – if you are doing public speaking, or if you’re a singer or other vocal artist. Hoarseness is a sign that your voice may be overstrained, or even that you suffer from infection, and need to be treated immediately by resting the body as much as possible, drinking lots of water, doing general stress reduction exercises, and avoiding to speak unless really necessary (whispering strains the vocal chords as much as speaking does). When singing or speaking in daily life it is also wise to, as far as possible, operate within our given and familiar vocal range.

Take care of your voice; celebrate your voice; love your voice.

Kerosene, a fuel of many functions

It was on this day, almost 160 years ago (27 March 1855, to be exact), that Abraham Gesner received his first US patent for the production of kerosene, a combustable, hydrocarbon oil produced from bituminous shale and cannel coal. The word ‘kerosene’, registered as a trademark by Gesner, was derived from the Greek ‘keros’, meaning ‘wax’.

The term eventually became a genericised trademark, and is generally used in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States. In other regions, including the UK, South Africa and South-East Asia, it is more generally known as ‘paraffin’.

Kerosene, providing the flame of inspiration for fire dancers and other fiery performers.(© All Rights Reserved)
Kerosene, providing the flame of inspiration for fire dancers and other fiery performers.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Kerosene is one of the most widely used fuels, used in diverse applications ranging from rocket engines to camping stoves. The fuel was originally developed by Gesner ‘for the purpose of illumination’, and this remains its most common use in rural Africa and Asia where electricity is not available or too costly. It is estimated that an incredible 77 billion litres of kerosene are burnt internationally per year for lighting purposes.

Thanks to its rather low flame temperature when burnt in open air, kerosene has also become popular as the fuel of choice for entertainers such as fire breathers, jugglers and dancers, as it has less risk of causing severe burns should it come in contact with the performer.

Another interesting use of kerosene is as a pesticide – it has been proven to be effective at killing insects such as bed bugs and head lice, and can be applied to pools of still-standing water to kill mosquito larvae. It is, however, toxic and potentially fatal when ingested hence care should be taken to avoid human contact.

From powering rockets to illumination to fire dancing to insect control – a versatile fuel indeed.

Gordon Gould, laser shows and space battles

If you were young in the late 70s/early 80s, you may have a special appreciation for today’s subject. Remember those high-tech night club laser shows that were so popular at the time? Well, today we celebrate the invention of the laser.

On this day back in 1957, the American physicist Gordon Gould, noted down the principles of ‘Light Amplified by Stimulated Emission of Radiation’, or ‘LASER’ in a dated notebook entry. His notes also included various applications for laser light, and he was the first to coin the term ‘LASER’ at a conference in 1959.

(© All Rights Reserved)

Sadly Gould’s patenting savvy at the time didn’t match his physics skills, and his 1959 patent application was denied by the US Patent Office. The USPO subsequently went on to grant a patent in 1960 to Bell Laboratories, whose scientists, Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow, were independently and in parallel to Gould, also working on the concept of lasers.

This effectively ‘robbed’ Gould of his share of the benefits – money, prestige, science acumen – derived from the invention. Not willing to accept this fate, Gould took the matter to court, an action that set in motion 28 years of lawsuits. He won a minor patent in 1977, but it was only in 1987 that he succeeded in achieving a major victory, claiming patents for a number of laser devices.

To this day, science historians are not in agreement about who to give primary credit for the invention of the laser, but there is no doubt that Gould deserves a large portion of the credit.

Since its discovery, many different types of lasers have been developed, producing emissions in ways too intricate to try and discuss in a blog post. However, the key feature of a laser beam is its high degree of spatial and temporal coherence. ‘Spatial coherence’ means there is very little diffraction in a laser beam, so it can be focused on a tiny spot over a significant distance. ‘Temporal coherence’ means the wave phase of the light beam is correlated over a large distance, producing a polarised wave at a single frequency.

Lasers are not just important scientific tools – they’re also a great subject for science photography.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Of course lasers are far more useful than simply creating special effects light shows. They have become a ubiquitous part of modern society, being used in electronics, information technology, medicine, industry and military applications. In any single day you may encounter lasers in barcode scanners, CD players, computer hard disks, laser printers and more.

Thanks to their precise focusing ability, lasers are used in a range of medical applications, including surgery, treatment of kidney stones, eye treatments etc. They are also used in cosmetic skin treatments. Their accurate cutting ability makes them extremely useful in many modern industrial cutting and part-making applications. They are also an integral part of many military systems, including guidance and electro-optical defence systems.

And perhaps most importantly, judging by countless science fiction movies over the years, lasers will be absolutely indispensable as the weapon of choice to defend our planet and obliterate enemy space ships!