Finding your wonder in things

As I was vacuuming the stairs using the special attachment, the brush stopped spinning for no immediately obvious visible reason. Looks like it was time to take out the screwdriver! When I managed to unscrew the casing, I was confronted by an incredible sight: a beautifully constructed motor.

I was struck by a sense of wonder that this tiny motor, a few hundred years in making, lived in my vacuum cleaner. It’s a simple electrical device when compared to integrated circuits and cellphone signals. Plug it into a standard 120 VAC power source and the motor will spin. Simple.

vacuumparts
Parts of the stair cleaning attachment for a vacuum

Yet imagine the generations of ingenuity that would be required to build this motor. First of all, you would need the material: copper, steel, plastics, rubber (for the belt), carbon (for the brush), zinc for the screws and who know what else. To build such a motor, you would need to understand something about electricity and magnetic fields. You would need to have the tools to machine all the parts to fit perfectly. You would need to come up with a solution for handling AC current, and you would certainly need a way to supply the electricity in the first place.

Close up of armature. Notice the copper windings and the segmented commutator. The grey boxes are carbon brushes.
Close up of armature. Notice the copper windings and the segmented commutator. The grey boxes are carbon brushes.

That is to say, this product has taken generations upon generations of people trying to figure out how the world works and how to put it to work. This is how great works have been achieved by the human kind.

So the next time you flick a switch or push a button remember that you are relying on the perseverance and thoughtfulness of countless other people.

Which reminds me, I wonder what I can do to add to this inter-generational work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *