The Names Mean ‘Combat’ and ‘Power’ – and Those Are the Girls

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OK, I confess: Some of my character have names I made up. Gerhilda, one of my supporting characters in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is one of them.

But in an age where the vast majority could not read or write, who is to say the name didn’t exist? Like most Frankish names, it has two elements (dithematic, if you want to get fancy), and the elements in Gerhilda’s appellation (meaning lance and combat) are common.

Many women’s names translate into traits a modern mind typically associates with men. Both genders shared many of the elements, but even deuterothemes reserved for women mean combat, strength, and power. Others mean fortress and dwelling place—perhaps a reflection of the woman’s authority to take care of the home.

Clothilde

Clothilde, from the 1882 Costumes of All Nations. Her name means “celebrated combat” (public domain image via Wikimedia Commons).

Historic Frankish women had names that meant “combat and dwelling place” (Hildegard), “lance and city” (Gerberga), and “fight and power” (Chiltrude). This all illustrates a point I’ve made before: Although early medieval women were expected to obey fathers and husbands, they weren’t passive flowers awaiting rescue. They ruled abbeys and their minor son’s lands. A queen was not just the king’s wife and mother of his children. She was also his treasurer and chief of staff, controlling access to her husband.

Frankish parents might not have been thinking of what their daughters’ names meant. Children were named for their ancestors or for a saint.

Still, when you read about Gerberga crossing the Alps to protect the rights of her sons, Bertrada serving as her husband’s full partner in a coup and her son’s diplomat, and Chiltrude defying her brothers and eloping with the duke of Bavaria, the names underscore early medieval women were tough.

Sources

Medieval Names Archive

Excerpt from Stephen Wilson’s The Means of Naming

Dice: A Medieval Pastime and Vice

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Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights

Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1450–1516 (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

I remember the first time I learned dice went back much further than I had thought. In the early 1980s, a high school teacher showed the class a reproduction of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and pointed out a backgammon board with dice.

I was surprised. For a close friend and me, this was an innocent game we played for hours while listening to Duran Duran and Prince. But there it was. In hell.

I tucked this piece of information away. Fast forward a couple decades. I’m working on The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, set in eighth century Francia, and I need something for two characters to be doing when my heroine’s son walks into the room.

I settled on dice, which predate the Middle Ages and are easy for travelers to carry. And I might be keeping in spirit with the times. As I was looking for medieval images to accompany this post, I was stuck by how often artists negatively portray the players. One manuscript page shows a guy with torn hose; another has Roman soldiers gambling for Christ’s robes.

The players in my book are also not so nice:

At twilight, Deorlaf entered the pilgrims’ lodging, where he and his fellows were the only guests. In the flickering light from the hearth, Usumund and Gosbert sat across from each other at the end of a trestle table, casting dice. A pitcher of beer sat near them, and Usumund drank from the shared mug. Pallets and blankets lay in the shadows of the room, which was about the same size as a Saxon longhouse.

“Where are Ives and Julien?” Deorlaf asked.

“In the kitchen,” Usumund said. “You are a bad influence on that boy. He is starting to eat as much as you do.”

“Cur,” Deorlaf muttered, heading toward the kitchen. He heard the rapid rhythm of footsteps behind, then felt a grip on his arm.

“What did you call me?” Usumund growled.

Hail Mary: 1,000 Years for 11 Lines

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The Hail Mary, or Ave Maria, is a short prayer, elegant in its simplicity.

Hail Mary,
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary,
Mother of God,
pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of death.
Amen.

(From EWTN)

Perhaps, that is why I assumed that it had always existed in its present form—except the faithful would’ve used Latin. So I had my eighth century characters reciting it in its entirety. Little did I know I was risking the attention of the history police.

But I was rescued. Before the prayer made it into print, my excellent editor, Jessica Knauss, pointed out that it was much, much shorter in the Dark Ages, just the first two lines, like this snippet from The Cross and the Dragon:

Milo again was racked by a coughing fit so bad he had to stop his horse.

Mother of God, please let me be wrong. Making the sign of the cross, Alda mouthed, “Ave Maria, gratia plena.

During my research for my post about the Ave Maria for English Historical Fiction Authors, I found out the prayer’s current form took centuries.

Scenes with the Virgin Mary

14th century scenes with the Virgin Mary (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Did Busy Work Lead to Models for Atoms?

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In this installment on the history of atom theory, physics professor (and my dad) Dean Zollman discusses how Ernest Rutherford and his teams experimented to see whether atoms were more like plum pudding or a planet with moons.—Kim

By Dean Zollman

Dean ZollmanThe scientific models of the atom that we considered last month are quite different from one another. Of course, all of them are attempts to describe objects that we cannot see. So, early 20th century scientists needed to find some indirect method to probe the atom. Some indirect evidence about the atom such as the light emitted from them was available. But all of models explained these observations about equally well or equally badly. A creative new approach was needed.

Hans Geiger

Hans Geiger (public domain via Wikimedia)

We have already met the person who would provide that creativity—Ernest Rutherford, who had named alpha and beta radiation. You might remember that Rutherford grew up in New Zealand and came to England to be the graduate student of J.J. Thomson. He did his early work on emissions from the nucleus at McGill University in Canada. He returned to England to become a professor at the University of Manchester. Rutherford’s predecessor Arthur Schuster (1851-1934) had hired an outstanding experimenter, Hans Geiger (1882-1945). Geiger became Rutherford’s assistant and built a very fruitful collaboration.

Rutherford worked in a different mode than most scientists of his or earlier times. Instead of working in relative isolation with at most a few assistants, he assembled teams of scientists, many with doctorates. These teams would conduct research under Rutherford’s direction. This mode of doing science anticipated the modern team approaches by 50-60 years.

Ernest Rutherford in his laboratory

Ernest Rutherford in his laboratory, about 1905 (used under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International via Wikimedia Commons).

At McGill, Rutherford had focused much of his energy on investigating the changes in elements that emitted radioactive particles. In Manchester, he switched to investigations about the objects that were being emitted, particularly alpha particles.

One of the first issues that he tackled was the nature of alpha particles. From previous work, Rutherford suspected that alpha emissions were similar to helium atoms. However, he was a very thorough scientist and wanted to confirm his suspicions before publishing the results. Working with Thomas Royds (1884-1955) in 1908, he collected alpha particles in a sealed container. They then passed an electric spark through the container.

The light that was emitted was the same as the spectrum of helium. This experiment was sufficient proof for Rutherford to state publicly that alpha particles were helium atoms. From previous work, he knew that the alpha particles had positive electrical charge. So, alpha particles were helium atoms with a positive charge. (He did not know then that the alpha particles were just the nucleus of helium. He had not yet discovered the nucleus.)

Dark Rooms and Gas-Filled Tubes

Rutherford and Geiger began working on ways to detect the alpha particles. William Crookes (1832-1919) had noticed that when alpha particles struck zinc sulfide a very small flash of light was emitted. This phenomenon was verified by Julius Elster (1854-1920) and Hans Geitel (1865-1923). The process is somewhat similar to the way old-style TVs create pictures.

In the TV, electrons hit the screen and cause light to be emitted. However, the light that was emitted from the impact of a single alpha particle with the zinc sulfide was extremely dim. Rutherford and Geiger devised a scheme so that the light could be seen and the number of alpha particles striking the screen could be counted.

Before starting the counting process, the experimenter would sit in a completely dark room for about 20 minutes. Once the eyes had adjusted to the darkness, the experimenter would look through a microscope at a small area of the zinc sulfide screen and wait to see a blip of light. With this extremely tedious procedure, the experimenter could count for only a short time before fatigue set in.

A second method involved a gas filled tube with a voltage on two wires. The voltage was sufficiently high that it would almost cause a spark. When an alpha particle passed through the gas, it would create a spark, which could be registered on a meter. This instrument would be later developed into the Geiger-Muller counter. In some of these counters, a speaker would click with each alpha particle. These clicking Geiger counters appear in many 1950s science fiction movies.

 Inside a Geiger-Mueller tube

The basic function inside a Geiger-Mueller tube: the cathode is negative; the anode, positive. When ionizing radiation such as an alpha particle enters the tube, a spark occurs and is counted (used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence via Wikimedia).

Like Scattering Table Tennis Balls

With all of this data about the alpha particle, Rutherford had enough information to use it to probe the atom. He knew the mass and the electric charge. He also knew how to measure where an alpha particle was.

Using it as a probe was simple in concept but somewhat complex in practice. He could not see an atom or an alpha particle. But he could direct the alpha particle toward some matter. Then he could detect where the alpha particle went after it passed through the matter. By looking at any change in the particle’s direction, he could use the physical principles related to change in motion and electrical interactions to surmise what had happened inside the matter. That is: what type of interaction the alpha particle had with the atoms of the material that it went through or near.

When I introduce this concept in a class, I hide an object behind a screen. Then, I shoot table tennis balls at it. The students are challenged to determine as much as they can by looking at how the balls bounce off the object. This process is called a scattering experiment because we are trying to learn something about an object by looking at how small particles bounce off (or scatter from) it. Doing it with alpha particles is now called Rutherford scattering.

For detecting the location of the alpha particles after the scattering, counting small blips of light was the more accurate method. He arranged a radioactive source of alpha particles behind a lead shield with a small hole in it. Alpha particles could pass through the hole but not the rest of the lead. So, a small beam of alpha particles was available to collide with something. Rutherford chose to direct the beam at a very thin foil of gold. He would then have a student look at a zinc sulfide screen through a microscope.

The student who got to perform this experiment was Ernest Marsden (1889-1970). By varying the angle at which Marsden observed the screen he could see how the gold atom caused the alpha particles to change their direction. This drawing indicates how the actual apparatus may have looked.

Experimental apparatus used by Marsden and Geiger

The experimental apparatus used by Marsden and Geiger. The zinc sulfide screen is on the inside end of the microscope. The microscope could be moved to look at different angles relative to the incoming beam of alpha particles (by Kurzon, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported via Wikimedia).

The diagram below shows the basic idea in a schematic form. The alpha particles come in toward the gold foil. After they pass through the foil, they may be moving in a different direction than when they entered. By moving the microscope around the foil, Marsden could count how many came off at each angle.

Experimental arrangement for probing the atom

The experimental arrangement for probing the atom (by Kurzon, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported via Wikimedia).

Differing Recollections about Motivation But…

At this time the prevailing model of the atom was the “plum pudding” model that we discussed last time. Because the electrons and positive charges were somewhat uniformly distributed in the model, Rutherford’s expectation was that the alpha particles would travel through the gold with some small changes in their motion. For a while, Marsden looked for the small deviations from the incoming path. Most of the alpha particles were deflected through small angles; a large fraction were not deflected at all.

At some point, a decision was made to have Marsden look for big changes in the motion. Much later, Rutherford recalled that he needed something for Marsden to do so he said to Geiger, “Why not let him see if any alpha particles can be scattered through a large angle?” This statement sounds a little like “We need to find something to keep Marsden out of the pubs and in the lab.”

Ernest Marsden

Ernest Marsden, 1921 (by S P Andrew Ltd. public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Marsden remembered the story differently. He recalled, “Rutherford had been thinking over the matter, and he turned to me and said: ‘See if you can get some effect of alpha-particles directly reflected from a metal surface.”’ Independently of who said what, Marsden looked for very large changes in the alpha particles motion. He not only found something; he changed the way scientists think about matter!

To Rutherford this result was astounding. He said later, “It was quite the most incredible event that has ever happened to me in my life. It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.”

Geiger and Marsden published a paper in June 1909 describing their results. However, at that time they could not explain their observations. Rutherford spent much time trying to understand how the atom must be constructed to give such a strange result. He worked toward a solid mathematical model which could explain the large scattering that they saw. Not until December of 1910 did Rutherford feel that he understood. His reasoning included:

  • The alpha particle has a relatively small mass; it is being occasionally deflected in the opposite direction that it was moving. Thus, these particles are interacting with something much bigger than they are. (Like a baseball bouncing off a wall.)
  • Because they are coming back, they are being repelled. The object that must have the same type of charge as the alpha particle. It must be positive. (Like charges repel.)
  • Most of the alpha particles are going through undeflected. So most of them interact with nothing. Thus, most of the gold foil is really empty space.

The diagram below shows Rutherford’s conclusion and compares it with the result that would have been expected with the Thomson plum pudding model of the atom. To view a simulation of these two models with Rutherford scattering go to PhET.

 

Diagram of atom models

The left side shows the result expected for the Thomson model; the right side is Rutherford’s conclusion about how the atom must look based on his experiment (By Kurzon, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license via Wikimedia).

Using a combination of Newton’s Laws of Motion and Coulomb’s Law for interactions among electrical charges, a Rutherford scattering equation can predict results for this type of experiment.

The net conclusion was that the atom had a very small, positively charged center (now called the nucleus). Most of the mass of the atom is located in this nucleus. Because overall the atom has no electrical charge, electrons must be outside the nucleus. Further, because most of the alpha particles passed through the gold unchanged, the distance between atoms must be large in comparison to the size of the nucleus. Matter seems to be mostly empty space.

So, this one experiment changed the way that scientists thought about matter. Instead of being a somewhat uniform “glob” of positive and negative charges, it was a concentrated massive positive charge surrounded by some very light electrons.

But there was a big problem. Why was this atom stable? Positives attract negatives. Further, acceleration charges radiate energy. Why does the electron not just spiral into the nucleus? We know that it does not because we exist. A possible explanation would be forthcoming. However, before we can try to understand that explanation, we need to go back to about 1900 and pick up another thread of reasoning about the nature of light. We will start that thread next time.

Dean Zollman is university distinguished professor of physics at Kansas State University where he has been a faculty member for more than 40 years. During his career he has received four major awards — the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Oersted Medal (2014), the National Science Foundation Director’s Award for Distinguished Teacher Scholars (2004), the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Doctoral University Professor of the Year (1996), and AAPT’s Robert A. Millikan Medal (1995). His present research concentrates on the teaching and learning of physics and on science teacher preparation.

Previously

What Are Things Made of? Depends on When You Ask.

Ancient Greeks Were the First to Hypothesize Atoms

The Poetry of Atoms

Atom Theory in Ancient India

Religion, Science Clashed over Atoms

Medieval Arabic Scholarship Might Have Preserved Scientific Knowledge

Rediscovering a Roman Poet – and Atom Theory – Centuries Later

Reconciling Atom Theory with Religion

Did Atom Theory Play a Role in Galileo’s Trouble with the Inquisition?

Did Gifted Scientist’s Belief in Atoms Led to His Obscurity?

Does Atom Theory Apply to the Earthly and the Divine?

A Duchess Inspired by Atoms

Separating Atoms from Atheism

Isaac Newton: 300 Years Ahead of His Time

Issac Newton and the Philosopher’s Stone

When Chemistry and Physics Split

Redefining Elements

Mme Lavoisier: Partner in Science, Partner in Life

With Atoms, Proportionality and Simplicity Rule

Despite Evidence of Atoms, 19th Century Skeptics Didn’t Budge

Mission of the First International Scientific Conference: Clear up Confusion

Rivalry over the First Periodic Table

The Puzzle of Dark Lines amid Rainbow Colors

The Colorful Signature of Each Element

Light Waves by the Numbers

Even Scientific Dead Ends Can Contribute to Knowledge

Discovery of the Electron Took Decades and Multiple Scientists

‘Wonders of the X-ray’

The Accidental Discovery of Radioactivity

Marie Curie: A Determined Scientist

Pierre and Marie Curie Extract Radium – and Pay a High Price

Scientists Delve into Radioactivity and Make Their Own Discoveries

The First Attempts to Visualize Atoms

When a Writer’s Math Skills Come in Handy

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Think writing novels means you won’t have to do math? Think again.

Innumerable times, I have had to pause to remember a character’s age. But truly complex calculations—involving books, Google maps, and a calculator—come when I must figure out how long it takes a character to travel. Visit S.K. Keogh’s The Jack Mallory Chronicles for my guest post about travel times in the Dark Ages.

Wife of Bath

A 15th century rendition of the Wife of Bath from Canterbury Tales (public domain via Wikimedia Commons).

We Have a Title: Queen of the Darkest Hour

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It’s the readers’ first impression and one of the toughest things to come up with: What do we call this book?

How do we entice the readers in a few words and give them a clue to what they are about to read? Not an easy task considering it takes 100,000 words or so to tell the story.

I struggled with the title for my third novel, which is very much a work in progress. For The Cross and the Dragon, I used two symbols of my heroine’s life. Her cross sits beside her iron dragon amulet. The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar struck me as I pondered what it would have been like for the pagan Saxon heroine of my second book to witness the destruction of a sacred monument.

I left my third novel untitled for a while but got tired of calling it Book No. 3. So I slapped in Lady Queen Fastrada, naming it after my protagonist. Problem is, few people today know who Fastrada was, although everyone has heard of her husband, Charlemagne. When I contemplated the title, I riffed off of “queen” and “royal.”

I had thought of The Cruelty of Queen Fastrada, stealing a phrase from Einhard’s posthumous biography of Charlemagne, but my take on the monarch’s fourth wife is that she wasn’t cruel by medieval standards, just made into a scapegoat after she and her widower were dead. I intended irony but worried that readers would think the book was about a bad woman doing bad things.

Queen of the Dark Days came to mind when I read a similar phrase in an academic paper. Fastrada was queen during the darkest days of her husband’s reign—an epidemic among the horses in the army, a coup attempt by one of his sons, and a disastrous canal project. The last occurred after my story ends.

But I decided Pepin the Hunchback’s rebellion against his father was indeed the darkest hour of Charlemagne’s rule, and thus the title.

There is more work to do—finishing the book is the top priority. But I finally have something to call the book. And to celebrate, I’ve posted the most recent draft of the first chapter on my website, kimrendfeld.com.

From the 19th century Costume of All Nations

From the 19th century Costume of All Nations

Same Object, Different Symbols

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Objectively, they are just a patterned piece of cloth and a stone slab, but what they symbolize depends entirely on the viewer.

The Confederate battle flag connotes heritage or oppression in the eyes of the beholder. Go back several centuries and you might find similar arguments about the portable altar. Well, arguments imagined by a novelist. The pagans Charlemagne’s Franks warred against did not write down their side of the story.

Both Christians and pagans would agree the portable altar was a symbol of Christian victory. While one side found comfort and reassurance from a familiar worship service and the literal presence of Christ in the wine and altar bread, the other would see oppression. This tension was a part of The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, as you will see in this excerpt:

The stink of smoke lingered where the Irminsul had once overlooked the river, and an odd display sat amid the charred pieces of the pillar. Deorlaf made a face as if he had smelled a rotten egg. It was bad enough the Franks had burned the Irminsul. Now they had to desecrate the ground with their symbols.

A jewel-encrusted cross rested on a table, which was adorned with an embroidered cloth glittering with precious stones. In front of the table lay a glossy stone slab in a gem-studded gold frame. An eight-sided wooden structure, each wall the length of a hut, stood a few paces away.

For more about why a portable altar was as important as weapons to a medieval army, see my post in English Historical Fiction Authors.

P.S. For the record, I believe the Confederate battle flag belongs in a museum with other artifacts of the past, not the grounds of a statehouse, the home of today’s government.

An 11th century portable altar An 11th century portable altar from the Walters Art Museum (public domain, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons)

The First Attempts to Visualize Atoms

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In this installment on the history of atom theory, physics professor (and my dad) Dean Zollman delves into early efforts to build models of atoms.—Kim

By Dean Zollman

At the beginning of the 20th century, models of the atom were being created. The atoms could not be seen, but a significant amount of knowledge was available to use as a foundation for a model. In particular, observations included:

  • the periodic table
  • the light (spectra) emitted from different types of gases
  • the existence of the electron
  • matter with a much greater mass than could be explained by the tiny mass of the electron
  • radioactivity

Dean ZollmanA complete model of the atom should explain all of these observations. In this post, I will describe two quite different models of the atom. Each had its limitations, but one of them was more off-base than the other. Next time, I will discuss a definitive experiment that eliminated one of them and prepared the way for a major change in thinking based, somewhat, on the other.

 

Plum Pudding, Anyone?

Joseph J. Thomson (1856-1940) had first thought about how the atom might look when he used the idea that atoms were vortices in the ether. (See a post from a few months ago, “Even Scientific Dead Ends Can Contribute to Knowledge.”) That model led him to a study of cathode rays and the discovery of the electron, which I discussed in “Discovery of the Electron Took Decades and Multiple Scientists.” So, it was natural that Thomson would take these ideas and create a model of the atom based on the electron, one that is discussed in many chemistry and physics books.

The first thing that Thomson (and everyone else) needed to deal with was that ordinary matter does not have an electrical charge. Yet, Thomson and others had measured that the electron had a negative charge. So, something with a positive charge must be in every atom to balance the negatively charged electrons. Thomson speculated that the electrons were embedded in matter that had a uniform positive electrical charge. The drawing below shows the basic idea.

"Plum pudding" model of atom

Thomson’s atomic model with electrons embedded in a uniform positive charge. (Released into the public domain by its author, via Wikimedia Commons)

Thomson’s model reminded many other scientists of the British dessert plum pudding. So it became known as the plum pudding model of the atoms. The plums (electrons) were scattered through the pudding (positive charge). If Thomson had been an American, we might have called it the raisin bread model. But he was British. As can be seen in this political cartoon, even long before Thomson’s time plum puddings were well know as models for other things.

 

An 1805 cartoon, "The Plum Pudding in Danger."

An 1805 cartoon, “The Plum Pudding in Danger.” (James Gillray, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

When Thomson had written his first paper on the model that atoms were vortices in the ether, he had used the work of Alfred Marshall Mayer (1836-1897). As I said earlier, Mayer floated magnetic needles on water with a larger magnet held above them. For two to 20 magnetized needles, he looked at the stable configuration created by the attractive and repulsive forces of the small magnets in the presence of the larger magnet. When he looked at the results (see below), he saw some periodic behavior in the patterns. (You can watch a video of school students repeating this experiment.)

Experiment with magnets

From The American Journal of Science and Arts 16, 252 (1878)

For his model of the atom that included electrons, Thomson imagined that the electrons in the “pudding” would repel each other in the same way that the small magnets did. So, an atom with three electrons would have an arrangement of negative charges similar to that shown in Mayer’s drawing. Most important were changes such as those shown going from five to six “electrons.” A ring suddenly becomes a ring with an electron at the center. Such changes could be reminiscent of the changes as one works through the periodic table.

However, Thomson went beyond this analogy. Using equations for the forces applied on each other by electrical charges, he calculated the configurations of electrons in his model of the atom. He was able to conclude that behavior similar to the periodic table could come from concentric rings of electrons. Early on, Thomson had speculated that every atom had thousands of electrons. They needed many to make up the mass. Thus, atoms with a large number of concentric rings were possible. Later, Thomson decided against the atom having “many thousands” of electrons.

To address the light spectra coming from atoms, Thomson needed the electrons to vibrate. By vibrating at appropriate frequencies, light could be emitted.

Radioactivity was difficult to explain. Thomson connected it to the vibrations of the electrons. He noted that as the electrons gave off light, they would gradually decrease their speed. At some critical slow speed, the system would explode. Then, “[t]he kinetic energy gained in this way might be sufficient to carry the system out of the atom, and we should have, as in the case of radium, a part of the atom shot off.”

Some of Thomson’s logic seemed a little weak. For example, his argument about radioactivity implied that all elements should be “shooting off” electrons. But they did not. Of course, the plum pudding model was just a beginning, so maybe further refinement would solve some of the issues. As we will see next time, a bigger concern was looming.

A Much Bigger Model for the Model

Hantora Nagaoka

Hantaro Nagaoka (Photographer unknown, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Hantaro Nagaoka (1865-1950), a physicist at the Imperial University of Tokyo, had a quite different idea about the structure of atoms. He used the planet Saturn as an analogy. With gravitation, all objects with mass are attracted to all other objects. Yet, Saturn’s rings are stable in orbit around the planet. In 1859, James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) had published On the Stability of the Motion of Saturn’s Rings, which provided a mathematical analysis of this stability even though the particles in the rings were being attracted to the planet. Nagaoka reasoned that similar logic could be applied to the electrons orbiting a positive core.

Nagaoka concluded that the atom had a massive positively charged center and the negatively charged electrons orbited around this core. In keeping with the Saturn analogy, all of the electrons orbited at the same distance from the core. Each of the electrons is attracted to the positive core, and at the same time they are repelled by each other. Because of this repulsion, the system will be stable only if the distance between adjacent electrons is equal. Thus, the electrons are distributed uniformly around the positive core.

Atom model

By Белых Владислав Дмитриевич (CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

 

With reasoning very similar to Thompson, Nagaoka postulated that light was emitted from an atom when a “disturbance” occurred. Vibrations of the electrons caused the light to be emitted with spectra that had been observed. He concluded that some atoms could have several rings of electrons to be able to produce the complex spectra that were produced.

To explain radioactivity, he also relied on the disturbances in the atoms. He stated, “If the disturbance continues for a sufficiently long time, the ring will be torn asunder and the system will fly off with great velocity. If the particles are electrons, those in the rings will give rise to beta rays and the central positive charge will form alpha rays.”

So, he “explained” the existence of two types of radioactivity. Further, he argued that the disturbances would be more likely in heavier atoms than in light ones. He concluded, “This probably accounts for the remarkable radioactive property of radium.” While all of this sounded good, Nagaoka did not have solid mathematics behind his reasoning and speculations. His atom seemed to make as much sense and Thompson’s, but he was not able to put it on firm theoretical ground.

A few years later, British physicist John William Nicholson (1881-1955) developed the Saturn model of the atom further. He was able to connect it better to spectra and to the periodic table. However, based on the laws of electricity and magnetism, he concluded that atoms could not have only one electron. The stability of a ring of electrons required several electrons, at least.

There were other models in the early 20th century. They tended to fall into one group similar to Thompson’s in which the positively charged objects and the negative electrons intermingle in some fashion and another group similar to Nagaoka in which the positive and negative charges were separated but held together in an atom by the mutual electrical attraction. To decide which nature favored required a very careful experiment. That experiment, which we will look at next time, set the stage for atomic physics from then to now.

Post script: In researching for this post, I discovered a professional connection between me and Nagaoka. One of Nagaoka’s students was Hideki Yukawa. Yukawa was the PhD mentor for Carl Levinson. Levinson was my PhD mentor. So, in some way, Nagaoka was my great-grand-mentor.

Dean Zollman is university distinguished professor of physics at Kansas State University where he has been a faculty member for more than 40 years. During his career he has received four major awards — the American Association of Physics Teachers’ Oersted Medal (2014), the National Science Foundation Director’s Award for Distinguished Teacher Scholars (2004), the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Doctoral University Professor of the Year (1996), and AAPT’s Robert A. Millikan Medal (1995). His present research concentrates on the teaching and learning of physics and on science teacher preparation.

Previously

What Are Things Made of? Depends on When You Ask.

Ancient Greeks Were the First to Hypothesize Atoms

The Poetry of Atoms

Atom Theory in Ancient India

Religion, Science Clashed over Atoms

Medieval Arabic Scholarship Might Have Preserved Scientific Knowledge

Rediscovering a Roman Poet – and Atom Theory – Centuries Later

Reconciling Atom Theory with Religion

Did Atom Theory Play a Role in Galileo’s Trouble with the Inquisition?

Did Gifted Scientist’s Belief in Atoms Led to His Obscurity?

Does Atom Theory Apply to the Earthly and the Divine?

A Duchess Inspired by Atoms

Separating Atoms from Atheism

Isaac Newton: 300 Years Ahead of His Time

Issac Newton and the Philosopher’s Stone

When Chemistry and Physics Split

Redefining Elements

Mme Lavoisier: Partner in Science, Partner in Life

With Atoms, Proportionality and Simplicity Rule

Despite Evidence of Atoms, 19th Century Skeptics Didn’t Budge

Mission of the First International Scientific Conference: Clear up Confusion

Rivalry over the First Periodic Table

The Puzzle of Dark Lines amid Rainbow Colors

The Colorful Signature of Each Element

Light Waves by the Numbers

Even Scientific Dead Ends Can Contribute to Knowledge

Discovery of the Electron Took Decades and Multiple Scientists

‘Wonders of the X-ray’

The Accidental Discovery of Radioactivity

Marie Curie: A Determined Scientist

Pierre and Marie Curie Extract Radium – and Pay a High Price

Scientists Delve into Radioactivity and Make Their Own Discoveries

Midwifery: Magic or Medicine in the Dark Ages

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At the 2015 Historical Novel Society conference, I served on the panel “Midwifery: Magic or Medicine” with authors Judith Starkston, Lisa Yarde, and Sam Thomas. Our moderator was the gracious Diana Gabaldon (yes, that Diana Gabaldon). Judith, Lisa, Sam, and I discussed midwifery in the eras we write about. Below is the script for my speech. I followed Judith, who spoke of ancient Hittites and their practice for swinging a ewe over a mother in labor.

Before we abandon the livestock and move a few centuries ahead to discuss midwifery in early medieval times, I have a question for you.

16th century Baptism

A 1513 depiction of the baptism of a baby born by a dead mother, provided by Wolfgang Sauber (GFDL via Wikimedia Commons)

True or false? The early medieval Christian midwife was the only layperson with the authority to baptize.

By a show of hands, how many think this is true? False?

The answer is true, and this truth reveals a lot. It reveals the inherent dangers of childbirth. It reveals how the fate of the soul was more important than the health of the body. And it reveals the midwife’s unique place in her society.

I became interested in midwifery because I needed to write childbirth scenes. I have two in my latest release, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, and three in my work in progress. I would love to say I’m so organized that I knew this was a place to introduce tension and show how religion, magic, and medicine intersected—which is true. But the real reason is a character was about to have her baby, and she would rely on a midwife.

Before I talk about who the midwife was, let’s put midwifery into the context of early medieval beliefs and grim realities. Early medieval folk saw childbirth as a part of life, not a part of medicine. So a doctor would not be welcome in the lying-in chamber, nor any other man for that matter. Everyone involved would think the best place for the men, including the baby’s father, was the church, where they would pray for a safe delivery.

Medieval folk also accepted that young people died. In the days long before vaccines, half the children didn’t reach age 5. In addition, more than one of every three adult women died during their child-bearing years. With those kinds of statistics, it’s easy to imagine that everyone knew someone who died in childbirth or from its complications and everyone knew someone who had lost a child.

So it’s no surprise the faithful were concerned with what happened after death. They heard about hell during the sermons, and families paid alms to the Church so the deceased could avoid time in purgatory.

No matter where the birth took place—a dark, low-ceilinged lying-in chamber of a noble house or a one-room peasant’s hut—medieval people understood the fate of an expectant mother and her baby was far from certain. The process was so risky, mothers were urged to confess their sins as their time drew near. With no guarantee of what would happen to the body, the mother could at least make sure her soul was ready if things went wrong.

And as you’ve no doubt ascertained, a lot of things did go wrong. A common misfortune is that the uterus does not contract quickly enough to stop postpartum bleeding. A rare condition I used in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is for the placenta to come out first, which would cause fatal hemorrhaging for the mother.

Today, this condition is caught in the ultrasound and the baby is delivered by Cesarean section. Midwives performed this procedure in the Middle Ages, but only as a last resort, when the mother was dead or close to it.

All these risks underscore the spiritual component of the midwife’s duties. If the newborn was in danger of dying, the medieval midwife would baptize the baby. The stakes were much higher than a blessing or an affirmation of faith. Early medieval Christians believed Saint Augustine’s teaching that an unbaptized infant, even one who died in the womb, would spend eternity with the damned, although they would receive the lightest of punishments. Harsh, I know, but Saint Augustine’s rationale was that they still bore Adam’s original sin, which only baptism could remove. The Church modified this stance in the 13th century, when schools adopted St. Thomas Aquinas’s argument for limbo, where unbaptized infants would not feel pain but still wouldn’t go to heaven yet be unaware of their loss.

Still, not being able to see your child ever again crushes the great hope of Christianity. So I can imagine a midwife would splash the water and say the prayer, or what passed for Latin, if there was any hope of life, no matter how faint. One documented case has a midwife baptizing a newborn when she saw the baby’s crown and giving it a name appropriate for a boy or girl.

So, who was the midwife? I must admit that the research amounts to a best guess, both by novelists and scholars. Midwives in eighth century Francia were illiterate, like most of the population. The skills were passed down from mother to daughter. Much of my research came from one of my daily life books and an academic paper called “Capturing the Wandering Womb.” The earliest explicit description of a Caesarean is from the 15th century, although I’ve not had to use that. Since all births until a few decades ago were natural, videos of natural childbirth from people with no sense of privacy also are a good resource.

Like Judith’s ancient priestess, the early medieval midwife’s tools included a birthing stool and a sharp knife. She didn’t use an onion or a ewe, but she might employ the foot of a crane, a piece of jasper, ointment with fennel to ease pain, and a potion with ergot to speed contractions and stop postpartum bleeding. She knew to wash and oil her hands and might order the mother’s hair be loosened and all pins removed, doors and cupboard drawers to be open, and knots to be untied. And she might use spells.

You might be surprised the same layperson with the sole authority to baptize would turn to magic. After all, didn’t the Church preach against magic? Well, yes, officially, but darn near everyone used it anyway. Even a priest might hire an expert to interpret dreams. The laity wore amulets alongside their crosses. They said special incantations for a good harvest or to heal a sickness.

Unlike the attitudes in Sam’s era centuries later, magic was seen as a tool for both good and evil. Now, there were severe penalties for evil magic, like being sealed in a barrel and thrown in the river, and contraception was consider sorcery. But good magic was a part of everyday life. A midwife who didn’t whisper a spell in the mother’s ear might have been seen as incompetent.

Some of the spells became Christianized. The Church perhaps decided that if you can’t beat them, co-opt them. One incantation for the lying-in chamber asks the child to come forth the way Lazarus emerged from his tomb.

The clergy seemed more upset if the midwife got the baptismal words wrong. I stumbled across a late 13th, early 14th century case in which a midwife was barred because she invoked God and Saint John rather than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ve yet to come across anyone in my era angry that the midwife used a spell.

And it’s not like such a thing could be a secret. The midwife had assistants, and the mother’s friends attended the birth and lent their support. When the baby was born, the midwife would tie off the umbilical cord and cut it at four fingers’ length. She bathed the child, rubbed them with salt, and used honey on their palette and gums to stimulate their appetite. She was the one present the child to the father.

The midwife’s duties didn’t end with the birth. A surviving mother would remain in her lying-in chamber for a month. In a noble house, her only visitors were the midwife and some female companions.

What I’ve come to conclude is that medieval people understood forces greater than themselves were at work everywhere in life, and childbirth was no exception.

Sources

Daily Life in Medieval Times by Frances and Joseph Gies

“Capturing the Wandering Womb” by Kate Phillips, The Haverford Journal, April 2007

“The History of Cesarean Technique” by Samuel Lurie, MD, and Marek Glezerman, MD, AJOG Reviews, December 2003

Limbo” by Patrick Toner. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, 1910.

Saint Augustine’s On Merit and the Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants (Book I)

Help Wanted: In Search of the Perfect Picture

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If you’ve visited my website (kimrendfeld.com), you will notice a new look. The idea behind the new WordPress theme is that it’s easier to read on all devices, whether they are laptop, tablet, or cell phone.

Just one problem: Alphonse Mucha’s Heraldic Chivalry, which I’ve used in the banner for this blog and my Facebook and Twitter pages, won’t work on my website. In the header field, any text upon it is illegible, and much of the picture is hidden when used as a tiled background image. The painting itself is dark, and I would like something brighter.

The background image now on my website is a photo I shot of flowers near Christy Woods on the Ball State campus. The yellows and greens work well with the book covers, but photo doesn’t say medieval.

So I am in search of another image, one that will work well on my website and my social media sites. I aiming for something that is in the public domain and will work in horizontal and vertical formats. And here, dear readers, is where I turn to you.

I’ve been searching through Carolingian manuscripts via Wikimedia Commons and like these two images.

Frontpiece for the Book of Genesis

Frontpiece for the Book of Genesis

 Morgan Library Lindau Gospels

Morgan Library Lindau Gospels

The first image is definitely medieval, but is the second too abstract? Will people not associate it with the Middle Ages?

Instead, should I use a cropped version (sans house that looks like a dancing mushroom) of this 14th century image of a man and woman and tile the rose motif?

From the Manesse Codex

From the Manesse Codex

Or should I use this detail from a 16th century piece?

Medieval flower detail

From Saint Dominic

Any suggestions? I would love to hear from you.

All images public domain, viz Wikimedia Commons.

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