Edison gets credit for inventing the incandescent light bulb, but few of us would own one were it not for the Corning Ribbon Machine. For more than 70 years, this machine and its successors have churned out the bulbous glass shells that house fragile filaments. Not the most glamorous of tasks, but by performing it cheaply and quickly this machine revolutionized an industry and, ultimately, helped light our world.
For years after Edison built the first electric light bulb in 1879, his favorite invention served only as a laboratory device. Large-scale manufacture of Edison’s contraption was impossible because the glass had to be blown by hand-a time-consuming and prohibitively expensive process. Though glass companies spent decades of research and development to automate the process, progress was disappointingly slow. Then, in 1926, Corning Glass Works introduced the Ribbon Machine and put an end to the bulb production problem. Today, modern versions of the machine make more than 2 billion glass shells each year. A mere 15 ribbon machines would be enough to fill the entire world’s need for regular-sized incandescent bulbs and ensure that, wherever electricity flows, there can be light.
The machine’s design is ingenious. A melting tank above one end feeds a continuous stream of molten glass down between two water-cooled steel cylinders. The cylinders rotate and flatten the glass into a ribbon-only one-eighth of an inch thick-extruded onto a horizontal metal conveyor belt. Still about 1100C, the glass begins to fall through regularly spaced holes in the belt. Then plungers drop onto the ribbon from above and blast pressurized air into each sagging bulge, forcing it to expand. At the same time, rotating split molds below the conveyor belt briefly clamp together around the forming bulbs, ensuring the proper size and shape. Finally, a small metal tool breaks each newly formed bulb from the ribbon, and the excess glass is fed back into the melting tank.
These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems
They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.
Surgeons have successfully tested a pig’s kidney in a human patient
The test, in a brain-dead patient, was very short but represents a milestone in the long quest to use animal organs in human transplants.
Is everything in the world a little bit conscious?
The idea that consciousness is widespread is attractive to many for intellectual and, perhaps, also emotional
reasons. But can it be tested? Surprisingly, perhaps it can.
We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.
Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.