Tin Whiskers

“Tin whiskers are easy to miss, thinner than a human hair. They look like metal fuzz. They grow — for reasons scientists don’t understand — from plated tin surfaces, millimeter by millimeter. And if they bridge two closely spaced circuits, tin whiskers can cause a short.” Todd C. Frankel, “A Carbondale professor, runaway Toyotas and the hunt for ‘tin whiskers'”

1 (a found poem, from the same article)
“None of this happens if David Gilbert keeps his Ford
F-150 truck. Not the threats to his job
as a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Not the corporate intimidation. He never would have
testified before Congress. And he never would have met
those NASA scientists, the ones who ended up
naming an electrical effect after him. As a gift,
they gave him the black NASA coffee mug
sitting on his desk — the one he’s sipping from
right now. The mug reads, ‘If it’s not safe, say so.’”

2
But he traded in his truck for a Toyota.
This is when they were crashing, speeding up,
Toyotas were, getting recalled. He was a curious,
and tenured professor, and had an automotive
lab, so he hooked his truck up to a machine
(it looks like steam punk in my brain, with gears
and cogs and whistles and clocks) and caused an error
the truck’s computer missed, again and again.
Here’s the movie he’s the hero of—
Big bad Toyota tried to trash his name.
My alma mater tried to stop his work.
He just kept telling the truth. It’s almost like
some people have tin whiskers inside of them.
Inside of him, a regard for truth, almost like love.

_____

I like to read the online versions of newspapers from places I’ve lived in the past, or places I’m interested in. Thus, on any given day, I might check out The Missoulian (oh! those years in Montana!) or The Southern Illinoisan (the place names alone are worth it), and though I never lived in St. Louis, I spent a fair bit of time there. The article referenced above was in the St. Louis Post Dispatch online, written by Todd C. Frankel, who now writes for the Washington Post.

It’s a well-written article, a complex and compelling story.

It speaks to so many things, including the enduring value of tenure.

So, bravo, Mr. Frankel, and yay for Professor Gilbert, who really does strike me as a hero.

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