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BBC TwoNewsnight
Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 17:50 GMT
A giant magnetic peril, sigh
Steve Smith
By Stephen Smith
Newsnight Culture Correspondent

One big magnet
That's one big magnet

Call me Ahab! Or at least Captain Nemo.

On the latest stage of my quest for Physics know-how, I was 20,000 leagues under the sea, in constant peril of being sucked into the maw of a giant squid as if I was nought but a wriggling krill! Or at least that's how it felt.

The fact that I was at all times on terra firma, and in the sandpaper-dry and safety-friendly environs of an engineering shop floor in Oxfordshire, in no way diminished my lively sense of terror.

Dear viewer, I had come face to implacable face with the giant magnets of Whitney.

Encountering them all unknowing in their pristine silo, you might not guess at their awful power. Indeed, they might put you in mind of outsize silver-coated ring doughnuts - warehoused, perhaps, ahead of a starring role on the Krispy Kreme float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

Bland and burnished

And when they are properly harnessed by their makers, Siemens, they form the vital kernel of MRI scanners and other inestimable boons.

But only a fool would take their benign docility for granted. Don't be deceived by their bland and burnished appearance.

Today, Arthur is rightly celebrated in magnetic circles as the man who fought a giant magnet - and won.
I was shown into their lair by Arthur Kaindl, an old magnet man whose respect for the principles of attraction was etched into his features as if by scrimshaw. And small wonder.

Some years ago, when the young Arthur was still making his way amid the undercurrents of the business, it happened that he turned his back on a giant magnet while holding a metal screwdriver in his hand.

A moment later, he told me, he had the fearful sensation that great tentacles were curling themselves around the tool, tearing it from his gasp.

The implement had been magnetised!

It was as if the magnet was bent on returning the very atoms of the screwdriver to its own mighty motherlode!

With his last ounce of strength, Arthur tore the utensil from the jaws of the leviathan. Today, he is rightly celebrated in magnetic circles as the man who fought a giant magnet - and won.

Sigh in Science

Steve meets Kathy Sykes
Steve tries to concentrate on his scalars under Kathy Sykes' tutelage
As we paced the echoing workshop, was it mere superstition that chilled me, a morbid fancy that the brooding devices were awaiting their revenge?

All I do know is that a more pressing concern on Arthur's mind is recruiting sufficient science graduates, and skilled apprentices, to keep the Siemens magnets thrumming.

Elsewhere, on 'Stephen Smith Science Student', we see what other captains of industry have to say about recruitment.

And since every brave adventurer is really in pursuit of a woman's favour, we meet TV's Kathy Sykes, the girl who put the 'sigh' into science.

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