A Simple Code
Today we don’t give any thought to long-distance communication. Turn on your cell phone and you can instantly talk to almost anyone in the world (assuming they answer their phone). Over one hundred years ago, it was a very different matter. Devices were invented that allowed very simple signals to be sent, such as Morse code (developed by Samuel Morse in the mid-1800s). A short impulse was called a dot and a longer impulse was called a dash. Each letter in the alphabet was composed on different combinations of dots and dashes.
Why It Matters
- Symbols and abbreviations are widely used in everyday life. The red octagonal stop sign is immediately recognized by most drivers. We incorporate shorthand codes in our emails (LOL = “laughing out loud”). Texting has become so prevalent that many teachers are concerned that the next generation will never learn to spell correctly. With a limit of 160 characters, abbreviations become very necessary. CU 2NITE becomes an abbreviated way of saying “I’ll see you tonight”, using eight characters (including the space) instead of the twenty needed for the entire message.
- The sciences are avid users of symbols and abbreviations. Using a couple of letters allows us to write “Pr” instead of “praseodymium” (a lot easier to type, too). We can also indicate isotopes of an element. U-238 means the isotope of uranium that has an atomic mass of 238 amu. Units are often abbreviated, with mL standing for milliliters and kg for kilograms.
- Electron dots are a useful convention for indicating covalent bonds between atoms in a molecule. Yes, we know that the electrons are not static and do not behave the simple way the dots suggest. But these dots do help us understand the sharing of electrons in a way that is much simpler and easy to deal with than other approaches
- Watch a video demonstration of Morse code at the link below:
Can You Apply It?
Use the links below to learn more about Morse code and electron dots. Then answer the following questions.
- See examples of Morse code using the first link above.
- What could the symbol of a light bulb represent?
- What is a motif?
- How did G.N. Lewis define a chemical bond?
- What contribution did Lewis make to our ideas about acids and bases?