NGC – Engineering Connections

Posted: 5/26/2008 12:32:38 AM
Jeff S

From: N.E. Ohio

Joined: 2/14/2005

Earlier this evening while watching the National Geographic Channel, I heard the unmistakable sound of a theremin. I looked up and saw what was clearly (only to a diehard theremin enthusiast) a close-up of a hand near a theremin pitch antenna.

This was part of a promo for a program called Engineering Connections. The promo said the program was on Thursday at 9:00 PM. It wasn’t clear if they meant the program that included the theremin or the program in general. A check of their schedule on-line shows no such program, although the results of a search does confirm the program day and time.

Which one is correct? Who knows? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

A website search also brought up a very short on-line article on the theremin from 2003. One notably rare thing about it is they did not perpetuate the old “Good Vibrations” myth. Another interesting thing is they quoted Linda Pritchard (now Linda Lafferty) as saying that Moog Music sold more than 3100 theremins in 2001.

That’s a lot more theremins sold than I would have guessed. I would imagine they’ve sold substantially more than that in the last few years.


I just saw the promo again. It seems the program will NOT focus on the theremin at any length, but it will only be mentioned in its "connection" to the Keck Observatory, whatever that may be.

So, I guess that means the program WILL be shown this coming Thursday at 9:00 PM (Eastern Daylight Savings Time, I assume).


Posted: 7/13/2008 12:08:41 AM

From: Redmond, WA

Joined: 9/1/2007

Yes, there was a segment in this show. It focused on the Theremin's role in the constructon of the Keck Observatory. The mirror used in the observatory is almost 4 times larger than any other built before it. Its challenge was devising a way to support the mirror without it bending over from it's own weight, and without sinking a ton of money into building such a MASSIVE structure capable of supporting it. Their solution was to build several hexagonal mirrors thaf fit together. The challenge with this is getting all of the mirrors to align EXACTLY with one another.

This is where the Theremin comes in. It turns out they modified a Theremin to be able to detect the variences in the alignment of the mirrors, based on their capacitance with one another, down to nanometer accuracy. In a demonstration, they take 500 tennis balls and sprawl them out over a tennis court. They inject 1 ounce of water into one of them. Now it's up to the host (Richard Hammond) to find the modified ball, first without the modded Theremin, and then with. The Theremin itself looks similar to a metal detector, and was used in a similar way. Needless to say, Richard can't find the modified ball on his own. However, with the modded Theremin, the task became possible. The low tone went high when near the modded ball.

Here (, you will find screenshots from the show of some of the different things they did with the Theremin.

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