An amusing anecdote about forgetting the curvature of the Earth. In 2 Miles the pipe would drop 32 inches, and have a "bulge" in the middle of 8 inches. It also shows the difference between "level" (following the curve of the earth), and "straight", or "flat".
Are there other examples of engineers forgetting to factor in the curve of the Earth?
Colgate gravitated to the University of California at Berkeley, then making the world’s largest linear accelerator, the A-48. A half year later at the inception of a neighboring laboratory, now called Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Colgate was invited to join the fledgling counterpart to LANL.
“Instead of doing magnetic fusion, which is what I wanted to do, I was put in charge of the “fast” diagnostics (neutrons and gamma rays) for the Bravo test, on Bikini Atoll , the U.S.’s largest thermonuclear test with a yield of 15 megatons ,” he said.
Colgate was 27 or 28 at the time, very young for all this responsibility to be dropped in his lap. He said there were few Ph.D.’s with his background, such as his experience as an electrician in the Merchant Marines, a marine engineering license to operate seagoing ships, and a Ph.D. in measuring gamma-ray absorption coefficients.
“These measurements are still used by the Bureau of Standards,” he adds, a hint that his experimental acumen was well-known to the higher-ups.
There was one particularly amusing part of this bomb test experiment involving a dozen two-mile-long vacuum pipe lines necessary to accurately view the device from far enough away to save the recording equipment from the expected blast.
“When six of us young physicists arrived in Bikini several months before the test, but after an immense effort by thousands working for the contractor Holmes and Narver, we found that the gamma rays from a radioactive test source wouldn’t pass through the vacuum pipelines for a distance of two miles.”
After a few of the “juvenile young scientists” straightened one pipe line using a special telescope, Colgate recalls being awakened that night by another still younger engineer, who showed him the corrections.
“I took one look, calculated the geometry, and said out loud so everyone in the tent could hear, ‘Oh my God, they forgot that the earth is round!’ ” he said.
For gamma rays to get through, the pipes had to be straight, not level with the ground.