Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Let the Sunshine In-

As I have mentioned before, sometimes I come across books which have interesting stories behind them. Usually the stories concern either the author or the history of the book itself, but sometimes they have to do with prior owners.

We have a copy of an 1884 book by Arthur Charleston titled "Tin: Describing the Chief Methods of Mining, Dressing & Smelting it Abroad". An interesting enough book itself, if you are inclined tin-ward, but additionally, this copy bears the ownership signature- "Rev. M.A.G. Himalaya, Braga, Portugal, 1907" on the title page, and therein lies another story.

Manuel Antonio Gomes 'Himalaya' [1868-1933(?)], "Father Himalaya", is considered to be the father of solar energy in Portugal, and a visionary pioneer in the field of renewable energy. After taking Holy Orders in the Society of Jesus he studied natural sciences, physics, chemistry, mathematics and astronomy, and traveled to France where he studied with the noted chemist Marcelin Berthelot.

In 1899 he was granted a patent by the French government for a device to produce heat by focusing the sun's rays; in 1900 he constructed a test device in the Pyrenees and attained a temperature of 1100 degrees centigrade.

In 1902 an experiment in Lisbon attained 2000 degrees, and he made a final, startling demonstration of the power of such a device at the St. Louis Exposition in Missouri 1904. There he constructed his "Pireliofero", a 3-story high parabolic mirror mounted on a monstrous iron framework which focused sunlight on an oven mounted at the top of the structure. The oven reached a temperature of 3500 degrees, melting a test chunk of basalt, and Father Himalaya won a Grand Prize for his efforts.

He promoted other forms of renewable energy as well, including tidal energy and hydroelectric power, wind power, and geothermal power. Alas, there was plenty of cheap coal and oil available, and his work was generally ignored and forgotten. Father Himalaya retired to become chaplain at Viana Castle, a charity home, where he died at the age of 65. His work has excited interest in Europe in recent years, and his ideas have only lately attained a measure of the respect which eluded them in his lifetime.

Father Manuel Antonio Gomes 'Himalaya' and his "Pireliofero"

No comments: