Viva La Ciencia: Cuba’s Creative Scientists Aim to Make Knowledge Their Country’s Sugar Substitute
At first, peas served as particles in Ernesto Altshuler’s experiment. A mechanical dispenser would drop the chícharos one by one into the space between two glass plates, forming a tidy two-dimensional approximation of a sand pile. Lattice structure appeared, then vanished, as the pile self-organized and went critical—avalanche! But Havana’s insects soon found the peas in Altshuler’s physics lab. For a physicist working under harsh economic conditions of Cuba in the early 1990s, options were few. Yet Altshuler’s solution came as a byproduct of the crisis: Because of fuel shortages, the country had begun importing Chinese bicycles, and ball bearings were available in abundance. Thus the peas have been replaced by steel beads, but Altshuler and his students still call their machine the chícharotron.