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Nova at Last?, Shining Light on the 'cummings Effect'

August 15, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 33


Nova at last?

Some topics appearing on this page have a knack for resurfacing. One subject is how the Chevy Nova acquired its name (C&EN, Jan. 10, page 96). While it's an innocuous bit of trivia, many C&EN readers have taken an interest in getting to the truth of the matter. There have been a couple of interesting yet incorrect theories offered, but most folks surmise correctly that the name is a celestial reference. Until now, however, the source of the reference has been unclear.

Cadaret was born in 1931, and at 19 he won first place in the Fisher Body Craftsman's Guild automotive design contest, sponsored by GM's Fisher Body Division. He used the prize money to attend the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., and went to work for GM in Detroit as a designer in 1953. Cadaret worked under the guidance of Harley J. Earl (1893-1969), who is considered the creator of the concept of automobile design and led GM's design studio for many years.

As far as the Nova is concerned, GM was working furiously in the late '50s to give its Chevy line a "major face-lift, something that would appeal to the younger generation," Schulz says. Earl would sometimes come in to see what the designers were doing, she relates, and once approached her father about the name of one of the new models.

"Cadaret, what are we going to call this thing?" Earl reportedly asked.

Cadaret, being a fan of astronomy and science fiction, replied, "How about Nova?"

"What the heck is that?" Earl asked.

"It's a new star," Cadaret said.

The name stuck, the Nova was introduced in 1961, and it did become one of Chevy's stars. Cadaret also came up with the names for the Impala, Lakewood, and Monza, Schulz says.

Cadaret is best known for his work on the designs of '55, '56, and '57 Chevy models, including the Corvette. On the side, he completed drawings and paintings of trains, ships, and aircraft, as well as wildlife and landscapes. Cadaret retired from GM in 1987 and passed away in 2000. Schulz now sells reproductions of her father's paintings (


Shining light on the 'Cummings effect'

Reported here not long ago was the observation by David Cummings of Cleveland, Tenn., that small bursts of light emanate from packages of Breathe Right nasal strips when they are ripped open in the dark (C&EN, June 27, page 64). Cummings recognized the phenomenon as a form of luminescence and wanted to make a name for himself by calling it the "Cummings effect."

It didn't take long for the cognoscenti to inform us that luminescence produced by static electricity discharge when adhesive surfaces are separated has been known for some time. This type of luminescence, called electroluminescence, also has been observed when opening self-adhesive envelopes, unrolling masking tape, or working with rolls of film in a darkroom. A similar form of luminescence is triboluminescence, which is generated by rubbing or crushing crystals. Popular examples include crushing sugar cubes or biting down on one of the mint-flavored varieties of Life Savers brand candies.

Although Cummings was not the first to observe the electroluminescence of adhesives, he is perhaps the first to put a name to it. And as John Lemmo of Princeton, N.J., writes, "Tell David that he can still call it the Cummings effect as far as I am concerned."

The practice of naming effects brought to mind a text that was useful before the Internet: "Dictionary of Named Effects and Laws in Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics." But this publication now seems to be out of print, suggesting the Cummings effect may also simply disappear in a flash.

This week's column was written by Steve Ritter. Please send comments and suggestions to


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