The Science Channel launched its entertaining new series, ‘Dark Matters: Twisted but True’, tonight with three provocative scenes of dubious experimentation, hosted by an inscrutable John Noble.

First off we’re in the mid-1950s as UFO expert Morris Jessup receives an extraordinary letter from US sailor, Carlos Allende. The letter describes the sinister ‘Philadelphia Experiment’ where an American Destroyer, the USS Eldridge, was apparently rendered invisible by powerful electromagnetic fields and was even briefly teleported to Virginia. Einstein was collaborating at the time with the US Navy on his Unified Field Theory. Did Einstein succeed? Was the US Navy able to bend light and mold the fabric of spacetime itself?

As Jessup investigates, he’s summoned to the Office of Naval Research in Washington DC for interrogation – then things spiral rapidly downhill.

There is, however, an alternative explanation: the Navy was experimenting with degaussing at the time, which rendered a steel ship invisible to magnetic mines. Crewman Allende was indeed a seaman during this period of the war, but diagnosed as mentally unstable. Still, who can know what really happened in the ‘Philadelphia Experiment’?

In the mid-1920s, while Stalin still believed in genetics, Soviet scientist Dr. Ilya Ivanov was funded to perform crossbreeding experiments between humans and our nearest cousins, the apes. Initially he tried to implant fertilized human eggs into female chimpanzees but the eggs never developed. The next attempt was to introduce human sperm into three female chimps – a local man provided the necessary sample. This too failed to produce a pregnancy.

In a final attempt, female volunteers were requested to receive a male chimp’s sperm. Amazingly, five Russian women agreed to sign up, but at this point Stalin pulled the plug as he moved into his anti-science phase. The unfortunate Dr Ivanov was exiled to Kazakhstan and his records were lost, so we still don’t know the outcome. Genetic engineering has come a long way in the last eighty years and nothing, bar ethics committees, stops us trying again. Human-animal hybrid experiments are banned in the West, but not as a matter of fact, in Russia.

In the early 20th century Thomas Edison was a pioneer in the new electricity, inventing the electric light bulb in a design we still use today. His problem was that his patents covered DC electricity (Direct Current) while his rival Westinghouse owned the patents for AC (Alternating Current). It turns out that for long-distance power transmission high-voltages are the only way to economize on expensive copper. But the conversion between extremely high voltages on power lines and the low voltages used around the house needs transformers, which only work with AC. So Edison had a problem – to advance the cause of DC he would have to discredit Westinghouse.

Reading a report of a child who had been electrocuted in an accident with an AC power supply, Edison decided to brand AC as inherently too dangerous to use. He persuaded the New York authorities to let him execute a condemned criminal using the ‘Westinghouse electric chair’. Edison made sure that it was clear to everyone that a Westinghouse AC generator would provide the lethal current.

When murderer William Kemmler was strapped into the chair, he was subject to 1,000 volts of AC through the head. But he didn’t die; instead he writhed in agony under the straps. After 17 seconds, the current was turned off and the voltage reset to 2,000 volts. After 8 minutes of being cooked from the inside Kemmler finally died. Nauseated war veterans in the audience turned pale in shock.

Edison won his short-term PR battle but as usual, economics could not be denied. In every country of the world the national power grid is AC. Edison’s company (GE) is still making money from light bulbs.

Next week: Nazi antigravity, Einstein’s brain, the psychic arms race.