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June 19, 2024 37 mins

How did a nuclear engineer end up inventing the Super Soaker water gun? This is the story of Lonnie Johnson, an inventor and engineer who, among many other things, revolutionized the backyard water pistol fight.

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to tech Stuff, a production from iHeartRadio. Hey there,
and welcome to tech Stuff. I'm your host, Jonathan Strickland.
I'm an executive producer with iHeart Podcasts and how the
tech are you. So it's a holiday here over at iHeart.

(00:24):
It's Juneteenth, so we have the day off, but I
wanted to bring you an episode, and this is an
episode that originally published back on August tenth, twenty twenty two.
It is an episode about a really remarkable engineer and inventor,
and I think it's one of those things that I

(00:44):
really enjoyed learning about, and I certainly have enjoyed one
of the inventions, that being the super soaker, something that
has brought me great joy, especially in the very very
hot summers of Georgia and the United States. Much of
it has experienced some pretty record breaking heat waves recently.

(01:07):
So you know, the idea of an episode about a
nice way to cool down that's fun and competitive, I
thought would be a welcome change. So please enjoy this
episode from August tenth, twenty twenty two, called super Soakers
and Rocket Science. Since it's summertime when the weather is

(01:31):
high and you can retright up and touch the sky.
I figure I can talk about a fun story about
invention and innovation, something that's near and dear to my heart,
because these things came out right when I was in
high school and I thought they were amazing. I want
to talk about the super Soaker line of water guns,

(01:55):
and not just because that's a toy that has a
special place in my mind heart, because I loved these
things when I was a kid, but also because it
comes from one heck of a pedigree, because that technology
was the brainchild of a rocket scientist, a NASA engineer.
That engineer would be Lonnie Johnson, a man who is

(02:18):
countless incredible achievements to his name. He's got more than
one hundred patents to his name. Admittedly, the super Soaker
bit frequently grabs attention first, although when you look at
his resume, you think, how did this? How was this
the lead? How was that the headline? Lonnie Johnson was
born in Mobile, Alabama in nineteen forty nine, and I

(02:41):
want to mention this right off the bat, Lennie Johnson's black.
And I say that because we have to take into
account that along the way he was facing massive challenges
in the form of systemic racism. So his achievements are incredible,
and you on top of that, you have to put
into a take into account rather this issue of racism.

(03:05):
You know, he was really facing some enormous obstacles. Well.
Lonnie's father was a veteran of World War Two and
worked as a civilian driver at an Air Force base
in Mobile, Alabama, and his mother worked in a laundry
and as a nurse's aide. So when he was a kid,
Lonnie became interested in learning how stuff works. I can

(03:27):
identify with that. His father, on top of being a driver,
was also kind of a DIY kind of fella. It
was mostly out of necessity, learning how to fix things
and occasionally you know, doing odd jobs and stuff. And
he passed down this DIY you know, philosophy to his children,

(03:48):
and Lonnie really took that to heart, and sometimes his
heart would overrule his head, like the time he was
thirteen and decided to take an engine out of a
lawnmower and connect it to a go kart he had
made out of scraps and then went joy riding down
the highway. Police had to ask him to pull over.

(04:09):
Probably not the safest activity for a thirteen year old
to pursue, but it was a demonstration of his love
of engineering, and his family told lots of stories of
Lonnie taking stuff apart to learn how it worked, and
of course, you know, it was the classic story that
he wasn't always able to put it back together again.

(04:31):
So sometimes when Lonnie got his hands on something, that
was the last time that something was gonna work, but
he would learn in the process. They also told stories
about the time he tried to make homemade rocket fuel
and nearly set his family's house on fire. He would
go to Williamson High School and that was an all
black high school because this was still in the days

(04:54):
of segregation here in the South. You know, you had
schools that were whites only, in schools that were blacks only,
and so he went to an all black high school.
In nineteen sixty eight, he in his school entered a
science fair competition that was held at the University of
Alabama at Tuscaloosa, and his school was the only black

(05:15):
school that was in attendance at the fair. And he
Johnson had created a kind of robot. He called it
the Linux, and it was an air powered device, again
made out of scrap materials like he had rated junkyards
and stuff and grabbed things that would be helpful and
made this robot and it took home first prize. Now, reportedly,

(05:39):
many at the university were not thrilled that the top
prize was going to a black student. Johnson earned a
scholarship to attend the Tuskegee University and there he earned
a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He got that degree
in nineteen seventy three. Then he pursued postgraduate studies at
Tuskegee and he earned a master's degree in nuclear engineering

(06:04):
in nineteen seventy five. So the guy who created the
super soaker has a master's in nuclear engineering. That's a
big old whiles up for you, right, Like you wouldn't
expect that when you pick up a toy that this
was created by a nuclear engineer. Now, for a short
while after he graduated from his master's degree, Lonnie Johnson

(06:26):
worked as a research engineer at Oakridge National Laboratory. That
was one of the facilities that was involved during the
Manhattan Project. It was established as part of the Manhattan Project.
In fact, this was when the United States was first
developing the atomic bomb. During World War two. Of course,
that would be ancient history by the time Lonnie Johnson

(06:48):
had joined the team, but Oakridge continues to pioneer research
in things like nuclear physics, including nuclear fusion and an
attempt to build a working nuclear fusion reactor, which if
we do, you ever managed to do one that actually
creates a sustainable fusion reaction that would be transformative for
our energy needs, but you know, we have to get

(07:11):
there first. Well. Johnson would then join the Air Force
after that, and he was assigned to head the Space
Nuclear Power Safety Section at the Air Force Weapons Laboratory.
He stayed there until nineteen seventy nine, and at that
point he joined NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and served as
a senior system's engineer. He began work on the Galileo project,

(07:36):
so he was part of the Galileo Project team. Galileo
was a probe that we sent to study Jupiter and
its moons. That project would ultimately be monumentally successful from
a scientific perspective. Now, Johnson worked on this early on
in the program. He would not be part of that
team when the probe would ultimately launch later in the

(08:00):
nineteen eighties, but he did work on it early on
in nineteen eighty two, Lonney Johnson would actually leave NASA
and return to the Air Force and he was now
an Advanced Space Systems Requirements Officer at the Strategic Air
Command Headquarters. He would also serve as the chief of
the Data Management Branch of Strategic Air Command Test and

(08:24):
Evaluation Squadron at Edward's Air Force Base. He was one
of the engineers who would also work on the development
of the Stealth Bomber, which was a super secret project
at the time. Johnson actually talked about how he wouldn't
even be able to tell his wife what he was
working on at the time because it was classified as
top secret. He would pop back over to NASA's Jet

(08:47):
Propulsion Laboratory in nineteen eighty seven to work on the
Cassini project. Cassini was a probe that we sent to
study Saturn, and he was also at work on a
project that would unexpectedly evolve in to the super Soaker. Now,
that was something that he had been kind of working
on on and off for several years. You see, Lonnie

(09:10):
Johnson did not set out to make a new kind
of water gun, you know, a water gun that would
leave those little old squirt guns far behind. He wasn't
trying to create a weapon of mass saturation. It was
not his dream to grant battlefield superiority to the kid
who could go out and buy a water gun capable

(09:31):
of shooting streams of water further than any other on
the market. Lannie Johnson was trying to do something else entirely.
He was trying to solve a very tricky problem. He
wanted to create a heat pump that used water instead
of free on as a refrigerant, and he started on
this work way back in the early nineteen eighties. So

(09:52):
he did this while he was at the Air Force
working on the Stealth Bomber. So he couldn't talk about
the stealth bomber work, but he could talk about his
sort of personal project, which was trying to suss out
if there would be a way to make a working
heat pump, an effective heat pump using water. So we're
going to talk about heat pumps and how they work

(10:15):
and why it was important to try and find an
alternative to free on, so that we can have an
understanding of what it was that was fueling his innovation
and ultimately would spawn the super soaker. But Before we
get to all of that, let's take a quick break. Okay,

(10:43):
let's talk about heat pumps. Now. The heat pumps I'm
talking about here, they work in a way that's similar
to an air conditioner. In fact, there are several elements
in heat pumps that are identical to things you would
find in an air conditioner, except a heat pump can
potentially transfer heat inside a building or outside a building.

(11:06):
Thus it can either heat or cool a building using
one system. Air Conditioners are not like that. They are
a one way thing, right. They pull heat out of
a building and they bring cool air in. But that's it.
You can't heat a building with an air conditioner. You
need a separate system. You need a furnace. So a

(11:28):
heat bump can do both. And technically a heat pump
can also be a one way type of deal. It
could also be like an air conditioner, or it could
be like a furnace. If you wanted where it could
not reverse. The reverse is only made possible by using
a reversing valve. But that's the thing is that a

(11:49):
heat pump can do that. You can have a reversing
valve installed within the system and you change where the
heat is being pumped. Really, that's all it is. It's
all a heat transfer system. It transfers heat from one
location to another. When you're heating a building, it means
you're taking heat from outside and bringing it inside. And

(12:09):
when you're cooling a building, you're taking the heat from
inside and you're putting it outside. That's really all there
is to it. But how does it do that well?
I could technically do a full episode about this, but
I'll try and keep it short. It's also a little
tricky to talk about when you don't have visual aids,

(12:29):
but we're gonna do our best. So your typical air
to air heat pump solution, there are a lot of
different types of heat pumps. We'll talk about air to
air because one they're the most common and two they're
really simple. But your basic air to air heat bump
solution consists of a pair of heat exchangers. You have
one heat exchanger that's outdoors and you have one heat

(12:52):
exchanger that's indoors. These are connected via pipes and a
reversing valve that allows the flow to reverse directions, and
there's a compressor and there's also some other valves, expansion valves,
that control the flow of refrigerant in the system and
bypasses for those expansion valves. That's also important. So I'll

(13:13):
talk about expansion valve one and two for the sake
of this description so that you can understand why they exist.
And really you only need two if you do have
a reversing heat pump system. If it's just going in
one direction, you just need one expansion pump and that's it.
You don't even have to have a bypass. It's only
if you want to both heat and cool a building

(13:35):
with a heat pump that you would need two of them.
So let's start with the compressor, because really that's where
the journey begins. And the compressor's job is to compress
the refrigerant that's flowing through this system. Now, compressing a
fluid in this case, it's essentially a vapor, it causes

(13:55):
not just the pressure to increase, but it also causes
the temperature of that fluid to increase. So what you
end up with is a super heated vapor under very
high pressure, and you allow that to travel through the
lines out from the compressor. And let's say in this case,
it's the winter and we want to heat the inside

(14:17):
of our house. So we would have a system set
so that the hot, high pressure vapor travels to the
indoor heat exchanger. Now, this is essentially coils of tubeing
made out of a material that conducts heat efficiently, like copper. Right,
So this super high pressure, very hot vapor goes through

(14:41):
these coils of tubing. Behind the coil of tubing, you
have a fan. The fan blows cooler air across these
hot coils, and that carries some of that thermal energy,
some of that heat away from the coils. That's what's
providing heat to the house. That's where the warm air

(15:03):
is coming out of the vents. It's because that air
was blown across these very hot coils and some of
that heat transferred to the air and thus is warming
your house. So the cool air starts to pull away
some of that thermal energy. Well. As the thermal energy
goes down inside this fluid, then the fluid itself begins

(15:25):
to condense, it begins to convert from gas to liquid.
And it's still hot, it's still had a high pressure,
it's just not quite as high pressure as it was
when it entered into the heat exchanger, and it's not
quite as hot as it was. But this heated liquid
will bypass expansion valve number one, So it goes around
this valve, it doesn't go through it. The expansion valve.

(15:48):
If you can think of it as pointing in a direction,
it's pointing back the way this liquid has come. So
it bypasses this valve. Then it goes through expansion valve
number two. That's point in the opposite way. Now, an
expansion valve allows this pressurized liquid to expand, for its
volume to expand. Well, that means that the pressure of

(16:11):
the liquid drops suddenly, as does its temperature. That's the
relationship here. When you've got high pressure, you've got high temperature.
When you've got low pressure, you've got low temperature. So
this expansion valve allows for the rapid expansion of this
liquid into a kind of a mixture of liquid and
vapor that is much cooler in temperature. This mixture then

(16:35):
passes through the coils in the outdoor heat exchanger. That's
just blowing ambient air across the coils. Well, the temperature
of the refrigerant has now dropped so low that even
in the winter time, the air outside is typically warmer
than the refrigerant is so it can be very cold

(16:57):
outside and still be warm enough to warm up the
refriger quite a bit, and so a little bit of
thermal energy gets transferred into this fluid. The refrigerant then
brings along some of that thermal energy, and it gets
pumped back through the reversing valve to go back into
the compressor, and then the whole thing starts up again. Right,

(17:19):
the compressor compresses this mixture of vapor and liquid that's
cooler into a high pressure vapor that is very high
temperature and puts it back through the system again. Now,
if you wanted to cool your house, this whole system
moves in reverse. So the compressor still compresses the refrigerant,

(17:40):
still makes it very hot, but now it goes to
the outdoor heat exchanger, which takes away some of that
thermal energy and allows the superheated high pressure vapor to
condense into hot, slightly less hot, and slightly less pressurized
liquid that then bypasses expansion valve too. It goes to
expansion valve of one, expands into the very low pressure,

(18:03):
low temperature mixture of vapor and liquid, moves through the
indoor heat exchanger, which is blowing warm air across these coils.
The coils are very very cold, so then you get
cool air blowing into your house, and then the fluid
continues on back to the compressor. Now, the reason I

(18:24):
give all that is because you know you have to
understand those basic pieces. But why was Johnson working on
an improvement or attempting to create an improved heat bump. Well,
it's because the typical heat bump was using free on
as the refrigerant. Now freeon is technically called dichlora diflora methane,

(18:49):
and this stuff has the useful trait of having a
boiling point that's all the way down to minus twenty
nine point eight celsius or minus twenty one point six
for fahrenheit. Now, remember, like water's got a boiling point
of one hundred degrees celsius or two hundred and twelve fahrenheit.
That's pretty hot, But free on it'll boil off into

(19:11):
a gas at negative twenty nine point eight celsius. So
you see that even in cold winters, there's still enough
heat in the ambient air to boil off the refrigerant
in the heat exchanger, unless you're in like a super
duper cold environment where you would be kind of stuck.
The heat pump would not be a big help. However,

(19:31):
freeon has some drawbacks. Now, a big drawback is that
it contributes to environmental damage. It can it is a
chemical that, when released into the atmosphere, can do massive
damage to the ozone layer. Now, this was such a
concern in the nineteen nineties that countries agreed to ban

(19:53):
the manufacture of free on. First developed nations all agreed
to stop manufacturing free on in the mid nineties, but
for developing countries it was considered to be kind of
I mean, it's looked on as a complicated situation. Right.
You have a country that's on its way toward development
telling it, hey, you can't benefit from the same stuff

(20:15):
that we benefited from because it turns out that's harmful.
That's a complicated thing. So those countries actually had until
twenty ten to stop making free on. These days, we
still use free on, but only in very specific use cases,
like as a fire retardant in like submarines or aircraft.
So Lonnie Johnson wanted to create a new kind of

(20:39):
heat pump that would just use plain old water as
a refrigerant instead of free on. So there was this
growing concern about free on and similar chemicals and their
environmental impact. But this was before countries had decided to
ban the stuff, and so really Johnson was just trying
to think of an alternative that would be and you know,

(21:03):
have less of an environmental impact, and water would definitely
fit the bill if you could make it work. So
he's kind of thinking this through and creating a system,
and part of that meant that he machined his own nozzles.
So he used machining equipment to make nozzles for his
heat pump design, and one day, while testing out his

(21:26):
nozzles in his bathroom, he shot a tight stream of
water clear across the bathroom in a very focused stream,
and then got in to thinking about water guns. Okay,
I'm going to talk more about water guns and their design,
but first let's take another quick break. Okay, we're back.

(21:53):
Let's talk about your classic water gun. So this is
pre super soaker, the little squirt toy version of water guns,
the kinds of that you might find in like a
dollar store or something. Now, your typical water gun has
a spring loaded trigger, and that trigger activates a lever.
That lever in turn activates a very small pump inside

(22:14):
the water gun, and the pump's job is to pump
water from a reservoir and the gun. Often with these
squirt guns, the entire interior of the gun acts as
a reservoir and it pumps the water through a plastic
tube and out a narrow path at the end of
the gun's barrel, where a nozzle focuses the escaping water
into a stream. So let's take that step by step

(22:35):
to understand exactly what's working from a mechanical perspective. So
you've got your plastic tube that extends into the water reservoir.
If you follow that plastic tube from the reservoir up,
you'll see that it leads to a pump. And the
pump is a very simple thing. It's a cylinder and
it's a piston. And the piston, when you pull the trigger,
will move into the cylinder. Now, when the piston moves

(22:58):
into the cylinder, it forces water or air or whatever
out of the cylinder. Right, it can't be in the
cylinder the piston's there. Also, inside the cylinder is a spring,
So when the piston enters the cylinder, it compresses the spring,
and when you release the trigger, it allows the spring

(23:18):
to expand to full size. That forces the piston back
out of the cylinder again, and when that happens, there's
a vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum, so water and
or air flows back into the cylinder because it's been
left empty by the piston's movement. Right. So when you
pair this with a couple of one way valves in

(23:38):
those tubes, you have yourself an effective pump. So one
of those valves will allow water to move from the
reservoir into the cylinder. So when you let go of
the trigger and the piston is moving out of the cylinder,
the pump sucks water up from the tube, but the
water cannot flow back in the opposite direction. This is

(24:00):
also why you sometimes have to prime the old water pistols.
You have to pull the trigger a few times because
you actually have to use that piston to suction water
up from the reservoir to go into the pump in
order to have it ready to push the water out
of the gun. Now, the other one way valve leads

(24:20):
from the pump to the nozzle in the gun's barrel.
So when you pull the trigger. It pushes the piston
through the cylinder, forces water out of the pump, and
the only place the water can go is through this tube,
through that one way valve, and out through the nozzle
because the other one way valve blocks the water from

(24:40):
going back into the reservoir. Now, because there is a
one way valve right there heading to the barrel of
the gun, that means when you let go of the
trigger and you have the suctioning action happening again, when
the piston is moving out of the cylinder, that one
way valve seals shut, so air cannot come back in

(25:02):
through the gun barrel. The only place where the suction
can pull anything through is through the reservoir because that
one way valve allows water to go from the reservoir
back into the pump. You have to have those one
way valves or else if you were to lego of
the trigger and it could just pull air from the barrel,
then you wouldn't suction air up out of the reservoir anymore.

(25:24):
You could have a full water gun and keep pulling
that trigger and nothing happens, because all it's doing is
pushing air in and out through the barrel of the gun.
You have to have that valve there to help seal
the system properly. Now that's your basic squirt gun. Johnson
figured he could do a bit better now. His homemade

(25:45):
nozzle was just one part of his new invention, of course,
and Johnson wouldn't work on this all on his own.
He would kind of work with another inventor named Bruce
Dendrade to kind of get a better squirt gun design.
And a big part of it was something that heat
pumps deal with all the time, which is pressurizing a fluid. Now,

(26:05):
obviously a toy water gun is not going to create
the same levels of pressurization as an industrial compressor in
a heat exchange system. That would be bonkers. But a
pressurization chamber would provide the oomph to force water out
at a high velocity through the nozzle, which means you
could shoot streams of water much further than your standard

(26:29):
little squirt gun. So the idea was you'd use a
hand pump on the gun to pump air into this
pressurization chamber, at least originally. Later models of super soakers
would actually use water and air rather than just air
to build up pressure. Valves would prevent the air from
escaping back out, so you would pump air in, but

(26:51):
the air could not escape out, and you just keep
pumping and pumping until you had essentially reach capacity of
the canister. You could not physically move the pumpump any further.
Later on, you would even have failsafe so that it
wouldn't allow you to pump any more once it reached
a certain amount of pressure, and that way you would
be less likely to break your new toy. When you

(27:13):
pulled the trigger, you would essentially open up an escape
valve for all that pressurized air that was inside this canister,
and the air having a path of release, would immediately
follow it. And there's only one path available because of
those valves. It would only be able to go in
one direction, and this escaping air would end up pushing

(27:34):
water out of a secondary reservoir in the gun through
the nozzle at the end, shooting a stream at an
impressive distance. Now that's a little more complicated than I
just described. So, like I said, there are two water reservoirs.
The first reservoir, the primary one, is the one you
would actually fill up when you would get ready to
do battle. You would open up a little tab in

(27:58):
the gun, you would fill it up with water, close
the tab in there. That was the primary water reservoir.
The second water reservoir would fill up as you were
pumping pressurized air into the compression chamber. And it was
the water in this secondary reservoir that would actually shoot
out the nozzle when you pulled the trigger. So when

(28:18):
the pressurized air was released, it was pushing water out
through this secondary reservoir, not the primary one. And again
you would use one way valves to control fluid flow.
That guaranteed that fluids would only be able to go
in one direction throughout this system. Because if you don't
have that, then you just really have a water gun
where water is sloshing through tubes but not really going anywhere. Now,

(28:42):
Johnson initially looked to self fund production of his invention,
and he gave his daughter a prototype of this kind
of using like a two liter empty soda bottle to
act as the compression chamber. And then he watched as
his seven year old daughter was absolute slutely wrecking shot
on that Air Force base. She was just dominant in

(29:05):
any water gun fights. However, he discovered that manufacturing is
a complicated and expensive process. I mean, it costs a
lot of money to first establish a production sequence, right
if you're building something new, then you have to go
through and tool that sequence precisely to whatever it is
you're building, and that's very expensive. So Johnson didn't have

(29:26):
like two hundred thousand bucks just lying around to fund
an initial batch of one thousand super soakers. So instead
he started to look around to see if he could
find a toy company that he could partner with. But
that took a long time. And you have to keep
in mind that while he's doing this, he's also kind
of working on stuff like stealth bombers, and so it's
not like he had copious amounts of free time on

(29:48):
his hands to pursue his dream of making a really
cool squirt gun. So his search took seven years. He
happened to encounter a toy company while he was at
the American International Toy Fair in New York. He was
there with his pitch and he got some interest from

(30:09):
a Philadelphia based company called Laramie. Now that company didn't
exactly have the best image in the toy world. It
was mostly known for making knockoffs of popular toy brands.
But Laramie was showing an interest, and that was enough
for Johnson because he was not really finding any bites
at this point. So he was invited to travel to

(30:31):
Philadelphia and to give a demonstration of his prototype, which
again used like an empty two liter soda bottle as
the compression chamber. So you know, it was this janky
collection of plastic and tubes and this soda bottle. It
didn't necessarily look really polished itself, and the Laramie folks
were saying, well, does it work? And then he shot

(30:53):
water clear across the conference room and he immediately won
the admiration of the Laramie executives and they struck a
deal with Johnson. They licensed the design of his invention,
and so that was that. That was where Johnson ended
up getting this lucrative licensing deal for his invention, which

(31:14):
by the way, he had already patented. Hilaramie would produce
the first model of this which it wasn't called the
super Soaker when it first came out. This was around
nineteen ninety, so this model was called the Power Drencher,
and I think that's just as awesome a name as
super Soaker. It's not alliterative, so that's an issue, but

(31:34):
Power Drencher does sound like it's like it's a force
to be reckoned with. But the next year was when
the company would rebrand the toy as the super Soaker,
and that name stuck, and it also became insanely popular.
Like you occasionally see these trends and toys where a
toy will just be like the must have toy of

(31:55):
the season. That was what the super Soaker was when
it really debuted under that name, was they were flying
off store shelves. People were crazy about them, including me,
and I did have an original super Soaker, not the
Power Drencher, but when it was rebranded, I did have
one of those when I was a kid, and I
loved that thing. Now. In an interview with the Henry

(32:16):
Ford Innovation Nation, Johnson said that it took some engineering
to bring all the elements together to make this work,
but when you compare it to rocket science, it's relatively simple, which,
you know, I gotta say, I love that perspective. Hasbro
would subsequently acquire Laramie, so the super Soaker brand would
move over to Hasbro. Johnson would head on back to NASA.

(32:41):
He you know, I'd worked at the Air Force he
had made a killing by licensing this invention to Laramie
and then wanted to continue his his engineering work with NASA.
And then after that he worked a little bit with
Hasbro to bring new innovations and improvements to its line
of NERF guns. In fact, Hasbro would group super Soaker

(33:03):
under the NERF brand, so you find Nerf super Soakers
these days. And that's kind of funny too, because actually,
when Johnson was a kid, I didn't mention this earlier,
but he created a kind of proto NERF gun back
in his childhood, used some bamboo to act as kind
of like a barrel of a gun, and he used
China berries as ammunition, these little softberry things that grow

(33:27):
all over the place here in the Southeast and use
pressurized air to shoot them. So it was kind of
like a NERF gun, just it was shooting China berries
instill a little foam darts. And Johnson created his own
design laboratory right here in Atlanta, Georgia called Johnson R
and D. And there at the lab, Johnson and his
team are researching all sorts of fields, including environmental technology

(33:51):
for alternative power generation solutions, which is pretty darn awesome
as well as for the super soaker. It would continue
to evolve under Hasbro Dondrade would incorporate a type of
bladder in future super soaker water guns, and the bladder
would serve both as kind of a pressure chamber and
a water reservoir. When you would pump the super soaker

(34:14):
that had these bladders in them, it would force water
and air into this bladder, thus expanding the bladder. But
the bladder was made a very stiff material and it
resisted having this stuff pumped into it. So you would
get this compression, this pressurization, that interior pressure would grow
and when you pulled the trigger, it would allow the

(34:34):
pressure to escape and you could, you know, have longer
pressure with these types of super soakers, so you could
fire it a few more times than having to like,
you know, pump for five seconds and then fire, then
pump for five seconds again. These days, there are actually
a several different supersoaker models, I mean tons have come

(34:55):
out since it debuted in nineteen ninety. A lot of
the the current super soaker models actually use a simpler
pump mechanism. Some of them are just essentially sucking up
water into a pump and then pushing it out in
high volumes. So in other words, it's working on a
very similar principle as those older squirt guns. It's just larger.

(35:17):
Your pump is bigger inside these types of guns instead
of being a little bitty thing that's a spring activated
trigger mechanism. It's typically like a pump handle mechanism. But
it's still when you break down a simple pump and
not using a pressurized container like the original Super Soaker did.

(35:37):
Others use motorized pumps, so you have like a battery
operated pump that fires the water in the reservoir. But
all of these gut their start thanks to a rocket
scientist who just wanted to make a better heat pump.
And that's it. For this episode, I wanted to give
Lonnie Johnson a shout out. The guy is incredibly inspiring you.

(35:59):
If you are not familiar with his work, you'd need
to look him up. Not just the Super Soaker stuff.
He also just comes across incredibly personable in interviews. He
is humble and inquisitive and curious and very very fun
to listen to, So I highly recommend you check him

(36:19):
out if you have not before, and if you would
like to suggest a topic for me to cover in
future episodes of tech Stuff. There are a couple of
different ways you can do that. One is to download
the iHeartRadio app scree to download, navigate over to the
tech Stuff portion of that, and there's a little microphone
icon there where you can leave a thirty second voice

(36:41):
message up to thirty seconds anyway, doesn't have to be
a full thirty seconds, and let me know what you
would like me to cover in the future, or you
can drop me a line on Twitter. The handle for
the show is tech Stuff HSW and I'll talk to
you again really soon. Tech Stuff is an iHeartRadio production.

(37:04):
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Jonathan Strickland

Jonathan Strickland

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