thermometer

Can you risk looking foolish?

It all started one afternoon, in a small village in Tanga, Tanzania, when Erasto Mpemba and his friends were making ice cream. After making the dairy mixture, they had to put it in the freezer. There was one freezer in the village, they had to take turns using it.

Like most kids, Mpemba did not like waiting. One day, Erasto put his hot milk in the freezer without waiting for it to cool down. Other kids were already cooling theirs, but he could not wait.

After a little while, Erasto checked his ice cream in the freezer. To his shock, it had already frozen. Faster than his friends who cooled mixture first.

“You have stolen my ice cream,” one kid accused him. Erasto’s denial could not quench the accusation. His friends now labeled him a thief.

Determined to clear his name, the following day Erasto set to prove hot milk freezes faster than cold milk. It was absurd. Erasto put containers of the same size in the freezer, one with hot milk and the other with cold. Lo and behold, the hot mixture froze faster.

Elated that he has made a scientific discovery, Erasto shared his observation with the only physics authority he knew, his high school teacher at Magamba Secondary School, Tanzania.

“You were confused, that cannot happen”.
After Erasto finished his Ordinary level, he went for Advanced level where he studied physics. Erasto was relentless, he asked his physics teacher why hot water froze faster. Again, the teacher called him a confused boy.

“Boy, you did not understand Newton’s law of cooling.”

In his Advanced Level class, Erasto learned the scientific process. Erasto repeated his experiment using standard scientific practices. Again, there was more ice in the initially hot water than cold.

“If the teacher says you are wrong, then you are wrong,” Erasto later said in an interview.

When critics were shouting the loudest, something happened that forever changed Erasto’s life. In the late 1960s, Dennis Osborne, a physicist, was invited for a talk at Erasto’s school, Mkhawa Secondary School. Do not ask the professor your stupid questions, the physics teacher told Erasto.

After Dennis Osborne’s speech, students were invited to ask questions. Unfortunately, Erasto had been gagged. But it was not for long. Erasto disobeyed his teacher and repeated his question to Dennis Osborne.

There was a riot in the class. Erasto’s classmates viewed his curiosity as anathema, a cancerous growth that had to be suppressed by all means. The teacher wrongly assumed Erasto had asked to embarrass Dr. Osborne.

Although Dr. Osborne promised to look at the problem, he did not believe it was possible. It was not logical. Decreasing temperature from 68°F to 32°F should be faster than decreasing from 212°F, Dr. Osborne thought. Since he had made a promise, he repeated the experiment in his lab.

After graduating from high school, Erasto and Dennis Osborne published a scientific paper. Erasto’s observation is now called Mpemba effect. To date, no one knows exactly what causes Mpemba effect.

In 2012, Royal Society of Chemistry invited scientists across the globe to write an essay on possible explanation of Mpemba effect. They were more than 22,000 entries. This is how important a young boy’s 1963 observation in a small village has become.

Although Mpemba effect is illogical, it is true. Erasto might never know why hot water freezes faster than cold water, but his curiosity inspires thousands of young people in Africa. Again, his name has been forever inscribed in the annals of physics. At times, success is asking dumb questions and watch other people look for the answer.

Are you willing to be foolish?

 

(Extract from: The chronicles of the kid next door blog)

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