The art of science

Every one of you would have read about the LHC scientific experiment and the possible Higgs Boson discovery this week. If you have not, this is the simple gist of it: When a series of sub-atomic particles are made to collide against each other, they release a great deal of money, measured in scientific units of billions of dollars, for the researchers.

This path-breaking experiment has already brought about a change in the world, namely getting to see indecipherable science reports on the front page of newspapers, which otherwise feature them in corners and pages where there is no possibility of human gaze.

Inevitably, this week’s subject is science. Whenever there is a debate between rational science and irrational religion, I am always on the side of the former. It is not as if I am a non-believer. But religion has merely provided us festivals, whereas science has delivered us TV, a remote control and many channels to watch on festival days.

Science also gave us Einstein, who proved beyond doubt that it is possible for people to take you seriously even when you seem to have not used the comb even once in your lifetime.

But what is India’s contribution to science? Even in this LHC experiment, the Bosons have an Indian connection — Boson Particles are actually named after the Indian scientist: ‘Satyendranath Particle’.

As ever, I am just kidding. The point is though India has occasionally produced accomplished scientists, historically its contribution to the world of inventions and discoveries has been far and few between. Can things get better?

To figure that out and also understand what is the status of science in our schools, I asked one of my neighbourhood boys (a 12th standard student) to write a small note on physics and chemistry, as he understood them.

This is the untouched version of what he wrote and gave to me:

Physics and Chemistry are inseparable twins and share many things in common, including the same teacher in many educational institutions. Since chemistry and physics are just a door apart, schools and colleges generally usher in the scientific revolution of allowing the physics teacher to double up for a few days as the chemistry master should the latter go on a long leave.

Apparently, physics experts are not sure whether the apple that is supposed to have fallen on Newton’s head indeed led to the discovery of gravity or left him in a state of dazed delirium. And that is perhaps why they keep probing us students to verify the value of gravitational pull.

The chosen way in the physics lab to figure out the value of gravity is through an experiment named simple pendulum, where a small spherical ball is made to dangle through a cord and allowed to oscillate in a random manner, while students write down the numbers they have memorized beforehand to arrive at the value of the gravity. Nobody has bothered to actually check the value of gravity now and that is why it is still stuck on 9.8 metres per second every second despite the mounting inflation and deathly recession.

The more practical method of deducing the value of gravity, I think, would be to ingeniously involve the very same metal sphere in the simple pendulum experiment and bang it at the physics teacher. The size of the resultant concussion on his head will help us arrive at the precise force of gravity. But this Newtonian-type experiment is not favoured by the teaching establishment.

Chemistry is the advanced branch of science that has been dealing with the sms language even before the ordinary telephone had been invented. Only such a reasoning has the rationality to explain the use of terms like CH3COOH, C4H10, MnO2.

There are two branches of chemistry — organic chemistry and the chemistry that dance masters keep talking about on reality shows. Experiments involving the latter chemistry fall under the ambit of human biology.

The life story of Madam Curie, who married a fellow scientist, underscores the importance of having good chemistry. For her efforts, Curie is remembered through an extremely dangerous radioactive element named after her.

Physics and chemistry deal with occupation of space and matter, and no wonder that who major in these subjects make it big as clerks and officers in government departments, where the main job is to occupy physical space and put their hard-learned science to good use, like wondering whether the tea they drank was boiled at temperature measured on the Fahrenheit or Celsius scale. High-ranking officials think on the Kelvin scale.

You may ask, what’s the difference between the three?  The rule of thumb, as gauged from the way newspapers use them, is: If it is cold, it’s Celsius, and if it is hot, it better be Fahrenheit, as you will appreciate that 100 F is more evocative of heat than 37 C while 0 C is considerably chillier than 32 F.

The third system of temperature measurement, Kelvin, is arrived at by adding or subtracting, I fail to remember which, 273 to the current temperature, which may or may not be in Fahrenheit or Celsius, I don’t recollect that too.

What’s the big deal about adding or subtracting 273 to any given temperature? Why the heck was this system accepted? Our suspicion is that Kelvin’s dad was a big shot and perhaps was the sanctioning authority in the Directorate of Temperature Evaluation (DOTE). From him probably came the phrase: ‘doting father’.

That’s how he ended.

Well, if science is all about being inventive, I think we can be optimistic of the future.