Spice in Science by K. Krishna Murty - Read Online
Spice in Science
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Did you know that Thomas Edison was penniless and almost starving when he left for New York? Or, how once Charlie Chaplin confused Einstein? Or, how German physicist, Gustav Kirchoff, presented his banker with `gold from sun`? Spice in Science is an unusual book replete with interesting incidents, funny situations, memorable events and little known facts from the lives of scientists, researchers, inventors and mathematicians. Herein you will find no pungent formulae or esoteric ideas, simply a colourful embroidery of humorous stories and amusing anecdotes laced with unforgettable incidents from the fascinating lives of these great geniuses. This book does not contain the serious science from cloistered laboratories. Instead, it transmits the crackles of laughter that cracked up these labs sometimes in wonder, sometimes in mirth and sometimes in mysticism. From...CV Raman to Srinivas Ramanujan, Isaac Newton to Albert Einstein, Michael Faraday to Thomas Edison and Marie Curie to Guglielmo Marconi...this book has funnies and anecdotes on one and all. So, whether you are interested in science or only dig pure fun, Spice in Science is just the right book for you.

Published: V&S Publishers on
ISBN: 9789381384855
List price: $9.99
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Spice in Science - K. Krishna Murty

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Preface

It is impossible for us who are now accustomed to present-day science, technology and medicine to gauge the mixture of wonder and disbelief that those breakthrough scientists must have felt at the moment of their success and glory. But when we delight in a modern gadget or overcome pain with a medical miracle, we seldom remember the scientists who sweated it out to realise their dreams that now light up our lives.

‘Their pleasure was in their sweat’ and ‘in perspiration they drew their inspiration’. These geniuses lived in a fascinating world of their own, unmindful of their personal lives and careless in worldly matters. Beyond the shadows of serious science and cloistered labs, these dishevelled scientists once in a while lit up their lives with a lighter side.

From this lighter side, we have here the forgetfulness of Norbert Weiner, the earthy humour of Newton, the brilliant banter of Paul Erdös, the jolly jokes of Albert Einstein, the practical fun of Thomas Edison, the true lies of Guglielmo Marconi, the innocent humour of Werner Heisenberg, the humble brilliance of Srinivas Ramanujan and an inveterate teetollar in CV Raman. Their forgetfulness tickles us to laughter and their self-effacing wisdom provokes a postscript.

It is difficult to distinguish between true stories, trivia and anecdotes. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines an anecdote as: a short entertaining story about a real incident or person; an account regarded ultimate origins in the Greek anekdota (‘things unpublished’). Likewise, while most incidents in the book are of recent origin, those who could authenticate them are no longer present. But these real-life incidents are variously circulated and were compiled from books, magazines, websites and other media.

Yet, only a thin line exists between fact and fiction. So if a more enlightened reader knows that any of the anecdotes is not true, and brings this to our notice, it will be withdrawn from future reprints.

So here is the true spice in science…

—K. Krishna Murty

Science Funnies

Home Alone

One day at the Princeton University, a phone call was received enquiring about the address of Dr Einstein. Since the University authorities felt that the professor should be shielded from curious callers, the request was politely rejected.

The caller made repeated calls and finally refused to keep the phone down and spoke in an urgent whisper: Please do not tell anybody. I am on my way home and have forgotten my way. I am Dr Einstein!

Morse Code and Marriage

Miss Mary Stilwell joined Edison Labs. Soon she proved a capable and invaluable asset to the Labs.

Once in the middle of a serious experiment, Edison said softly, Mary!

Miss Mary said, Well, what is it Alva?

Edison took a coin from his coat pocket and tapped a message in Morse code, HAVE BEEN THINKING MUCH ABOUT LATELY STOP WILL YOU MARRY ME QUERY.

Mary blushed and smiled. She replied, tapping, THAT WOULD MAKE ME HAPPY STOP.

And it did. He married her.

Albert Einstein once said, Gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love.

Should we say that also for the Morse code?

Crystals and Cash

Nobel Prize winner Dr C.V. Raman was fond of crystals. He had a rare collection of crystals and regularly added to them whenever he went abroad.

From one of his trips abroad, he bought a huge collection of these rare crystals. Facing a problem of excess baggage at the airport, he had to pay rather heavily for the surcharge. As he did not have enough money on him to pay this, he surrendered his entire baggage so that he could take the crystals back home.

His invaluable collection included hundreds of rare specimens, such as sand that melted due to lightning, a rock indicating the lava flow from a volcano, and rubies, sapphires and diamonds. He would create a small twinkling world for guests by switching on the ultra-violet light on fluorescent minerals in a dark room.

Once in Paris while shopping around, he spied two beautiful butterflies with blue wings in a shop window. He bought them and later collected thousands of such specimens.

Too Young for His Own Lecture

Max Planck was made a full professor at the University of Berlin at an unusually early age. One day, having forgotten which room he had been assigned for a lecture, he stopped at the nearest university office to find out.

Please tell me, he asked the elderly man in charge, in which room does Professor Planck lecture today?

The old man patted him on the shoulder. Don’t go there, young fellow, he advised. You are much too young to understand the lectures of our learned Professor Planck!

Max Planck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1918 for his Quantum Theory.

He once said, Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature because in the last analysis we are part of the mystery we are trying to solve.

Maths Salad

Nikola Tesla was known for his pioneering work in electricity, particularly in the field of alternating current. He was also a brilliant mathematician. Tesla constantly looked for problems on the dining table too. Even in a restaurant, he would first calculate the quantity of soup in a bowl and then consume it!

On a bright sunny day, while he was dining out, the waiter served him a bowl of fruit salad. As soon as Tesla saw it, his eyes twinkled in absolute delight. Each piece of fruit was of different shape, size and colour. The liquid quantity varied as he removed the fruits and put them back in the salad.

He took his pen and pad and began calculating. Soon he was lost in his own world. He went on drooling over with his pencil and pad. After quite some time, the worried waiter came and enquired if there was something wrong with the fruit salad, as he had not even tasted it.

Tesla answered, It could not be any better! The fruits are absolutely delightful!

Mathematically, yes.

Little Whittle

Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the turbo jet, applied for admission to the RAF (Royal Air Force) at the early age of 15. He passed the written test but failed in the medical, as he was short – just 5 feet.

Whittle could not digest the failure. So he pestered the authorities to reconsider. They refused. But because of the interest the boy showed for the job, the physical training instructor gave him a list of exercises for body growth and a diet list.

Whittle followed them well and added three inches to his height.

But the catch now was that in the RAF, second chances were not allowed.

So he came up with a simple solution. He made a firesh application without mentioning his past failure. He appeared for both written and physical examinations as if it was for the first time. He passed.

Frank Whittle was only 21 when he first communicated his ideas to the Air Ministry. He patented the idea of turbo-jet propulsion in 1930, but had to drop it, as he did not have sufficient funds for its renewal.

Atom Meet

Those were the times of the World War. Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937) was already famous for his research on atomic energy. Once he was called to attend a meeting of the British Committee of Experts formulated to advise on new systems of defence. Rutherford could not attend the meeting.

Later he was censured for this.

He told the authorities firmly and softly, Talk softly please! I have been engaged in experiments that suggest that the atom can be artificially disintegrated. If that is true, it is of far more importance than the war.

Theatre Artist

Robert Lister is one of the greatest surgeons of 19thcentury England. William Ferguson, his contemporary, was considered greater than Lister. But in character they were just opposite.

Once Ferguson performed an operation in record time in full view of a select audience in the operating theatre of Kings College Hospital, London. The audience applauded his tremendous feat. Ferguson responded with the tact and knack of a theatre artist by bowing before them repeatedly.

A few days later, Lister performed a similar operation with equal dexterity and perhaps with some more speed. The audience applauded in a greater ovation.

Instead of bowing to them repeatedly, Lister calmed them. He said, "Gentlemen, gentlemen! This is an operating theatre, not the theatre!"

Bohr’s Airborne Lapse

During the Second World War, many European scientists fed their countries or shifted base to America. Niels Bohr (1885– 1962) was one of them. He was to be transported in a special plane from Denmark – a British bomber. He was treated like a most precious commodity and a delicate consignment.

On the plane, his seat was arranged on a trap door, so that, in case of a German bomb attack, the pilot could release a lever and drop him down to the ocean.

The plane landed safely in London but Bohr had almost died. Soon after take-off, he became so engrossed with a problem in physics that he did not hear the pilot’s instructions to wear an oxygen mask to save him from the effects of high altitude flight. Bohr fainted from lack of sufficient oxygen.

He once quipped, An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes that can be made, in a very narrow field. Fortunately, Bohr survived his costly mistake.

Either or Ether

The Massachusetts Historical Society once decided to commission a monument to commemorate the discovery of anaesthesia. No agreement could be reached about