Friday, October 14, 2005
Self experimentation of a different kind
Telegraph was a newspaper I read most of my childhood,maybe becuase it was the only decent English newspaper available in Jamshedpur.Quite naturally I looked forward to the supplements more than the newspaper itself.Know-How being one of the few interesting science supplements that any newspaper brings out.Or probably it seemed interesting beacuse I may have been interested in things related to science those days,not sure I am that much into that now.Blame IIT for that.
Anyway,just for the sake of old times I took the newspaper everyday of my stay back home this week and the lead story of Know-How was quite interesting.It featured the guys who won the Nobel Prize for medicine this year-Barry Marshall and Robin Warren.Now where this gets absorbing is that Warren was finding it tough to prove his findings,which medical people do so conveniently on rats and hamsters and rabbits and what nots.So to prove himself to the sceptics he drunk a broth containing the infected bacteria! Talk about courage.
This article analyses this feat and puts in perspective various other attempts of making guinea pigs of oneself.Some are inspiring,some just plain mad and sad.Anyway all of them are amusing.Science needs such interesting things to keep it,or maybe people like me,going.As aptly put in last para of the article-
“Why call self-experimentation foolish when we climb mountains, become test pilots, build bridges and skyscrapers?” He continues, “In any experiment, the outcome is not known ahead of time. If the researcher claims there is no risk, why is the researcher unwilling to try it? Doctors’ lives are no more valuable than those of the other members of society whom they ask to volunteer for their research.”
Now,what could be the engineering equivalent of this?
I remember reading Halliday-Resnick-Walker and it had a special essay on Leidenfrost effect (a must read) which explains why feet don't get burned while walking on hot coal or hand remains unscathed after dipping in boling lead.It was one of the funniest articles I have ever read and it gave self experimentation new meanings.The ending has a very special suggestion which can be incorporated for us,engineering students :D
I have long argued that degree-granting programs should employ fire-walking as a last exam. The chairperson of the program should wait on the far side of a bed of red-hot coals while a degree candidate is forced to walk over the coals. If the candidate's belief in physics is strong enough that the feet are left undamaged, the chairperson hands the candidate a graduation certificate. The test would be more revealing than traditional final exams.
Now this would be a real 'test' !!!