Danger and Safety in the Lab

I remember my own first Physics and Chemistry lessons, aged 11, very clearly indeed. I loved that it was a whole new world of doing things, in a very particular way. With strange new equipment and beakers of weird dangerous liquids that changed colour, fizzed or burst into flames.

The main emotion I felt when I first became a teacher of Year 7 science was the weight of responsibility and honour to recreate that initial introduction for a whole new generation. I want them all, each and every year, to feel that same sense of wonder, anticipation, excitement and feelings of success as I did. 

I still have all my original exercise books of course. You know what? What we teach now is exactly the same. I run, as far as possible, the same introductory experiments, the same introduction to the the scientific method and the same explanation of risks and hazards and instructions on safety. (All except one of my favourite reactions, that of the ignition of ammonium dichromate which we’re not supposed to do anymore).

Some other subject teachers and some parents are surprised that in this age of health and safety where kids are no longer allowed to carry pen knives or use solvent based glues (quite rightly), we far more dangerous stuff in the lab than you think.

A major part of teaching science is about teaching the concept of risk and how to manage it. Rules are not there to spoil our fun as some believe, rules are there to keep us safe so we can do even more. The arrival of the rules around Covid-19 in our science lessons are a massive inconvenience of course. But having life and limb threatening dangers in our labs is not new and although annoying, frustrating and time-consuming, it’s all in a day’s work for us: we just have another set of safety procedures to add to our existing risk assessments and safety protocols.

I did not want the virus protection policies to limit or spoil our pupils’ science education experiences, especially for our Year 7 pupils. We’re implementing all the complex guidelines (from CLEAPSS, the support agency for science in schools, https://www.cleapss.org.uk). To do so we’re re-jigging our curriculum and lessons running order, equipment usage rotas, cleaning and sterilisation plans, to offer as much practical experimental hands-on work as possible. 

In short, you still have to tie your hair back and tuck your tie in, put on your safety specs and stand up straight, tucking your stool under the bench. You still have to light your bunsen burner and set it to the roaring blue flame of 700 degrees Celsius. Yes, there will be explosions. Yes, there will be high voltage sparks. Yes, there will be fizzing and colour changes, poisonous gasses and corrosive acids. Yes, there will be electron guns and lasers. Yes, there will be radiation, strange smells and odd coloured flames. There will be all these things because we’ve carefully planned and prepared to showcase all these terrifying dangers while keeping all of us safe.

Women in Physics posters for schools

I’ve updated my poster pack for my lab that has 36 mini posters of successful women in physics. I wanted the girls who came into the lab to see a future pathway for themselves right there. I wanted them to walk into the room and think this is a subject for them and a career for them as much as anyone else. These women are not in the textbooks.

Unusually for most wall displays in classrooms, students (and visitors) stop to read the stories. Not only that, when I’m telling the tale of a discovery I can quickly point to the relevant one.

I took the photos from the internet so I can’t profit from it so happy for it to go far and wide. There are two up on each A4 so just print each page in colour and cut out to make your display.

The idea was to make these scientists look real, normal, varied and relevant, on first name terms. I chose the best photos I could find close to the age where they did their best work. In two cases I used actors portraying the person; anything to bring these women to life and for our girls to see themselves in them.

Let me know if you get them up somewhere and if anyone comments on it!

Thanks to translation by @vincent_grgoire we now have a version in French!

This new version has all the images in colour (I’ve colourised the black and white photos) and increased the quality of the images.

I’ve been delighted to hear that other physics teachers have downloaded it and put it on their lab walls. It’s now in around 50 classrooms around the country.

Download your new copy as a PDF here (Heddy Lamarr typo is now fixed and Andrea Ghez added):

An Unnatural Equilibrium

AutumnI’m surprised each year at how fast autumn falls, how dark the evenings get, how dim the days. To us, this consistent and progressive loss of sunlight and warmth can feel like doom. Our ancestors felt so uncertain of this time that they went to enormous superstitious lengths to attempt to bring back the sun.

And yet to the flowers, trees, animals and bushes it’s known that this time will come. The pattern is part of their being. As a one-off event it may look like death, but to nature, who knows the pattern, it is just a time to acquiesce, part of a known cycle. The sun will return.

What separates us from nature is our consciousness, the ‘me’ inside that identifies me and you as being separate from each other, separate from the bees, the table, the ground and the water. Without this internal self we would be separate only in the way a cog is separate from the machine; it is an individual part of the whole and without the whole and its part to play, it is worthless.

It’s our individuality that makes us separate from nature, that makes us think that a cog has worth on its own without the machine and that creates uncertainty and self-doubt. The story of this realisation that we’re separate from nature is documented in many ancient philosophical and religious writings, most famously perhaps in the story of Genesis and the Fall. The Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were evicted from was the state of being intrinsically part of nature and in constant communion with it in that personification of it, God. By gaining self-awareness, humanity gained consciousness and self-determination but lost that direct link to God. All human societies since that awakening, wherever and whenever it happened, have spawned cultural devices, called religions, to try to get back to oneness with nature and, or, our creator gods.

Religions have two purposes. One is to aim to explain the complex world and add meaning to people’s lives, attempting to answer philosophical questions such as ‘who am I?’ and ‘what happens when I die?’. The other is to maintain a stable community through some mode of control system. Religion is therefore just a shared model and set of beliefs that can create a mode of behaviour that can glue people together to make a society. It doesn’t require gods or God, just a set of shared beliefs in anything. This is why talk of ‘getting rid of religion’ is a pointless and impossible task as even agreeing on that task is itself a religion. This also why a ‘religion verses science’ is a pointless debate, you might as well debate which is better ‘Oranges or Tuesdays’. Science is a method of attaining knowledge through testing and measuring. Religion is a shared model for behaviour. The two naturally  compliment each other.

I believe all religions (or models for society if you prefer) want peace (although they may differ on how to get it). By peace we want not to be interfered with so we can go about our business. But we also want a piece, a piece of the action. We want what we can get. We have these two modes, of collaboration and antagonism. They’re have been referred to as hawks and doves. It’s a model that shows simplistically why we have war and peace and why one needs the other.

If you have a society of doves, that is a collection of creatures whose nature is to collaborate, have community, but never fight to either attack or defend, you have a model of a utopian peaceful society where every individual is equal.

If you have a group of hawks, a collection of individual aggressive fighting creatures, who will kill to get what they want, you’ll have a hierarchical society, a pyramid of power, with the most successful fighter at the top and everyone else in their place. Here too you will have a model of a utopian peaceful society, this time where every individual knows their level. As soon as weakness is perceived in a level above, that individual will be removed, everyone jostles for position before a stability is reached again.

But if you put just one hawk into the society of doves, you have disaster. The doves, who will never fight back are wiped out, enslaved or, are transformed into hawks just to stay alive. This is the story of conquest and invasion, from Barbarians, Vandals, Vikings and Romans to the Third Reich and beyond.

If you put one dove into a hawk society, he will most likely be destroyed. But if you continually put in a dove, eventually, some hawks will transform into doves, a dove mentality will sweep through the community. This is the story of Moses, Jesus, Ghandi and others.

In the hawks and doves model, neither of the pure societies are stable, both are easily overturned into chaos.

The answer to this paradox is found in nature where we see hawks and doves, spiders and flies, lions and gazelles, all co-existing in equilibrium. There is always just the right amount to balance societies of each other alongside the available natural resources they both need.

But we are individuals. We don’t want to be the one who has to die for the good of society. We’re far too selfish for that. But neither do we want to willingly sacrifice the most vulnerable within our society; the young, the old, the sick and the lame for the greater good. We’re selfless enough to care about the weak. What makes us human, and unique is that we are both selfish and selfless at the same time. We are both hawk and dove in one creature.

This is the paradox of the human condition which lifts us up above function and survival. We want to win, but we don’t want others to lose. We want to conquer, but we have mercy. We want freedom from dominion and judgement and yet we seek out our creator God. We plan for the future and yet we waste resources today.

Our human dilemma is that we feel comfortable in the extremes, which is unnatural and which is where danger lies. We want the ultimate society – but that requires sacrifice and the loss of individuality. We want to be individually free – but that means the breakdown of shared values.

What we need is equilibrium. Just as in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ‘to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven’ (you may know this entire passage as the lyrics to the 1965 hit, ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds).

Now we have our consciousness, I don’t believe we should surrender it to ‘get back to nature’ to lose free will, to lose self determinism and dissolve the ego, as some systems promote.

Neither do I think we should abandon the search for oneness, meaning and the deep questions of the universe, as other systems suggest.

We need, what is to us, an unnatural equilibrium, to embrace these paradoxes, to live within art and science, with logic and chaos, with strength and meekness; at the same time. We need to have a greater knowledge of patterns, to work with and within nature, to accept and reject power and to strive for a balance in all things.

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

How Apple understand both ‘art’ and ‘science’

Applestore bibleIt was always said that Jazz could be described as ‘a loose kind of tightness and a tight kind of looseness’.

That’s a really good description of how creativity works.

It’s the mix of art and science, logic and chaos, restriction and freedom, opening out and closing down and of course of ‘left’ and ‘right-brain’ working together.

And yet our world is polarised into two halves. We’re told and schooled and trained to be one thing or the other. The classic example is we’re forced to choose between being a scientist or an artist way early in our education. The system assumes that they are mutually exclusive and that you cannot be both.

The problem we have is that the great scientists, in all fields of physics, chemistry and biology, those that made the big discoveries, were also artists.

By the same token, the great artists and designers had to have an understanding of science.

Here are some simple definitions:*

Science = an understanding of the natural world, how it works and being able to describe it.

Art = doing something with that understanding.

Science = knowing how to make changes

Art = making changes

Let’s have a look at how this art/science paradox works in one of our favourite companies; Apple.

Let’s think about what they are known for, loved for and hated for (no-one is ambivalent when it comes to Apple)

• Gorgeous cutting edge design (of the products, the packaging and the marketing materials)

• A focus on creative lifestyle activities: music, design and film.

• They create a ‘togetherness’, a club (or cult), of like-minded creatives, geniuses, fun, coolness.

But there’s more:

• Their products are expensive and exclusive.

• They operate in a closed system of their own making.

• Users have to surrender other freedoms to fully enter their ecosphere.

All of those points are true you can use them to add to your own beliefs, depending of what’s important to you, as to whether you hate or love the company.

But whatever we think, one thing remains, Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

Whether you refuse to buy an iPhone, one thing remains, Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

If you baulk at iTunes’ grip on the music industry, one thing remains, Apple is still the most valuable company in the world.

They were also recently voted the UK’s most ‘cool’ brand.

There’s no getting away from it.

So we need to ask ourselves, how did they do that? Is there anything we can learn?

The one thing that I’ve noticed is that they employ a loose kind of tightness and a tight kind of looseness – at the same time. We all think they’re arty and cool and yet their business acumen is more solid than anyone on Earth. We all think that amazing design is the big acumen and the ease-of-use that results from it gives us freedom to create and yet they control our thoughts.

There’s the story that Steve Jobs dropped the prototype iPod into a fish tank to see if tiny bubbles would come out from the device (they did). If there was air in the device, there was space and if there was space there was an opportunity to make the device smaller.

There’s the story of the room full of prototype iPhone boxes, all slightly different designs, so they could find exactly the right kind of user unboxing experience. If you’ve ever opened a new iPhone you’ll know they got it right. Can you think of many other companies that go to that level of control of the consumer experience?

Applestore employees are given a training handbook which has a section on ‘Getting to yes’ by controlling the language the employees use when talking to customers. Some of the most interesting, and revealing are shown in he photo below. Look at the heading ‘Do Not Use’. This is not a manual of suggestions, these are commandments.

So instead of ‘bomb’ or ‘crash’ they have to say ‘unexpectedly quits’ or ‘does not respond’. Instead of software ‘bug’ they have to say ‘condition’.

Fanatical control over your business is good. Looking at the big picture and encouraging artistic freedom is good. The real trick is to have them both at the same time.

That’s what Apple does.

That’s creativity.

That’s Jazz.

(* other definitions are available)

Ayd works with people and businesses to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The Power of ‘What If?’

The Power of What if? Ayd Instone innovation creativity conference keynoteHow can we trigger innovative thought, consistently, deliberately and when we need it?

One way is to use the power of a simple question. It’s a question at the heart of creativity, invention and imagination. It’s the force behind all creative storytelling, especially Science Fiction which can be defined as ‘What If?’ extrapolated into a story).

The question ‘What If?’ can be thought of as an energy field that can power our creativity. Just like most energies, it can be used to manifest both positive and negative effects with very different results. The qualifying factor to the question is how we relate it to time.

If we ask ‘what if?’ about the past, which we have no control over, it can easily lead to feelings of regret. E.g. “What if that had never happened?”, “What if I’d worked harder?”

But if we apply it to the future it fires our possibility thinking and leads, either directly or indirectly, to hope.

“What if there was a better way to do this?”

If we imagine an undesired outcome in the future, our brains begin to work on methods to prevent that future coming to past, or at least find the path of least damage. Imagining even our worst fears of the future gives us hope because we are still in the present with some chance, however small, to shape and even change the future.

If we imagine a desired outcome, our brains begin to fill in the gaps to speed the passage of the present into the desired future by directing our subconscious to incubate the problem until solutions or opportunities present themselves.

The application of ‘what if?’ fires the imagination and problem solving capacities of the brain and that imagination begins to manifest the emotions of the outcome.

This isn’t an application of the supernatural, so-called ‘law of attraction’. This isn’t about asking the universe, or God, or wishful thinking. This is the relatively simple neuroscience of the imagination.

Negative emotions based on regret will slow us down, but positive emotions based on desired outcomes, hope and wonder, will drive us and motivate us to seek out and manifest the desired outcome.

Wondering ‘what if?’ defines us as scientists, exploring the universe of possibilities. Taking action on those possibilities to manifest an outcomes makes us artists. It’s this blend of being both artist and scientist is what it means to be a creative mind.

Asking the question and seeking the answer is the start of creative innovation. That’s the power of ‘what if?’

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Why Creative Writing is important – especially for children

I visited a particular school to give a talk on creativity to the teachers. An English teacher remarked afterwards that she ‘had tried creative writing’, but had given up on it and returned to what she was ‘doing before’. I didn’t have the opportunity to explore with her this odd statement. I don’t have the data to know if such seemingly bizarre views are widespread or not.

What did she think ‘creative writing’ was?

Perhaps she thought it was something outside English teaching. Is it possible that some educators focus on the mechanics of a subject, in this case how to read and write, rules of grammar, use of verbs, adverbs, adjectives, pronouns and nouns and sentence comprehension without the context of a use for the mechanics?

I’ve seen it in my education, in the sciences, where formulae were taught in isolation from the experiments that founded them and the people in history who thought up those experiments in the first place. It was as if science education had to strip away the ‘unclean’ of the human stories of discovery to leave the holy perfection of mathematical proofs, physical laws and formula. I found this boring throughout mathematics, physics, chemistry and even biology.

The missing ingredient in each case was human creativity. The importance of it had been stripped out, the story of it had been stripped out and the value of it had been shunned and ridiculed: if you studied science you were not creative. Creativity was something nampy pamby artists did.

Is ‘creativity’ in the national curriculum? You could argue for and against. It certainly isn’t an easy question to answer because creativity has become such a difficult thing to define. It’s not a subject. It can’t easily be tested and measured. It’s come to be something that must float around the curriculum like a feeling, something that should be encouraged, but with few guidelines as to how. But it shouldn’t be pandered to because it doesn’t get grades.

I get the feeling it’s been sidelined when it should be the focus. Subjects should be: Creativity PhysicsCreative ChemistryCreativity and Biology and…. Creative Reading and Writing.

We shouldn’t even have English lessons except for those that can’t speak English and those that explore English Literature specifically.

We need to teach the mechanics, yes: how to hold a pen, how to read, how words work just as in science we need to show how to hold a test tube, how to light a bunsen burner and how to use mathematics as a tool.

But we should not confuse use of a tool with understanding. All tool training does is produce technicians. It’s great that you know how to hold a test tube but it doesn’t make you a scientist, and without being a scientist, which is the marriage of experiment and imagination, you are just above useless.

So, you know how to spell? You can answer questions on grammar? You can repeat someone else’s literary criticism of a text? You’re a technician. You can fix my text as a garage mechanic can fix my car. The garage mechanic can’t design a car. They can’t improve a car. They can’t build one from scratch. They can only ever work on someone else’s.

This is why we need Creative Writing. So that our children don’t only work on other people’s texts, they create and build their own. They don’t read a text looking for the prescribed analysis, the expected reaction in the test tube in the lab – they are out there in the field, experimenting with new texts, questioning old texts and long held beliefs if only for the reason that they can.

We need to teach our children to be out there adding to the pantheon of human creation and endeavor, not dissecting dead men’s words on a slab.

And that’s why Creative Writing is important.

Here’s info on a Creative Writing Programme for schools: www.outofyourhead.co.uk

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The secret of the Ascent of Man

Ayd Instone Creativity speaker

We take it for granted that our creativity, as a species, is a permanent feature.

What if it is not?

What if, as a people we stop asking questions and punish those who question?

What if we stop teaching our children to learn and start programming them to regurgitate results we want to see?

What if we silence mavericks, deny prophets and ignore visionaries?

What if we stop looking up at the stars in the night sky and wonder?

What if we tear down the old gods and set up dangerous controlling aspects of ourselves in their stead?

What if we set our sights on comfort today without thought for our children’s children tomorrow?

What if we lose the compulsion for adventure, exploration and risk taking?

What if we begin thinking about what we can get for ourselves as greedy individuals and not what we can give to help our community?

If we do these things, we will still survive as a species. But the creatures that will remain will not be one our ancestors from the past million years will recognise as human. It will not be one that would deserve to be part of the extraordinary story of Homo Sapiens.

All that would be left would be an animal. An animal that may well survive in clement weather until crisis of resources or environment will sweep it into the fossil record for some far-flung future Sapiens to discover.

I’ve been watching the acclaimed BBC documentary, J. Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man. The accolade of it being ‘the greatest documentary ever made’ is well placed. After just the first two minutes, Bronowski’s passion, energy, vocabulary and burning intelligence comes across as magnetic. Add in the fantastic photography from all over the world and get PInk Floyd to provide the soundtrack. It’s the definition of success.

Every ‘knowledge expert’ today should look to Bronowski for inspiration on how to do it.

This is how described the concept of the series:

“Man’s imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment but to change it. And that by a series of inventions, by which man from age to age has remade his environment, is a different kind of evolution – not biological, but cultural evolution. I call this brilliant series of cultural peaks the Ascent of man”

Evolution shapes animals to their environment. Mankind’s evolution stopped and instead we shaped the environment to suit us.

A person today is physically exactly the same now as the people living over a million years ago. And yet evolution (and often science in general) is so misunderstood that I’ve heard people believe that ‘we have evolved a lot since the Romans’. I met an anthropology student who actually believed that black people have black bones. Many things improve and grow with time and so too does ignorance it seems.

The first programme dealt with a great question: What separates us from the other animals? The answer is the depth of our imagination, to be able to mentally simulate future and past events and the application of our creativity.

It’s our creativity that enabled us to leave the Savannah of East Africa and to migrate north and east into Europe and China and then beyond. It was our creativity that allowed us to co-operate to build a community to hunt animals that were faster than us. It was our creativity that allowed us to adapt to the cold of the ice ages, to invent fire, clothes and tools. It was our creativity that allowed us to predict animal migration and then domesticate and farm them and cultivate plants. It’s our creativity that enabled cities and civilisations to be built that passed on our discoveries to the next generation and the next down through the millennia. It’s our creativity that creates communities and the concept of love and care.

We can’t rest on our laurels, on the glories of our ancestors. We have to make sure our species still thinks with an open mind and strives for innovation at every turn.

It’s no good having an opposable thumb if you can’t think of anything to do with it.

J. Bronowski sadly died just over a year after the documentary was broadcast, in 1974, after a life of exploration of art and science (which he considered as aspects of the same thing). He published literature, made discoveries in mathematics and archeology, he invented a type of smokeless fuel for the National Coal Board and of course his documentaries which are effectively an autobiography of humanity.

His contribution to the continuing Ascent of Man is secure. What about ours?

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

One man’s quest to read the mind of God

Today, the differences between astronomy and astrology are easily defined. To the ancient astronomer/astrologer, Saturn influenced human characteristics, notably those of mistrust, the bringer of death and the fall of kings. We now know that the planet Saturn is a giant globe of hydrogen and helium gas. His name was Johannes Kepler. It was the lonely work of one man who brought astronomy out of this mysterium dark age and forged the way for modern science upon which our current civilisation depends.

Johannes Kepler was born in Germany in 1571. He lived in a time of great oppression of the human spirit when the heavens where inhabited by angels and demons and the Sun and the planets moved round the Earth in crystal spheres rotated by the Hand of God.

It was a time of religious dogmatism where science inhabited a pale shadow of half-truths and falsehoods where the inaccuracies of the ancients were considered holy and more reliable than current findings made with technology unavailable to the people of a millennium or two previous.

Kepler spent his childhood in the protestant seminary school in Maulbronn to be educated for the clergy. The young Kepler’s independence quickly isolated him from the other boys. He was intelligent and he knew it but his thoughts often drifted to his imagined unworthiness in the eyes of God and he despaired of ever obtaining salvation.

But God meant more to Kepler than simply punishment; he was the creative power of the universe and Kepler’s curiosity became greater than his fear. He wanted to know the mind of God.

When Kepler left Maulbronn in 1589 for university, his genius was at last recognised and leaving the clergy behind he moved to Graz in Austria to teach mathematics. Although a brilliant thinker and writer he was a disaster as a teacher. He mumbled, he digressed and at times was completely incomprehensible.

One summer’s afternoon as his students waited restlessly for the end of the day he made a discovery that would change the course of the rest of his life and the future of astronomy.

There were only six planets known in Kepler’s time; Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Kepler had often asked himself why. Why only six? Why not twenty or a thousand? And why did they have the spacings that Copernicus had deduced? Kepler’s

thoughts went back to the five regular solids of Pythagoras of which each solid had regular polygons as faces. There were five and there could only be five from a simple mathematical proof.

Kepler thought planets and the solids had to be connected. He felt he had found the invisible supports for the spheres of the planets.

But no matter how hard he tried he could not make the solids and the orbits agree. He couldn’t make it work and yet he couldn’t abandon it. Finally he thought that the experimental data he had must be in error.

There was only one man who had access to more reliable data and that was Tyco Brahe, a Danish nobleman who had accepted the post of Imperial Mathematician in the court of the Roman Emperor. Tyco had written to Kepler, inviting him to join him in his work. He knew that he was an experimentalist and needed a theoretician like Kepler to work with him.

Graz was feeling the first tremors of the Thirty Years War. The local Catholic Archduke had vowed to make ‘a desert of the country than rule over heretics’. Anyone not professing the Roman Catholic faith were fined and exiled on pain of death. Kepler chose exile and began the long journey with his wife and daughter to join Tyco.

Tyco Brahe was a flamboyant figure with a gold nose replacing the original which had been lost in a student duel over who was the superior mathematician. Tyco was extremely rich and indulged himself and his entourage of assistants, distant relatives and assorted hangers on, in endless banquets. Tyco needed Kepler, but he was not going to hand over thirty years of painstaking observational data, made with the naked eye, to a potential rival. Kepler detested the constant revelry and longed to work with Tyco as a partner. They frequently quarreled and it was not until Tyco’s death bed, from his overindulgence in food and wine, that he finally handed over his work to Kepler. ‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’ he said, and he didn’t. Kepler and Tyco’s collaboration show us that science is that pure combination of dedicated observation and imaginative theory.

So Kepler took Tyco’s data and attempted to resolve the orbit of Mars, which Tyco had said was the most difficult. He fitted a circular orbit of Mars around the sun which agreed with ten of Tyco’s observations within eight minutes of arc. A minute is a very small unit to measure, especially without a telescope.

Kepler could not ignore this error and had to abandon the circular orbit. He played with a variety of ovals and spirals until he was let with what he called, ‘a single cart-full of dung’.

Kepler was the first since Antiquity to suggest that the planets were actual places, like the Earth, made from the imperfect stuff of rocks, liquids and gasses. If the planets themselves were not ‘heavenly lights’, perfect divine beings, perhaps their movements were not perfect too. Such reasoning was essential for Kepler to abandon the idea of the planets moving in the perfect form of a circle.

The concept that elements of the heavens were not perfect went against everything Kepler had come to believe. In fact, he initially rejected the right answer that he had found. Finally he calculated the form of the orbits that conformed to all Tyco’s data: it was the form of the ellipse.

Kepler had found his first law, which is this: A planet moves in an ellipse, with the sun at one focus.

From this he discovered his second law: A planet sweeps out equal areas in equal times.

It was a few years later that his third law of planetary motion was finalised as: The square of the period of a planet is proportional to the cube of the average distance from the sun.

As Kepler was working on his third law, the Thirty Years War had begun during the course of which he would lose his wife and son.

The war was an exploitation of religious fanaticism by those hungry for land and power. Millions of lives were shattered and among the many scapegoats were old women, living alone. Three women were tortured and killed as witches every year in Kepler’s home town. One night his mother was kidnapped in a laundry basket. It took Kepler six years to prove her innocence.

The main piece of evidence against his mother came from one of Kepler’s books. It was probably the first work of science fiction called the Sommnium (the dream), in which he imagined a journey to the moon and to stand on its solid surface, looking up to see

the Earth slowly rotating in the sky.

Kepler imagined correctly the marks on the moon to be craters and mountains and he envisaged the people that might live there. The book was semi-autobiographical; the hero visits Tyco Brahe and has a mother who’s spells are used to transport him to the moon. Kepler knew however that one day men would build ‘celestial ships with sails adapted to the winds of heaven’ navigated by men ‘who would not fear the vastness’ of space.

Kepler wrote his own epitaph: ‘I measured the skies, now the shadows I measure. Sky-bound was the mind, Earth-bound the body rests.’

It is sad that the man who found harmony in the heavens found only discord on Earth. The Thirty Years War obliterated his grave.

Kepler was at heart a true scientist. Although he could never really abandon his Platonic Solids, he preferred the cold, harsh truth rather than his own dearest held illusions.

By looking for an answer to a question, he had come to a conclusion that either the data or his theory was wrong. By testing and checking accurate data he had found that his belief in his earlier theories were wrong and was strong enough to follow the truth to discover a greater reality.

The truth stretched his imagination in a way that falsehoods can’t and in doing so he imagined planets and places and a future for the human race.

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

The fight for truth against the tyranny of stagnant belief

Two great men were born in 1564. One was William Shakespeare in England and the other was Galileo Galieli in Italy.

Galileo became professor of mathematics at Padua in Venice, partially because of his great reputation for invention. He designed and built various instruments in his own workshop, which he then sold, including a thermometer and a slide-rule for which he wrote and published a manual.

Galileo was a short, red haired, attractive man and although remained a bachelor, was never short of lady friends. He was forty-five when he first heard the news of the Flemish invention of the telescope. He immediately designed and built one himself in one night, which had a magnification of three, about as good as an opera-glass. His next attempts were better with magnifications between eight and ten. With these telescopes he was able to see ships two hours of more away from the coast. He made quite a large reputation as well as a fortune by selling them to the government.

But it soon occurred to Galileo that he had more than just an instrument of navigation, he had an instrument of research. He stepped up the magnification to thirty and turned his telescope to the stars, becoming probably the first practical scientist in the process by building the apparatus, performing the experiment and publishing the results. The joys of what he found are best described in his own words from the account in his book ‘Sidereus Nunciu’, (The Starry Messenger):

“..stars in myriads, which have never been seen before, and which surpass the old, previously known, stars in number more than ten times.

“But that which will excite the greatest astonishment by far, and which indeed especially moved me to call the attention of all astronomers and philosophers, is this, namely, that I have discovered four planets, neither known nor observed by any one of the astronomers before my time.”

Galileo had discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter, named after him as the Galilean satellites. He saw correctly that these moons orbited Jupiter as Copernicus has guessed that the planets orbited the sun. He then turned his telescope to the Moon:

“It is a most beautiful and delightful sight to behold the body of the moon…certainly does not possess a smooth and polished surface, but one rough and uneven, and, just like the face of the earth itself, is everywhere full of vast protuberances, deep chasms, and sinuosites.”

These discoveries and others showed conclusively that the Ptolemaic Earth centered heaven did not work and that Copernicus’ postulated sun centered idea had been right.

Galileo made two mistakes. The first was one that many scientists make. He believed that the truth, however disconcerting, was more comforting than being wrong and this led him to be completely open about his discoveries. He invited anyone who wanted to see for themselves the truth, by looking through his telescope, to do just that.

Unfortunately his findings did not please the prejudice of the establishment of the day. Galileo felt that all he had to do was to show everybody that Copernicus was correct and everything would be alright. His second mistake was that he could leave the fairly safe Republic of Venice and return to his native Florence, protected by his incredibly reputation as an inventor and salesman, and now scientist and writer. Sadly this would prove to be fatal.

The Roman Catholic Church had just begun its Counter-Reformation, a reaction against the successful Reformation of the Protestant Church and the Thirty Years War began. Galileo was strangely naive about politics. He felt that he could outwit the Church, which had made the country almost a police state, because he was so clever. But logical thinking and truth were the enemies of Faith and anyone who didn’t agree was, a heretic.

Galileo, however clever he knew he was, could never win. Unbeknown to him, a file had been opened on him in the Secret Archives of the Vatican, back in 1611, before the Counter Reformation of 1618 and long before his eventual trial in 1633, before he even considered going back to Italy. Galileo had been labelled as a trouble-maker as soon as he pointed his telescope to the heavens.

There were ten judges at the trial of Galileo. They were all Cardinals. One was the Pope’s brother and another his nephew. The trial was conducted by the Inquisition. Galileo did not have a copy of the charges against him or the evidence; the rules were not that of a court, but formalised in 1588 to judge ‘against heretical depravity throughout the whole Christian Commonwealth’.

What Galileo had actually done by pointing his telescopes to the sky, discovering craters on the Moon, the moons of Jupiter and sunspots, was to put an end to the classical belief that the heavens are perfect and unchanging and that only the Earth is subject to change. He had also defended the theory of Copernicus, now long dead, a theory that was not even his own but one which he endorsed because he believed it to be true.

By 1630 Galileo had finished a book that contained all his thoughts on science. His feelings were that the forces in the sky were the same as those on Earth and by performing mechanical experiments on Earth, we can learn about the stars. He found it very difficult to publish the book but by 1632 it was in print in Florence where it was an instant success. Almost immediately Rome attempted to stop the presses and buy back the books which had by then sold out. The Pope was furious at how the book came to be published at all and Galileo, now in his seventieth year, was summoned to Rome to answer for it.

On 12 April 1633, Galileo was brought before the Inquisitor for the last time. He expected to be asked to defend his book, instead he was quizzed about Copernicus’ theory once more.

Back in 1616, Cardinal Bellarmine had given Galileo a certificate which stated that Galileo must not hold or defend Copernicus’ opinion. He was, however, allowed to use it as a hypothesis.

Galileo was tried not for breaking the conditions of that document, but of another which stated he must not teach the ideas ‘in any way whatsoever’. Galileo had not signed such a document and neither had Cardinal Bellarmine, not surprising as the document was a forgery, but under the conditions of the Inquisition, they did not have to produce it. The Holy Office had attempted to dishonour Galileo and show him to have gone against an agreement. Galileo was shown the instruments of torture and confined to his villa, outside Florence, under strict house arrest.

Galileo had one more thing left to do. He wanted to finish his last book, the one which the trial had interrupted. It was a book on the ‘New Sciences’, meaning the physics of matter on Earth, not astronomy. He managed to get it smuggled out to be published in 1638, by which time Galileo was totally blind.

What the trial of Galileo had done was to end science in the mediterranean. The scientific revolution moved to Northern Europe. Also, the Church, by condemning Galileo, had made science strong, strong enough to become completely independent from the Church. It was Rome’s greatest mistake.

In 1979, Pope John-Paul II attempted to pardon Galileo, but the irreparable damage to the Church’s reputation to describe the workings of the Universe had been done, centuries earlier.

Galileo died, still a prisoner in his own house, in 1642. On Christmas Day of that same year, Isaac Newton was born…

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com

Eureka, eureka! (this bath is too hot!)

If we lived in a world where things never changed, there would be no science because there would be nothing to figure out. If we lived in a world where things changed randomly, there would be no science because everything would appear too complicated to work out anything from the chaos. Fortunately (and probably inevitably) we live in a universe where things do change, but slowly, according to fixed laws of nature: When I throw a stick up in the air, it always comes down. If the sun sets in the west, it always rises again in the east. The laws of nature can be notices, then figured out and explored. In doing so we have improved and enriched our lives.

But the secrets of nature are sometimes not at all obvious and not revealed to us easily. In history we have had to rely on the reasoning, insight and often chance, of a small number of great thinkers for them to have been discovered.

Many of these momentous discoveries were often made by one solitary person, alone with their thoughts. What could have possibly made them think of such things that no one else had ever thought of before? What made them hit upon the right answer?  Was it luck, divine inspiration, thoughtful reasoning, a zest for experiment or a finely tuned creative mind?

Some world changing discoveries were made more easily than others, some made against a forceful wall of oppression.

This the story of Archimedes‘ revelation as he quite ordinarily and casually took a bath.

According to what we now call ‘Archimedes’ principle’, the specific gravity of every component is inversely proportional to the volume of water it displaces.  Put another way this means that if you put something in a bath, the volume of water that spills over the edge will be the same volume of the thing you dropped in the bath… It sounds obvious now, but before Archimedes took that bath, the only way anyone could tell how much of something you had, was to weigh it. We know that gold is heavier than silver.  But what if gold and silver had been melted together? How would you know how much gold you had then? You’d have to melt it down. But what if it had been made into a crown, how could you tell without melting the crown down?

The detailed account of Archimedes’ bath-time joy that we have today was written by the great Roman architect Vitruvius who lived during the reign of Augustus, around about the beginning of the Christian era, which although was about two centuries after the event, was based on long held traditional accounts and few historians have any real cause to doubt its accuracy.

So Vitruvius takes up the story.

“When Hieron reigned over Syracuse, this prince, being fortunately blessed in all his enterprises, vowed a temple offering to the immortal gods of a crown of gold. He agreed with a craftsman what sum should go into it’s making and weighed it out in gold. This artisan delivered his work to the king on the appointed day, who found it executed perfectly well. On weighing the crown it appeared to be of the same weight as the gold that had been issued; but a test suggested that the worker had retained a part of the gold, which he had replaced with silver in the crown.

“The king was very irate at being tricked in this way, but lacking the means of convicting the worker of theft, he asked Archimedes to devise one. Archimedes, while wholly absorbed in this matter, took a bath one day, and noticed that as he immersed himself in the tub, the water spilled over. This observation led him to the desired discovery, and he was so overcome by joy that he rushed out of the bath and, running naked through the house he began shouting that he had discovered what he had sought, which in Greek is ‘eureka, eureka, I have found it, I have found it!’”

What he had actually found was simply a rise in the water level. An obviously ordinary, everyday event, and yet he thought of using the effect in an experiment. He took the crown, and a equal mass of gold and of silver and placed them all in equal volumes of water and found that the crown caused a rise in the water level greater than that of the gold, but less than that of silver. Because silver is lighter than gold, the amount of silver needed to match the weight of gold would have been slightly larger, with a slightly larger volume and therefore displaced more water. This proved how much silver had been used in making the crown, replacing some of the king’s gold. Archimedes correctly disclosed that the worker had been a swindler after all.

The fate of the worker is unknown. There’s probably another law which states that the punishment he received was directly proportional to the cleverness of Archimedes’ discovery and that the subsequent metal the craftsman had to deal with would have been a blade that cut his throat.

Archimedes went on to invent a way of getting water to move uphill, a ray gun that would destroy distant ships as well as many mathematical methods.

But what can we learn from his bath discovery? Perhaps that the answers to our problems are often right in front of us – it’s our ability to recognise them as such which is the key.

It’s also no coincidence that Archimedes was in an intuitive creative state in his bath – aren’t we all…

 (Comic strip from ‘All About Science’ Vol1, Part6, 1973)

Ayd Instone works with people to explore and unlock their creative ideas in ways they may never have thought possible, to inspire innovation in their lives, and their business.

Book Ayd to speak about the Power of ‘What If?’ and Inspiration for Innovation at your conference, or in your business. A great way to open your event or as an after lunch energiser.

For more interesting info see: www.aydinstone.com