Today's column is a random collection of true stories about famous scientists, mostly taken from The Human Side of Scientists, by RE Oesper (Univ. Cincinnati, 1975).
Andre-Marie Ampere (1775- 1836) was a French physicist and mathematician. He derived a formula describing the interaction between two electrical currents.
As an adult Ampere was plagued by absent-mindedness. One day while concentrating on a mathematical problem, he came on a stationary cab in the street. The back of the cab was a convenient blackboard and, whipping out a piece of chalk, he covered it with calculations. However, after a bit the cab moved off and Ampere watched helplessly as his solution sped away.
Svante A Arrhenius (1859-1927), a famous Swedish chemist, won the Nobel prize in 1903 and pointed to the warming effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Arrhenius was a jolly fat figure and did not impress visually as a man devoted to intellectual endeavours. Once, at a scientific congress, he went to the hotel where the professors were holding a social affair. He checked in his coat and proceeded towards the professors' room. The cloakroom attendant ran after him and pointed to another room saying, "Excuse me sir, you are headed for the wrong room. The butchers are holding their party in that other room."
Stephen M Babcock (1843-1931) was an American agricultural chemist. He once worked on the analysis of feeds for dairy herds.
One day he showed his boss two sets of analyses and asked, "'Which of those materials would be the best ration for a dairy cow?" The boss said, "'I cannot see any significant difference between them."
"Neither can I," said Babcock, "but one is the ration fed to the cow and the other is the excrement that came out."
Niels Bohr (1885-1962) was an eminent Danish physicist, awarded the Nobel Prize in 1922. On one occasion he was pondering a dilemma - whether to accept either of two theories about a phenomenon, or a mixture of the two. Both theories seemed correct, yet they were markedly different. He said the situation reminded him of the boy who asked the shopkeeper for a penny's worth of mixed candy. The man handed over two pieces of candy and said, "Here is what your money will buy. You can do the mixing yourself."
Bohr was awarded a gold medal with the Nobel Prize. He took an active part in the resistance when the Nazis invaded Denmark. When he had to flee Denmark in 1943, he dissolved the medal in acid and hid the bottle. On his return to Copenhagen he retrieved the bottle, precipitated the gold and had the medal recast.
Robert Wilhelm Bunsen (1811-1899) was an outstanding German chemist. His most practical contribution was devising the gas burner that bears his name. He refused to take out patents on his inventions, believing that scientists should not become wealthy through their discoveries.
In his youth, Bunsen liked mountain-climbing but, as he aged, he developed an easier approach to climbing. He would, with his companions, select a peak. Then, near the starting point, he would pick a shady tree and tell his party to go on without him.
He would sit in the shade, light a cigar, burn a hole in his handkerchief and, drawing the cloth over his face as a protection against insects, he would insert his cigar through the hole and smoke and doze until his companions returned.
Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) was an eminent English chemist and physicist. He inherited great wealth but had little appreciation of it. His banker once told him that a vast sum lay idle in his account, which bothered the banker. Cavendish replied that if the sum of money was a burden, he would remove it from the bank.
The banker shyly suggested that part of the funds be placed in safe securities. Cavendish angrily replied, "Proceed as you wish, but do not dare to return and bother me further with such affairs; otherwise I will remove my funds from your care."
Cavendish seemed afraid of women. The maids in his house were instructed to stay out of his sight or be dismissed, and he communicated with his housekeeper by leaving notes on the hall table.
Last few year it was noticed the presence of condolence messages about the demise of Dr A P J Abdul Kalam on banners held at tea shops and auto rickshaws. At first, it was surprising and wonderful that why shop owners are displaying his picture and messages. In a country where hardly common men and women are aware about who the current President is, what is it that made these people showcase love and affection on his death? It was definitely not a political cause as Kalam was not a political leader. It was because this man touched every heart in a big and meaningful way. It was on his third visit to Rajiv Gandhi Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Shillong on July 27th, 2015 when the former President and world renowned scientist collapsed while giving lecture to the students.
An ineffaceable mark is created in the minds of millions of Indians by our “People’s President” the late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. Very few eminent public figures that history has witnessed had created such a deep influence even after their demise. This magical name sends an electrical signal to every soul in our country who wants to be truly successful. He always preferred to converse with people directly instead of using the web or the electronic media. He was very less aware of protocols and security measures. He loved spending quality time amongst students in various schools, colleges and universities to interact with them and to inspire them to be better individuals when they grow up. There are numerous experiences of people who worked by the side of this man who has been deeply motivated by his honest care, affection and thoughtfulness. It was once, under a very tight project launch a scientist working under him requested an early leave as he was supposed to take his son to an exhibition. Engrossed in his work, it was three hours late when the scientist realised that he forgot keeping his parental duties. Going back home with a guilty heart he was amazed to know that his son was not at home. Instead he was at his exhibition. It was Dr Kalam, who on noticing that the scientist was not leaving his work, thought to keep his father’s promise to the child by taking him to the exhibition personally. It clearly shows how much he valued his men. Because it is men who makes or breaks an organisation. Small instances like refusing to sit on a chair offered to him on a seminar at IIT Varanasi just because its size was bigger than the rest shows how much he believed in being equal. Personally sending a handwritten thank you card to a kid who sketched his portrait inspired by his book “Wings of Fire” shows how polite he was to respond and acknowledge every good and positive deed.
He was one of those respected souls in this country whose contribution to our society as a scientist, leader and President has been most prominent. Once his terms as a President were over, Kalam visited various reverend institutes and universities present in India as their visiting professor. He loved sharing knowledge and motivating people towards the big picture of life.
This multi dimensional persona was a well known scientist exhibiting enormous and endless for science and technological research and development. It was he who made our country nuclear in its truest sense. It was in the year 1974, under the supervision of Dr Kalam, India underwent its first nuclear test. Next came the Pokhran –II in the year 1988. It was through these nuclear tests Dr Kalam showed the world India’s position and power in nuclear technology. Movies are said to be larger than life. But, there are some movies that inspire us and leave us with important life lessons. Based on a true story that explores a landmark moment in Indian history, Mission Mangal is one such movie with hardcore leadership lessons that can benefit all organisations.
If you want to make the impossible possible then you need a strong leader to steer the team in the right direction and achieve the goal with sheer determination. The film’s protagonist, Akshay Kumar aka Rakesh Dhawan, and his team of relatively less-experienced space scientists achieve a mammoth feat – one that was hardly expected of them.
Mission Mangal is a tale of inspiration that shows how dreams transform into reality with a clear vision and outright courage. It goes beyond entertainment and stands out to be a leader’s handbook for managing a team.
“Sky Is Not The Limit” – the tagline of the movie is a reminder for all leaders that with relentless passion everything is possible; No matter the pressure, challenges, and hardships you might face in your journey. The movie celebrates the ‘woman power’ behind the success of Mangalyaan. But, it is also about characters who belong to different generations, with different ideologies and temperaments. The scene where scientist man character explains how they will achieve their goal using a simple home science trick is a reminder that innovation need not be a complex thing. It also emphasizes on the fact that there is no science without experiment and experiment is a part of life.
Therefore, for an organisation to grow positively, it should encourage its members to always think outside the box and challenge the status quo. It is important to step into uncharted territory by revisiting ideas that were previously ignored and try things to see what works.
Also, everybody is creative in their own right and an organisation should always strive to unleash its members’ creative power to reap the full benefits. Creativity can be as simple as empowering your employees to think anew and give them a chance to express themselves. In the beginning, Hero in scientist character meets the press to share the news of the failure of the launch of GSLV-Fat Boy. The way he announces the failure by eating a ladoo bears testimony to the fact that failures don’t signify the end of a story.
It is indeed a stepping stone for a new beginning, to embark on your next success story. You should never permit failures to let you down and always stand up tall against phases of adversity.
Even when the team does not get the desired budget for the mission, they are willing to work with what they are allocated and achieve the mission.All scientist in this movie also inspire from A.P.J kalam sir who is the real hero behind the success of the scientist in the mission of mission mangal. He was the proud author of numerous inspirational books like “India 2010”, “Ignited Minds”, “Mission India”, “The Luminous Sparks”, “Wings of Fire” and “Inspiring Thoughts”.
His life, work and beliefs are filled with examples and inspirations. He will continue to inspire us forever. And this is the real reason why people from all the sections of the society spontaneously shown love for this great human being on his sad demise at IIM Shillong on 27th July 2015.
May This Noble & Pious Soul rest in Peace!!
Mother India is proud of you ‘Sir’ forever and wishes to have sons like you!!