Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Thermodynamics Tale

I have been reading 'The Most Powerful Idea in the World' by William Rosen - with much interest. Ever since I saw the book mentioned in Bill Gates annual letter to his trustees or something, I wanted to read it.

The reading did not start in a promising way. And then came James Watt. And the story of the condenser in the steam engine.

The story of how James Watt  while working on a steam engine finally figured out the condenser as an answer is worthy of thought. It is part science, part industriousness, part perseverance, part insight, part creativity and totally engrossing.

It struck me that in college, when we studied about the steam engine - we had but a theoretical rendering of the steam engine in Thermodynamics. There was no story there. We learnt about the steam engine in a matter of fact way, with about as much passion as one would read a telephone directory, totally bereft of the history or the emotion behind it. Or the time. Or the effort. Or the passion of a few men.

After all these years, I finally understood (or wanted to understand) how a steam engine came into being and the aa-ha moments in making that invention possible. And what an insightful read it was - far better than any textbook has ever treated it.

The book gets into the same level when it deals a little with metallurgy as well.

And it struck me that engineering and science can be taught with so much more passion - especially since it lends itself to active experimentation, day to day observation among other things.

Around the same time, I spotted this on Storify on 'making science narrative'.

There are arguments in making keeping textbooks bland which are about as valid as arguing in favour of a colourless world.

Clearly, an idea that has been missed no?

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