Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - ‘Supercooling’ phenomenon and the boy who inspired 50 year search for answers - 11 January


Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 11 January

‘Supercooling’ phenomenon and the boy who inspired 50 year search for answers


By Kerra Maddern

Why does hot water freeze faster than cold water? This conundrum has puzzled scientists since it was discovered by an African pupil 50 years ago.

Erasto Mpemba was a 15-year-old teenager in Tanganyika, now Tanzania, when he noticed the paradox in 1963. And it has gone without explanation until now.

Scientists at the Royal Society of Chemistry organised a public competition to find the best explanation for what has become known as the Mpemba Effect. Yesterday (the 10th) they announced a winner of the £1,000 prize, chosen by an international panel of judges.

Having faced resistance to his discovery from his teachers, who simply said he was wrong, Mpemba turned to British scientist Dr Denis Osborne, who was working in Tanganyika at the time. They later worked together to produce a scientific paper on the effect and have remained close friends.

Mr Mpemba, now a retired wildlife park manager, has “stayed in the shadows” since then.

But scientists still celebrate him. “The persistence of the young Mpemba in pointing to the discovery he had made on his own and the resultant collaboration with Dr Osborne is a remarkable example of how a student and a teacher can work together and, in doing so, make a significant mark on the world,” Dr Robert Parker, chief executive of the RSC, said.

Nikola Bregovic, from the University of Zagreb in Croatia won the RSC competition, arguing that an explanation can be found in convection currents and a phenomenon called “supercooling”. However most scientists do not believe it is a definitive answer – the paradox goes on.

“Once again this small, simple molecule amazes and intrigues us with its magic,” Mr Bregovic said of water.

The RSC’s competition was launched in the summer and attracted over 22,000 applicants from 122 countries.



Questions


  • How many famous scientists can you think of?
  • Erasto Mpemba has become known for his discovery. How would you like to make your mark on the world?
  • Can you think of any phenomena which science does not yet seem able to explain?
  • Erasto Mpemba worked closely with Dr. Osborne to produce a scientific paper. Have you ever achieved something by working with another person?

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In the news this week


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There could be as many as 17 billion planets like Earth in our galaxy, scientists have discovered, a number that dramatically increases how likely it is that aliens exist.

Sandy Hook shootings put US gun control debate centre-stage.



In the news archive index