Adventures in Research: The Scientific Method

Ordinarily, I don’t editorialize when I introduce an “Adventures in Research” subject.  The stories ought to speak for themselves. However, I will introduce this item with my “Ball of Fire” story. Some years back, I was setting about to make popcorn. I had the oil heating up on the stove. I went off pottering, and saw, checking the pan of oil, that it had started to smoke. I took it up, and it burst into flames. I went directly to the sink, turned on the water, and blasted a shot of water into the flaming oil. “Fwoom”– I believe is the correct sound effect.  An impressive ball of fire flared up.  Fortunately, it disappeared in an instant, and without disaster. So, as I learned, when they say “Don’t put water on a grease fire”, they’re telling the truth. But I have a certain sympathy for the common-sense challenged.

From the Derby Mercury of 16 June 1785 “Extract of a Letter from Boulogne”

Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier volunteered to be the first passenger in the newly invented Montgolfier hot air balloon. After that initial success, and the acclaim that accompanied it, he decided to try crossing the English Channel. He felt that combining a hydrogen fueled balloon with a hot air balloon, would create twice the impact. He was advised against the plan, but he persisted. The letter in the article describes the aftermath in detail. I will only quote that he and his companion, M. Romain, were “dashed to pieces”.

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