Newton’s Tree

Much like the college students of the year 2020, Newton too was sent home from Cambridge University during the bubonic plague epidemic of 1666, and it was while he was home sitting under the apple tree in his garden that the apple fell to the ground – and the rest as they say is history.  It has been over 340 years since Newton had his epiphany, and almost 300 years since the death of Newton – and yet the tree lives on in his garden at the Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire England. It was planted at least 60 years before Newton was born – which makes it well over 400 years old.

A graft of the original tree was planted at Trinity College in Cambridge in 1954, and from this tree others have been grafted and planted at numerous universities and research institutes across the world. They can be found at found at MIT, Occidental College, Tokyo University, Clemson, University of Nebraska, and Stanford among others. Even research centers with hot and dry climate, like the Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics in Pune, India build canopies and try to grow the tree.

Bearing fruit in Pune, India

The love for the tree is ironic – because Newton only went to Cambridge to study Physics because his mother thought he would not make a good farmer!!

The Scientist Artist

English artist Joseph Wright of Derby (1734 – 1797) was the scientist artist, a master of chiaroscoru – of capturing candlelit nocturnal scenes of fascinating science experiments, a master at capturing the varied human reactions to these experiments. At the same time, his paintings tell us he is an enlightened thinker, a philosopher who is questioning the morality of these experiments, the wisdom in tampering with nature, and in interfering with God’s will.

In An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768), he captures the essence of childhood wonder, the passions of youth, and the wisdom of age in the motley group of people that that are viewing the experiment. But for the rudimentary scientific experiment, this could be happening today – and the human element of the painting would remain unchanged – which I think is what makes Joseph Wright of Derby’s work so timeless.

A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery (1763 -65), The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus (1771), and The Iron Forge (1772) (clockwise). In addition to showing the artist’s mastery with the use of chiaroscuro or candlelit effect, they stand as a record of the scientific progress being made in the Age of Enlightenment.

Schrödinger’s Smiley :):

To be in two states at the same time – to smile on the outside and be sad on the inside – that’s what this emoticon known as Schrödinger’s smiley means. Its origins can be traced to the thought experiment conducted by Schrödinger to refute the Quantum Mechanics claim about the superposition of two states proposed by researchers in Copenhagen.

Erwin Schrödinger was born in Vienna on August 12,1887 and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933 for his work in Quantum theory. His most well-known work is the Schrödinger equation which describes the behavior of quantum particles which act like both wave and particles.

Schrödinger’s Cat

Schrödinger is most well-known for his thought experiment now known as Schrödinger’s Cat – which he did to refute an idea known as the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. It stated that particles could exist simultaneously in two states and that is was only once the particle had been observed that it existed in one state or another.

Schrödinger came up with his thought experiment to argue that the Copenhagen theory did not make sense – the experiment involved a cat in a steel box, some radioactive material, a hammer, and poisonous gas in a jar– when the radioactive material decayed the hammer would get deployed and break the jar which would release the poisonous gas which would kill the cat.

While the box is closed there is an equal probability of the cat being dead or alive – no one knows the outcome until the box is opened. Relating this to quantum mechanics – as long as the box is closed – the cat exists in a superposition of states and is both alive and dead. The sole outcome is observed only once the box is opened. Schrödinger argued that this outcome – the superposition of states is not possible because a cat cannot be both alive and dead.

Ironically his name is associated with the smiley which shows a superposition of both happy and sad states in human emotions. :): The Schrödinger smiley gets its name because of the two contradictory states or the superposition of states it shows – of a person smiling on the outside but feeling sad on the inside.