Mathematician of the Month – Newton

Newton

‘There is no great genius without a touch of madness,’ so they say. And Isaac Newton, supposedly the greatest mathematician (and physicist and scientist and natural philosopher) Britain has ever produced, was no exception.

In a way, it is his uncle who is to be credited for giving the world one of the most brilliant scientists of all time. Newton’s uncle noticed that Isaac was very poor at farming – his traditional family occupation – and hence persuaded his mother to send him to college for higher studies. Not many know that one of the greatest ambitions of Newton’s life (which was unfortunately left unfulfilled) was to get his hands on the philosopher’s stone (yes, the same Harry Potter one) which contained the secret to turn common metals into gold.

He is credited with numerous contributions. He is credited for laying down the foundations of classical mechanics, through his book ‘Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy’. It was he who came up with the laws of motion (planetary and otherwise), universal gravitation, calculus and the rules of color and light. And he did so much more, things which cannot be enumerated here due to lack of space (and effort, since the list seems endless).

And remember there was a tree under which he was sitting, when an apple fell on his head? Well, apparently, that tree is real. A piece of the same old iconic apple tree was even loaned by the Royal Society to NASA who took it into space. This is the sort of real-life stuff fairytales are made of!

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How to Come up with a Great Science Fair Project Idea and What to do with It

For wannabe scientists, science fairs are great opportunities to get some hands-on experience with the process of scientific research. Small fairs can be loads of fun for scientifically-inclined kids, while the bigger ones come with generous university scholarship funding or internships for winners. Here’s how you can come up with a great science fair project idea and make the most of it.

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Choose a Good Science Fair Project Idea

  • A “good” science fair project idea is one that interests and challenges you. Never mind if it’s something completely new and untried – you will grow as a scientist only by delving into unexplored territories and learning more along the way. You are most likely to find you enjoy an area you might never have picked otherwise.
  • While a complicated-looking project does not guarantee success, topics that are too easy – “What types of glue are the strongest?” – are unlikely to impress the judges unless you are going to study the molecular structure of each type of glue. However, in most cases, a student who knows his topic well will win over a student with poor presentation skills.
  • No matter what topic you choose, make sure you focus on a specific aspect that can be completed within a year. For instance, instead of working on ways to reduce global warming, focus on reducing or mitigating one cause of global warming and you’re more likely to make progress in it.

Spend Time on Background Research

Once you choose your topic, you’ll need to spend sufficient time researching the background and collecting data. This data is the backbone of your science fair project – it is the basis on which you will be building your project and the importance of collecting and understanding this information cannot be emphasized enough.  Background research helps you formulate a hypothesis, create a streamlined procedure; maybe even avoid some of the problems that might crop up during your project and definitely help you save time in the end.  The more time you spend understanding your topic, the more accurately will you be able to predict what might happen.  It will also make it easier to analyze your results and arrive at a detailed conclusion. This is the real purpose of background research.

Do not be disheartened if your data seems to difficult to decipher – some concepts need to be reread several times before you can make sense of them – the best way is to start with what you do understand and work your way upwards. Do not let unknown concepts frighten you into giving up on the science fair project idea; one of the most important reasons for doing a science project is to learn new things.

Presentation Matters

You can maximize your chances of winning by learning how to communicate your science fair project idea well.

  • Prepare a short spiel (2-5 minutes) summarizing your key findings and the theory behind the project – you will have to give this speech when you meet the judges, so keep it short and succinct.
  • Make a list of questions the judges are likely to ask you and rehearse the answers. Ask your parents, siblings or friends to pretend they are judges and practice explaining your project in simple layman terms to them.
  • If possible, create easy-to-understand graphs and diagrams on your display board and point to them during the discussion.
  • Be audible and confident while answering questions – DO NOT MUMBLE! If you do not know the answer, it’s okay to say “I don’t know.”
  • Always ask for feedback from judges and visitors to improve your project and come up with a better idea next time.

Hope this helped!