My personal stories on those who inspired me

Several individuals inspired me in my journey to create a new thermodynamics based on the atomic theory of matter. Their collective inspiration manifests itself throughout my book, especially in Chapters 3 and 4 on the science and the history of the atom, respectively. Who were these individuals? Naturally Richard Feynman, whom I’ve quoted before (here)…

All things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied

Also, two of my MIT Chemical Engineering professors as manifested by these two events. The first was a hallway conversation I had with Professor Preetinder Virk in which I asked him why a certain physical phenomenon happened the way that it did. Professor Virk replied, to the best of my recall, “Ah, that is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? To connect the micro with the macro!” The second was in Professor Charles Cooney’s classroom. He was working through one of his assigned homework problems and said, again to the best of my recall, “The way to approach this problem is to first picture yourself as the molecule. What do you see?” The memories of both events remained deep inside my mind for many years.

On top of this was a story shared with me by the late Dr. Samuel Fleming, a very energetic and passionate fellow alumnus of MIT’s School of Chemical Engineering Practice. Sam recounted the following story to me about a lecture he attended while a student at MIT.

“T. K. Sherwood himself, no slouch when it came to mathematics and models in chemical engineering, observed at a doctoral seminar, grinning broadly, ‘Well, the trouble with these mathematical models is that if they begin to work, pretty soon you start to believe them.’ And then after the laughter died down, he turned deadly serious and asked the student presenter, ‘What are the molecules doing?’” Sam told me that he was sitting right behind TKS and never forgot the moment of the “Sherwood Axiom.”

I wrote on the science of the atom in Chapter 3 of my book. See the chapter here: Google books link, pp. 32-51. If you are seeking a very readable and personal account of both the science and the history behind the atom, I highly recommend Abraham Pais’s Inward Bound.

Published by Robert T Hanlon

I earned my Sc.D. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and subsequently conducted post-doctoral research at Karlsruhe University in Germany. My professional career took me to Mobil Oil Research & Development Corporation, the Rohm and Haas Company, and then back to MIT where I am currently involved with their School of Chemical Engineering Practice.

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