Weather Reporting Leeches

By Anupum Pant

Of all the creatures in the whole wide world, you’ll be surprised to know that leeches have played a fairly important role in the history of weather forecasting. An incredibly bizarre device invented by Dr. George merry weather, in the 19th century, called the tempest prognosticator, was basically a barometer powered by leeches.

Dr. George Merryweather, aptly named, was a surgeon by profession who was a lot into leeches. Since barometers were already being used for a long time then, to indicate approaching storms, he knew that air pressure was crucial in determining weather. However, Dr. Merryweather, an ingenious man, hell-bent on doing things the different way, had a different plan in his mind.

In his profession, he came across medicinal leeches all the time. In course of time, with a keen ability to notice details, he noticed that leeches were sensitive to electrical variations in the atmosphere.
He noticed a peculiar behaviour among these creatures. He observed that the leeches often started squirming around in a chaotic manner before a storm arrived.

Putting this practical knowledge to use, and experimenting with a number of designs, Dr. Merryweather devised a contraption. It consisted of 12 pint-sized bottles arranged in a circle. Each of which contained a leech in one-and-half-inch deep rain water. The top of every bottle had a tube into which the leech could crawl and disturb a mechanism, which in turn would activate a hammer to hit a bell – indicating that a storm is coming.

When a storm would come, the leeches were expected to crawl up the bottle, into the little pipe and activate a Heath-Robinson like mechanism which would make a hammer hit the bell. When the leech had completed its job it would fall down into the water and the hammer would go back to its place.

However, a number of times the leeches would give a false alarm. That was the reason he decided to use a jury of 12 leeches. And said,

The more of them that rang the bell, the more likely it was that a storm would be on its way.

If you ever go to Devon, you must take some time out to visit the Barometer World Museum to check out a full-scale working model of this device. Or you could go to the Whitby Museum in North Yorkshire to see the other working model.

Unsolvable Problems – A Math Story With a Moral

By Anupum Pant

True Story

Back in 1939, a first year doctoral student at Berkeley, George Dantzig arrived late for a statistics class one day. On the board, professor Jerzy Neyman, a renowned mathematician, had written two problems, and it wasn’t very clear to George what he had written them were for. As any other student would assume, George assumed them to be homework problems and noted them down.

He went back and started working really hard on those problems. They seemed a little harder than usual to him. Nevertheless, George was determined enough. After a couple of days, when George was satisfied with his solution, he went to his professor and apologized to him for taking so long to finish the homework. Without looking at what he had done, the professor told him to put the work on his table, and he’d see it later. George did exactly that.

Six weeks later, on an unsuspecting Sunday morning, at 8:00 in the morning, George was awakened by a frantic knock on the door. It was professor Neyman. With a pile of papers in his hands, he seemed very excited. It was only then, through professor Neyman, that George came to know what he had done on those papers six weeks back.

Six weeks back, those two problems which George mistook for homework turned out to be two examples of unsolved statistics problems Neyman had written on the board. George had unknowingly noted them as homework, and ended up solving the 2 unsolved statistics problems.

Later the papers on these problems were published. However the second one was published much later, in the year 1950.

Moral: When people are not tied down by prejudice, by putting in good work, they often manage to achieve extraordinary things.

Via [Snopes]