Saturday, November 26, 2011

TEDxDAR: Erasto Mpemba

During the Roland's talk about renewable energy he mentioned William Kwamkwamba, the boy who harnessed the wind using a little brain power and whatever was at hand. Which was a nice set up for the talk by Erasto Mpemba who recounted how he found out in Form One through a little observation that warm water or warm liquid freezes better than cold liquid. It is a good tale of a curious boy who was a natural scientist, and the challenges that he faced getting his discovery taken seriously. He finally got published in the American Journal of Physics in 1969. It is called the Mpemba Effect. Researchers are still trying to figure out the 'why' of it.

Every so often the issue of intellectual productivity comes up. In traditional measures of intellectual productivity, for example the number of peer-reviewed journal articles published per country- Tanzania does not perform well. Somehow I don't think that this necessarily reflects what is going on, or not going on, in the sciences locally. There are quite a number of academics and scientist lurking around quietly or working overseas. Where the challenge seems to lie is in recognizing the utility of the intellectual resources that are available to us. If the Arts are neglected in our education system, the natural sciences are really struggling- we simply don't invest.

So to bring it back to the theme of Zinjanthropus: if we have so much natural talent hanging around, what are we going to do about it? Did we kill Zinjanthropus by gutting our education system? Can we invest in our intellectual resources, in the sciences, in our scientists?

Mr. Mpemba is currently a herbalist, having travelled the world and perhaps seeking the next discovery where his intellect leads him. He is talking about the confluence of herbalism and modern medicine, certainly an interesting field. Here is a free tip from Mr. Mpemba: if you suffer from a cranky stomach, take 6o leaves from a guava tree and boil them down. Drink up the 'tea' and you should feel better.

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