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Personal Growth

The Power of The Butterfly Effect

A few weeks back I was reading a sci-fi novel by Stephen King named 11/22/63. There was a character named Jake Epping who one day discovered a portal which can take him to the past or future, basically, he can travel in time then.

Then he decided to go back in time in 1958, and after some experiments, he realized that he can alter the history of the humankind (as he can change the events). So he decided to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy which happened on November 22, 1963 (the book’s title is based on this date).

Somehow he became successful in preventing the assassination. He then thought the world would be a much better place when he will again go back to the present time.

But that was not the case. In fact, when he returned to the present time, everything was opposite of what he thought. Everywhere there were multiple earthquakes, his own home was gone in that earthquake, and the world was almost at its end due to nuclear war. Jake then realized he has made a blunder by altering history. He again went back to 1963 and fixed whatever he changed.

Why have I mentioned this story?

This is just to give an overview that everything in the world is somehow connected and how one small decision can create a huge change.

This entire phenomenon is known as ‘The Butterfly Effect’, a term coined by Edward Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist at MIT (USA) during 1963.

‘Butterfly Effect’ is the basis for a branch of mathematics known as ‘Chaos theory’. Butterfly Effect in scientific terms known as ‘sensitive dependence on initial conditions’.

How did the ‘Butterfly Effect’ originate?

The entire principle was born when Lorenz tried to predict some weather models using deterministic equations on a supercomputer.

He input an initial set of data, switched the computer on, and waited for the printout.  Placing the output next to the machine, he decided to re-enter some of the data and run the program longer.

But when got the results after entering the data second time, that was quite surprising. He soon realized he’d made a very minor error during input on the second run which yielded a drastically different outcome.

He had entered the initial condition 0.506 for the second time from the printout instead of entering the full precision 0.506127 value. We usually believe that a small change would not make a big difference in the results later. But Lorenz observed something different from contrary belief. The results were depicted in a curve as below-

A small error in the data magnifies over time

You can see although initially, both the curves were same but over time they started deviating from each other.

That’s the whole idea about ‘The Butterfly Effect’. Little insignificant events (which we overlook many times) can lead to significant results over time.

How ‘Butterfly Effect’ affects our life?

There is a famous metaphor about ‘Butterfly Effect’ coined by Lorenz that ‘The flap of a butterfly’s wings in one corner of the world can set off a tornado in other corners of the world’.

Although it sounds ridiculous, it’s just to convey the idea that small things can have non-linear impacts on a complex system. 

Now you might be thinking that is there any real-life example of ‘Butterfly Effect’?

Of course, and they are happening every day, you are just not giving enough attention to track them.

Think about your own life. Wherever you are today is because of those minute habits you had or small decisions that you took in your life.

I will give you four examples which will make you think about ‘The Butterfly Effect’.

1. The wrong turn that led to world war I:

How would be the world today had there been no world wars occurred, I don’t know whether the world would be better or worse, but it would be not same as it is today for sure.

What will you say if I tell you that the world war I started due to a wrong turn in the road? Yeah, it’s true.

So how it all started?

It was 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was going to be the king of Austria. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, visited Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia.

Six Bosnian-born Serb terrorists were waiting for the royal couple on the route. They were seeking to avenge Austria’s recent annexation of Bosnia, which once had been part of the long-vanished Serbian Empire.

A terrorist threw a hand grenade at the open car carrying the archduke and his wife, but the grenade only wounded people behind him. Archduke Franz Ferdinand

Archduke Franz Ferdinand decided to visit the wounded people in the hospital. While in the road, the driver, unfortunately, took a wrong turn and there one of the frustrated assassins, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, was getting drunk.

Princip stepped out of the crowd and fired two shots which hit Franz Ferdinand and his wife. Both died immediately.

What happens after this is just a tragedy. Austria announced war against Serbia and then one after another country joined them which started the world war I.

Had that driver didn’t take the wrong turn in the road, the king would have been alive and probably nothing like world war would have happened. See how a small incident led to a massive result.

2. The story of Hitler:

We all know what kind of calamity Hitler has done in the world. But nothing could have happened had the following two incidents not happened with Hitler.

Adolf Hitler in his early life aspired to be an artist. He applied twice in Vienna art academy, Austria. But both the times he failed to secure a position in the institute.

The teachers at art academy rejected him by saying that-

“They are prosaic, utterly devoid of rhythm, color, feeling, or spiritual imagination. They are architect’s sketches: painful and precise draftsmanship; nothing more”

Hitler blamed his Jewish teachers for the failure. He started hating Jews. Although it was not the only reason for his hatred, it definitely enhanced his hatred towards Jews.

What would happen had he got the admission in the art school?

No one knows but probably our history would have been different.

The second incident occurred during world war I when Brtish and German armies fighting with each other. On 28th September 1918, a wounded soldier entered in the firing range of British soldier Henry Tandey. If Henry wanted he could have easily killed that wounded soldier by firing a bullet. But instead of that, he choosed compassion. He didn’t kill him and let him go.

That wounded soldier later become the reason for the genocide of millions of Jews. Yes, that wounded soldier was Adolf Hitler.

I know what you are thinking. If only Henry Tandey would have killed that soldier, the world would never know about the barbaric Hitler.

3. Mahatma Gandhi’s train ride:

On 7th June 1893, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi took a first class ticket to travel from Durban to Pretoria. But due to his brown colour, he was thrown out of the first class compartment.

This whole incident shook up him. From that moment he refused to accept injustice and started fight against racial discrimination. We all know what happened after that. He started the biggest non-violence movement against the British and led an important role in India’s freedom

Everything started from that train incident. Had he not thrown out of first class compartment, he probably would not become such an inspiring person in the world history.

4. The beginning of world wide web (www):

In 1962, American scientists and military feared about what might happen in the event of Soviet attack on the nations telephone system.

Then a computer scientist J. C.R. Licklider proposed a solution to the problem. He suggested a galactic network of computers that could talk to one another.

Little did they know that this idea would eventually transform the world and used for information, entertainment and social network by more than 2.5 billion people today.

Today it’s known as the ‘World Wide Web’.

All the stories above give us the same message that ‘Butterfly Effect’ is working all the time. One small incident starts a sequence of events which ultimately results in a massive result.

We often hear a line about our life that ‘Our life is the result of our choices’.

If that is true and after knowing the significance of ‘Butterfly Effect’ you must be careful about what kind of people you decide to spend time with, what kind of food you eat, what kind books or articles you read, what kind of videos you watch.

All these are micro choices you are making all the time, sometimes even unconsciously. According to ‘Butterfly Effect’ all these will add up with time and will produce bigger results in life.

If you want to shape your life in a particular way or want to be that charming person then be careful about your choices.

Have a productive week. Until next time.

Joy

Source:

  1. Effect of the butterfly effect
  2. Understanding the butterfly effect-American scientist
  3. Interesting Engineering
Categories
Biography Science

Clara Immerwahr: A Tragic Heroine of Science

Do you know Fritz Haber?

I am sure you must have heard about him. A major portion of humankind would not been able to survive without this man’s discovery. Half of the nitrogen atoms in today’s human body are because of this man.

You must be thinking, what this guy is talking about?

I am talking about the Haber-Bosch process, discovered by Fritz Haber which enabled to fix nitrogen from the air with hydrogen and thereby transform it to a form (ammonia), which could be metabolized by plants.

This process allowed people to mass produce plant fertilizers due to production of ammonia and thus farmers are able to grow more food to support a large population of 7.7 billion people of the world. Imagine if there was no ammonia, how we could supply food for this population. That’s why Haber’s invention is thought of as ‘bread from air’.

No wonder, Fritz Haber was awarded Nobel Prize in the year 1930. However, when he received the prestigious Nobel prize, many scientists including renowned physicist Ernest Rutherford refused to shake hand with Haber.

Why would people refuse to shake hand with a person who has given us ‘bread from air’?

Strange isn’t it.

It is indeed strange until you know the story of ‘Clara Immerwahr‘- wife of Fritz Haber.

I shouldn’t have introduced her as the wife of Fritz Haber. It’s unfair. Her own glory is enough that she doesn’t have to hide behind Fritz Haber’s shadow. Unfortunately, still today she remains as a hidden figure or known as Fritz Haber’s wife to most people who know her.

In the year 2016, when I was doing my post graduation I first read about ‘Clara Immerwahr‘ in a science magazine. I was so inspired by her story that I wrote a mail to the editor of that magazine. Fortunately, the editor published my reaction in that magazine. This was my reaction-

And today it gives me immense pleasure to write about this incredible woman.

So, who was Clara Immerwahr’ except Fritz Haber’s wife?

Born on 21st June 21, 1870, in Germany near Breslau (now Wroclaw in Poland) Clara Immerwahr grew up in a well-cultured and liberal Jewish family with her three siblings. She was youngest among all. Her father was a trained chemist but after his startup failure he moved to polkendorff (now in Poland), where is innovative spirit and farming skills made him wealthy. Due to the unavailibility of schools for girls, Clara had to study under a private tutor in her childhood.

Every winter Clara used to spend with her grandmother along with her siblings in Breslau. During that time her grandmother decided to admit Clara and her siblings to a school in Breslau. It was decided that winters they will study at school and the rest of the time when in Polkendorff, they will study under private tutors.

While two of her elder sisters left school, her brother went further to Berlin for higher studies and ultimately earned a doctorate degree. Clara was very eager in studies, especially in natural science. Her brother’s achievement further motivated her to pursue higher education.

Clara’s mother died in 1990. Her father handed over the farm in Polendorff to Elli, her elder sister and moved to Breslau with Clara.

It was in Breslau, where during a dancing class Clara met Fritz Haber. Haber fell in love with Clara and proposed to her. However, Clara declined his offer as she wanted to be financially independent and pursue science as carrer. Such self-esteem and enthusiasm towards science tell a lot about ‘Clara Immerwahr’.

Fortunately, Clara’s father came to know about Miss Knittel, who was known as a widely traveled and a wise woman also ran a teachers seminary. Clara had been admitted to that school. Very soon miss Knittel identified Clara’s aptitude towards science and presented her a book named ‘Conversations On Chemistry‘. This book inspired Clara to pursue Chemistry as her specialization.

After completing her studies at seminary, Clara worked as a governess, giving private lessons as she had no option for higher studies. At that time Breslau University didn’t use to admit female students to study. She had to fight and go through a lot of struggle to get permission for taking the entrance exam, which would enable her to qualify for the university entrance exam. However, Nothing was able to stop Clara Immerwahr’s indomitable spirit.

 In 1898, Clara Immerwahr became the first woman in Germany to pass the difficult Verbandsexamen, a predoctoral qualifying examination designed to raise standards in the training of professional chemists.

On December 12, 1900, Clara got the doctorate degree in Physical Chemistry from the University of Breslau and became the first ever woman to be awarded a doctorate from a German University. Clara’s work concerns solution chemistry, one of the main preoccupations of Physical chemistry of the time, and revolves about the connections among the conductivity, solubility, degree of dissociation, electrochemical potential, and what was called electro-affinity. Her dissertation paper was on ‘study of solubility of metal salts’ conducted under Prof. Richard Abegg. She dedicated her paper to her ‘dear father’ as he inspired and supported her throughout her life.

The day she got her doctorate, she also took an oath that-

“never in speech or writing to teach anything that is contrary to my beliefs. To persue truth and to advance the dignity of science to the height which it deserves”

After working as laboratory assistant to Professor Abegg—at the highest rank attainable by women—Clara Immerwahr worked briefly as a researcher in Clausthal and gave lectures on “Physics and Chemistry in the Household” at various women’s organizations and institutes. In spite of her efforts, she failed to manage a permanent job anywhere in male dominated circles of that time. This was frustrating her.

In April 1901 Clara and Fritz Haber met again. By that time Haber gained respect and recognition due to his work on electrochemistry, thermodynamics and especially as the inventor of large scale synthesis of ammonia. In 1898 he had been appointed as professor at the Technological University in Karlsruhe. Haber was known for his ambitious and incorrigible workaholic character.

They got married in August 1901 and settled in Karlsruhe. Initially, Clara thought she could manage her marriage and career. However, her ambitious husband’s demands kept her busy in making dinner for guests of Fritz Haber. She had hardly any time for herself. To this was added a difficult pregnancy and the birth on June 1, 1902, of a sickly son, Hermann.

Realizing the fact that working in a research laboratory becoming difficult Clara decided to devote her time in writing books. Haber wanted to publish his lectures on ‘thermodynamics’ in the form of a textbook. Clara collaborated with her husband in his research, especially in writing the textbook.

When the book was published in 1905, Haber dedicated the book to Clara as “his beloved wife Mrs. Clara Haber, Ph.D., with thanks for quite collaboration. However, nowhere Haber mentioned Clara as a co-writer of the book.

Clara continued to give lectures to women. She was infuriated to find that people assumed the lectures had been written by her husband. Clara’s life was becoming miserable day by day. She was going through depression at that phase.

Meanwhile, Fritz Haber’s career flourished. In his thermodynamics book, he had stated how to prepare ammonia industrially using Iron catalyst. In 1908, BASF (a chemical company) appointed him for ammonia preparation. The company started commercial production of ammonia using Haber’s principle. This made him renowned as well as rich.

In 1911 he was appointed the head of the recently founded Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of physical chemistry and electrochemistry in Berlin. Despite having hostility towards Jews, highly talented Jews could still rise to the top of their professionals. Although their colleagues and fellow citizens regarded them not as fully German. Certain discriminations were still there.

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 gave Haber an opportunity to prove his patriotism. Soon he concentrated all his efforts on developing poison and other gases for war. In early 1915, he suggested a simple idea to release highly toxic chlorine gas so that it would drift across to the enemy trenches, where it would kill and disable without an artillery bombardment.

Horrified by Haber’s work, Clara came out open to oppose his work.
Condemning this as “perversion of the ideals of science” as “a sign of barbarity. Clara’s couldn’t forget the oath she took during her doctorate ceremony. She pleaded several times with her husband to cease work on gas warfare. But alas, Haber was not ready to listen to her. Moreover, he accused her in public of making statements treasonous to the Fatherland.

Finally, the first poison gas attack took place on April 22, 1915, on the Western front in the Ypres sector of Belgium. Of the seven thousand casualties that day, more than five thousand died. Countless additional attacks resulted in the deaths of at least a hundred thousand soldiers on both sides.

Haber was promoted to the rank of captain. Returning in triumph from the front to their home in the elegant Berlin suburb of Dahlem, he attended a party in his honor on May 2, the night before he was due to go to the eastern front to supervise a gas attack.

That night the couple quarreled. Their marriage was anyway going through a crisis. Haber was seldom at home. His ambitions kept him busy with his colleagues. He went on frequent trips with his colleagues and even had affairs with other women.


In a letter to her friend Professor Abegg Clara wrote-

“What Fritz [Haber] has gained during these last eight years, I have lost, and what’s left of me, fills me with the deepest dissatisfaction. “

Her inability to prevent her husband from involving in World War I chemical warfare, along with this, the death of two of her closest friend Richard Abegg (his supervisor) and Otto Sackur filled her with deep grief. On 2nd May 1915 when her husband was celebrating the killing of thousands of soldiers by his poisonous gas, Clara Immerwahr took her husband’s pistol out to the garden and shot herself.

That’s how the life of a promising scientist and an incredible woman ended. In the biography of Clara Immerwahr, Gerit von Leitner stated that- Clara was destroyed – as both a person and a scientist – by her oppressive and opportunistic husband’.

Fortunately, people started realizing Clara Immerwahr’s legacy in the 1970s. Historians and activists began to investigate the remarkable woman who ended her life in protest against the desecration of science. A biography on her had been written by Gerit von Leitner. In 1991 the German Section of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War awarded its most prestigious award, the Clara Immerwahr Prize. Since November 2000 the University of Dortmund has a mentoring project for women students which is named for her.

I addressed her as a promising scientist because I think she never got the chance to bloom, to show her potential as a science enthusiast. She remains a hidden figure in the shadow of Fritz Haber. She is probably the first woman who sacrificed her life for the misuse of science. Clara Immerwahr always remained faithful towards science and also to her name ‘Immerwahr’ which means-always true

Let us pay our homage to such an incredible soul.

Clara Immerwahr

What do you think about her? Have you heard about her before?

Source:

  1. Clara Immerwahr: Life, Work and Legacy
  2. Clara Immerwahr-Encyclopedia
  3. One hundred year of chemical warfare