MIT scientists are working on a bottle of ketchup where you CAN get out every last drop. See here for details and some nice videos of the new bottle in action. This will be used on other products (like Mayonnaise) and will save much thrown away food every year! However, IF this had been around 45 years ago, then I might never have gone into Math!!! Why is that?
When I was 8 years old I had the following thought:
When ketchup is at the end of the bottle it drips very slowly. It never stops dripping hence the number of drops is infinite. Could I put an empty bottle of ketchup below it and catch all of those drops and hence never run out of ketchup?
When I was in college I came up with the following explanations:
- NO: By the same reasoning there will never be an empty bottle of ketchup!
- NO: Each drop is half the size of the previous one so even though this is an infinite series it converges.
- NO: The time between drops doubles so it would take infinite time to fill up another bottle.
To this day I will NOT give up my conviction that the number of drops is infinite. This ketchup problem may be the first time I saw a real world phenomena and made a math problem out of it. I blogged about other such problems here and here.
The ketchup problem so intrigued me that I became a math major. OR the fact that I thought of this problem indicates that I liked math and hence went into it. I would say its a chicken-and-egg thing but we need a new metaphor since
the chicken came first.
Other questions I thought of as a kid:
- Why do people smoke tobacco if its so well known that its bad for them? This one still puzzles me.
- If, as the TV ads indicate, people want Margarine that tastes JUST LIKE BUTTER then why not just get butter? I NOW know that Margarine was cheaper back then (still is).
- If, as the TV ads indicate, people want instant coffee that tastes JUST LIKE GROUND ROAST, why not just get ground roast? I had no idea what any of those terms meant as a kid. Why I cared is a mystery since I didn't drink coffee as an 8 year old (and I still don't). I now deal with math terms i don't understand. Why I care is a mystery.
- How is eating everything on my plate going to help the kids that are starving in Africa? Mom never quite answered that one.
- How come whenever I see six kids playing together there are always either three that get along or three that don't get along?
Had I pursued the first three questions I would either be in sociology or advertising. Had I pursued the fourth question I might be in economics or politics. I have no idea what pursuing the fifth question would have lead to. Child Psychology? Party planning?
READERS- do you recall a math problem that you cared about as a kid that likely either inspired you to do math or indicated that you were interested in math? Note that you don't need to have SOLVED the problem as a kid- I am interested in your interests,
not your ability (note that I didn't any of my problem as a kid).