Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

The Boiling Water Effect – how environments change what you are and do

Boiling water softens a potato and hardens an egg. Same environment, completely different outcomes.

I’ve used both experiments in my heat transfer classes to explain how heat conduction leads to the evolution of temperature in time. This heat transfer mechanism relies on the molecular connection in any material. If one molecule has more energy than others besides her, it will transfer some of the energy to them, and so on.

The hard potato softens because it absorbs energy and loses consistency.

The soft egg hardens because it absorbs energy and gains consistency.

The common thing is that the environment changes them permanently.

The lesson is simple. We have a deep connection with our environments and we cannot expect to be the same, or work the same way if our environment changes. On the other hand, if we want to change and work differently, we can do it by changing our environment.

If you want to focus on your work, but your phone keeps ringing or pinging, new e-mails notifications keep appearing, and people know they can come to you no matter what you’re doing, how can you focus? Change the environment. Put your phone in sleep or flight mode, shutdown email and explain to people what you’re working on when they interrupt you. In time, “boiling water” will perform its biding.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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