Why is it so?

Those who are older than, say, 30, should remember the great Professor Julius Sumner Miller.

Julius Sumner Miller
The late, great, Professor Julius Sumner Miller, as seen in the heyday of black and white TV (photo: ABC)

A real professor – actually a physicist who studied under Albert Einstein – Julius Sumner Miller demonstrated science to Australian television audiences from 1963 to 1986. Tragically, he died in 1987 at the age of 77 (although, if he had lived, he’d be 102 by now, which would be quite impressive).

But if you’re craving some old-fashioned science communication, you can see some clips of his program Why is it so? on the ABC website, at www.abc.net.au/science/features/whyisitso.

Or, if you must, you can watch a certain chocolate commercial featuring an egg and a milk bottle.

And in the tradition of encouraging the enquiring of minds, here’s a conundrum from his book of “Millergrams”, also called Why is it so?

Take a spring scale. Hang 1000 grams on it: it reads 1000 grams. Now hang 2000 grams on it: it reads 2000 grams. All very simple! Now place this scale on a horizontal platform. Fix strings to its ends. Let these strings pass over pulleys, if you wish, to minimise friction trouble. Now from each end of the scale hang 1000 grams. So now we have 1000 grams pulling to the lef and 1000 grams pulling to the right. We ask: what does the scale now read?

Let me offer you some help! A thousand to the right and a thousand to the left – aha! The scale reads 2000. But wait a minute! Instead of aiding they may be opposing. So it clearly reads zero! What do you think?

A most ingenious paradox: tell me your answer in the comments!

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