Doctoral student's advice: "Keep that curious kid alive!"
Once there was a little kid in a small village in north India, where cooking was done by burning wood or straw. Like most kids, that burning wood was very fascinating and scary for him at the same time. It was fun to see how flames fluctuated in the air, how wood and straw burned differently, how the colour of fire and smoke coming out from it varied with time, and how the red-hot charcoal was giving so much heat even without flames.
At that time, that kid never thought for a second that these questions – which were just random thoughts to him – are big research questions that are not understood completely even to date.
For the kid, it was just part of his daily life which was a bit interesting but nevertheless worthless at the same time.
When that kid grew up a little and got more guts, he started to play with this fire. He used to pull out burning logs of wood from the cooking stove and tried to make shapes in the air with the red-hot end of the wood – for which he was scolded a lot by his parents and grandparents.
Though he was a rebel and continued with his fire games for some time, after a while he just gave up. It was not worth it to listen to shouting from the elders continuously.
The boy grew up, left the village, and got busy with life.
In his teenage days, the boy's curiosity about the fire never left him. Even though now he hardly sees any cookstoves familiar to him from his childhood.
Now that kid has completed his education in environmental engineering and currently pursuing his doctoral studies on thermochemical technologies, especially on combustion. That grown-up kid (kid because he never grew up mentally when it comes to playing) burns biomass such as wood, bark, and straw almost daily.
He still plays with fire. Just like in his childhood. The only difference is that his toys got bigger (a lot!), and now he also gets paid for it.
He often wonders that almost all the basic concepts of burning he learnt in the university are very natural to him.
For example, when professors talk about how burning fumes are dangerous to the lungs, he can remember the smell of the fumes and how his aunt used to cough while cooking.
When teachers say that wood is a much cleaner fuel than straw, he immediately remembers the black fumes coming from the straw fired cookstove around which he used to sit and eat.
All the questions he considered worthless in his childhood are coming to him one by one. They are helping him slowly but steadily push the boundaries of biomass combustion or science in general.
He thought it was fun to find all the questions of those old curiosities and even more fun to find some new questions which are yet to be answered by the human civilization.
Though he had been through many hardships in his studies, understanding the concepts of fire and combustion was never a challenge.
One day, one of his colleagues was whingeing in a group meeting about the basic concepts of combustion and the research area. Most of the people agreed to it.
That made the boy feel weird because it was natural and easy for him.
Why is that?
And the answer he came up with is true for any other field of science and life:
Let your kids play outside with nature. Strengthen them instead of stopping. And for us all researchers – keep that curious kid alive inside you, he/she can do miracles!