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Monday, March 28, 2005

Acetone : Patents Pending!

Scientists rarely publish results based on negative findings. If they did, libraries would fill up with volumes of journals at a rate faster than facts pass through an Intelligent Design believer. We would get research titles on "Jello doesn't suffer from sunburn" or "Loud music does not emit odors". If this process kept up over time, the lack of research objectives would cease to matter; a scientist could simply state: "My five-year old son Jeffy was curious, and we could not find anything on the Internets".

So with that as a disclaimer, a speculation making the rounds recently claims that Acetone In Fuel Said to Increase Mileage 15-35%. Evidently, a few ounces of the common finger-nail polish remover liquid does the trick. On first glance, the conjecture seems plausible enough. Mixing acetone with gasoline reduces the surface tension of droplets leading to a larger surface to volume ratio and thereby improving combustion efficiency. Or something like that. Great news if true and a breakthrough in defeating the war on terrorism!

The problem comes when you cannot find counter evidence to the assertion. You can never convince all the people by simply saying "not true"; a fraction always need some solid evidence. (Even then a fraction of this fraction would scream conspiracy)

So for the intrepid out there, willing to experiment with acetone, I have a suggestion: Enroll in graduate school and work toward a thesis proving the validity of the assertion. As anyone will tell you, coming up with a thesis topic remains the biggest challenge of a graduate school education. The equivalent of planets coming into alignment needs to occur before all parties achieve satisfaction. I guarantee that a topic involving commodity acetone and a friggin' beater car would make everyone happy. You could actually do the experiment before enrolling, prove to yourself that it pans out and then convince the faculty advisors with utmost confidence that your idea has merit. At least a few faculty members, strapped for cash, will likely go along with the idea, realizing that "sink or swim" remains the motto for navigating the academic system.

If it works and you did not screw up in your calculations or experimental setup, you should breeze through and perhaps make a fortune afterwards. If not, you have likely wasted 2 years in a Master's degree program and maybe 6 or 7 in a PhD granting program. In all likelihood, no one, including yourself, will have the interest or energy to publish a negative finding. Let the next sucker take the bait.

You make the call on whether the reward exceeds the risk.

And by the way, somebody set up a research Wiki here for you to publish your results:
* Post your data here. - If the above instructions are a tad too complicated for you, just post your information right here, and someone will move it to a separate page for you; or you can post it to the discussion page for this main acetone index and someone can move it to the appropriate location from there.
One entry claimed promising results but only gave a Contact email: (pending). A bit shy and reserved this Pat fellow.


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2:28 PM  

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