Antaradahanayantram – The Internal Combustion Engine!

Image of Internal Combustion Engine or Antaradahanayantram

Internal Combustion Engine or Antaradahanayantram

Don’t worry about the title. It means “Internal Combustion Engine” in Malayalam. In my taravadu at Kollam, I came across a book named “Kandupidithangalude Katha” or “The Tale of Inventions”. I got this word from that book. Being a fan of technology, I read about it. This was long before I learned about engines in school.

One day, I went to the back yard of my house at Kochi with a few items in hand. The intention was to create an antaradahanayantram! I took two caps of whiskey bottles and checked whether they closed on each other, which they did. Then I put a hole on top of one of them. Then I took another cap and made it a bit perforated on the side. I fixed that at the bottom of the other cap that did not have the hole.

Image of Whiskey Bottle Caps

Whiskey Bottle Caps

So in effect I made a cylinder with several holes here and there. Then I made a small fan and fixed it on top of the single holed cap. I filled that cap with water and the perforated cap with kerosene. Then I put fire into the kerosene. The idea was that the kerosene will burn inside and then boil the water which in turn will make the fan spin through its steam.

I don’t know why I thought this was an internal combustion engine since it looked as if it was both internal and external. Anyway it was burning and boiling the water. Nothing was happening to the fan though. Then my dad came and asked what was I doing. I said proudly that this is my internal combustion engine. He asked me what is that and I said antaradahanayantram! He just warned me not to create an explosion and left.

Image of Steam


I waited for some more time but nothing happened still. I was wondering what was going on. Then I noticed the flaw in my design. The steam has to come out of a narrow tube in order to utilize its power. I had just put a hole on top of the cap. So the steam was coming out just as it would if I am boiling water in an open vessel.

The design failed! I wound up my experiment and went inside. Sigh!

The wonder ink formula!

Image of Chemistry


My 9th std Chemistry was taken by three teachers. Usha madam went on leave and then Bindu madam took charge. But then the unkind KVS transferred her elsewhere. Finally Devaki madam took over towards the end of the term. The reason I mentioned this is because of one project in Chemistry that Devaki madam asked me to submit. It was nothing special. I made a bathing soap. But the interesting story is what I did with it. Here is the whole story:

Image of Sodium Hydroxide

Sodium Hydroxide

I bought sodium hydroxide to prepare the solution for producing soap. I was glad because it was a new chemical to add to my lab. Anyway I dissolved some NaOH into water and then mixed coconut oil and Eau de Cologne into it. After a while the solution solidified into a white substance. I left it for a week and then cut it into pieces. We first tried it as a washing soap and it worked. Then I took bath with it and I was happy because it worked as a bathing soap as well. I took it to school and submitted as my project.

Image of Bad Handwriting

An example of bad handwriting - Mine was worse though

Since time immemorial, my teachers have complained about my handwriting. It hasn’t improved to this day and I am glad that I took writing to my computer so that I don’t have to write on paper anymore. Be that as it may. On the day of submission of my project, I was sitting in maths class and as usual scratching the paper with my shabby “calligraphy”. It was a blunder I committed because one of my friends wanted the exact same pen that I had. I bought him one and then he wanted to exchange the nib since mine was smooth.

Image of a Nib

The nib of a pen

After I exchanged the nib, I realized my blunder but still bore with it. In the middle of the class I had an idea. Will adding soap to the ink tank make the writing smoother? To test it, I took a small piece of soap and put it inside the ink tank of my pen and sure enough, I had the most slippery smooth writing experience in my entire life!

Image of Eureka


But I noticed something strange, the ink was decolorized! Just a faint azure hue remained and it looked as if I was writing with an invisible ink. Nevertheless I continued writing. I went onto the next page and the next page. Then I just returned to the previous pages and EUREKA! The writings were visible again as if it was written by normal ink. Just a little lighter but that was okay! I had discovered something!

I started to show off my new found “invisible ink” which I called “wonder ink”. Later I experimented with pure NaOH to see whether that worked the same way but that turned the entire ink into purple color.

Image of Litmus solutions

Litmus solutions

During the beginning of my 10th std, I went to tuition at Paul Manjooran sir’s tuition center. I told him about this discover of mine and showed him this purple ink. He told that this is analogous to litmus paper used in laboratories except that the color code will be in the reverse order. He told that if I put some acid into this solution, the blue color will return. I tried mixing some lemon water into it and sure enough, the blue color came back in. I also found that this experiment works better with Bril brand of ink than Chelpark.

My experiments continued…

Exothermic reaction!

Image of Potassium Permanganate

Potassium Permanganate

I was in my 5th grade. Once I asked my dad to buy me Citric Acid and Potassium Permanganate saying that I needed to do some experiments. He bought me the two chemicals. I think probably that was the beginning of real experimentation in chemistry. I had done other experiments as well, like understanding combustion better. But that is a different story.

I started mixing the two chemicals in various proportions to see what happens. The first experiments had a larger proportion of the acid and less salt. Nothing happened. Except that the solution gets decolorized. I even tried drinking this compound just to find that it increased my hunger. 

Image of Sources of Citric Acid

Sources of Citric Acid

Then one day I had fever and we went to Sanjeevani Hospital at Naval Base. After I returned, I took the cap of a brandy bottle and mixed a larger proportion of the salt and a smaller proportion of the acid and I noticed something strange. The solution was boiling itself. And the cap was very hot. I was wondering what was going on. I told this to my brother. We did it many times but since we weren’t aware of the chemical formulae of these chemicals, we didn’t understand why it reacted this way.But I was exhilarated. I thought that I had found something new.
Image of White Explosion

White Explosion

We tried mixing other substances into this mixture to check how it reacted. I remember the incident in which we mixed kerosene and set the solution on fire. The entire solution burst in an awesome white flame as shown in the image. That was the most spectacular event I had observed so far in our lab. Wow! But the smoke that followed was not very friendly. My brother caught running nose after inhaling that smoke. The experimentations continued in the years that followed……

A note on the Fermi-Hart Paradox!

The Habitable Zone

The Habitable Zone around a star

The future of humanity looks bleak and bright at the same time depending on how we perceive it. If we look around, we may feel that we are moving forward towards a brighter tomorrow. However, if you look up, the thoughts change. The sky on a clear night is one of the most beautiful sights you can get on Earth but this awe inspiring sight brings questions into our minds regarding the bleak future of human race. Whether we are alone in the universe is a question that might give us clues about our own fate in the distant future. We can hope to grow so advanced that we wouldn’t have to look back or we can expect ourselves to fall back and perish. SETI scientists spend their entire lives with radio telescopes pointed at the sky listening to the “cosmic buzz” hoping to find evidence that there is intelligent life outside Earth. The Drake Equation gives different estimates regarding the number of intelligent civilizations outside depending on whether it is an optimist or a pessimist who substitutes the values. However to this day, there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence that there is life outside out planet.

This paradox first postulated by Enrico Fermi and later examined by Michael H. Hart, analyzes various reasons why there haven’t been any intelligent exobiology detected so far.

The Drake Equation – Predicts the number of civilizations in the galaxy

The statement made by the Fermi-Hart Paradox is as follows:

The apparent size and age of the universe suggest that many technologically advanced extraterrestrial civilizations ought to exist. However, this hypothesis seems inconsistent with the lack of observational evidence to support it.

So why is it that despite the size of the universe, we haven’t seen intelligent life outside earth yet? Two corollaries of the Fermi-Hart paradox may give us some clues. They are the Doomsday argument and Von Neumann Probe.

According to the Doomsday Argument, we ask ourselves, Is it the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself?

This theme has been extensively explored in science as well as science fiction alike and deals with an argument that precludes the possibility of a technological civilization with an invariable proclivity to destroy themselves shortly after developing radio or space technology. The various postulated means of annihilation include biological and nuclear warfare, nano-technological catastrophe, accidental contamination, a badly programmed super-intelligence, ill-advised physics experiments or a Malthusian Catastrophe that deteriorates the planet’s ecosphere.

Probabilistic argumetns have bene put forward suggesting human extinction as an inevitable event happening sooner than later. Sagan and Shklovsky suggested in 1966 that either a technological civilization will destroy itself within a century after developing interstellar communicative capability or will master their self destructive tendencies and survive for billions of years.

An inhabitable planet

Gliese 581c – An exoplanet within the Goldilock zone of its star

Thermodynamics and chaos theory may also suggest clues regarding the tendency to self annihilate. As far as life can evolve as an ordered system, it may not create a problem but when it starts with its interstellar communicative phase, the system would probably get unstable and eventually self destruct.

Self destruction is a paradoxical outcome of evolutionary process in a Darwinian point of view. Evolutionary psychology suggests that at a time when humans competed for scarce resources, they were subjected to aggressive instinctual drives like tendency to consume resources, extend longevity and to reproduce which eventually led to a more technological society which may drive us to extinction. Self destruction of a technological civilization, according to Fermi, might be a universal occurrence. Self destruction may not be the only outcome though. There is a remote possibility of the civilization getting back to being non-technological as we saw happening to the Ba’ku people in the movie Star Trek: Insurrection.

A Flying Saucer – An alien craft?

A slightly different question is posed by the Von Neumann probe which asks, Is it the nature of intelligent life to destroy others?

This postulate investigates the possibility of a technological civilization, once it reaches a certain level of technological capability, destroys other intelligence when they appear. This concept has also been explored in science fiction for decades. The causes of such extermination might be expansionism, paranoia or plain aggression. Cosmologist Robert Harrison added a corrolary to Sagan and Shklovsky’s suggestion in 1981 by arguing that given a technological species that has overcome its own tendency to self destruct, it will view other species in the universe as a virus and try to exterminate them. A direct consequence of this argument is the picture of an intelligent being as a super-predator, just as humans are today.

Von Neumann Probe

Extracting a star’s energy – An example of a Von Neumann Probe

Just like exploration, extermination of other civilizations can be carried out using self-replicating artificial probes. It is a more dangerous case since even after the civilization that created such probes have died out, these probes will continue to do the job their creators assigned to them. If take this possibility into consideration, then that might answer the scarcity of observational evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence, because either these probes will destroy them, force them to be quiet or force them to live in hiding to prevent detection.

Leaving all these arguments aside, there is still a very high probability that we are indeed alone in this universe. To conclude, what is going to be our future? Are we heading towards self destruction? Is our life and society as ephemeral as that of a mayfly? Are the advancements we make every day in technology actually the nails we are driving into our own coffins? Or are we going to be like the Borgs? I leave this up to you to answer.


Fermi Paradox
Risks to civilization
Article by Fraser Cain
Living in a killing world
Margaret Atwood
Memory Alpha on Borg
Wikipedia on Malthusian Catastrophe