# Topic: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

1. ## Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

A question in a physics degree exam at the University of Copenhagen asked: "Describe how to determine the height of a skyscraper with a barometer."

One student replied:
"You tie a long piece of string to the neck of the barometer, then lower the barometer from the roof of the skyscraper to the ground. The length of the string plus the length of the barometer will equal the height of the building."

This highly original answer so incensed the examiner that the student was failed. The student appealed on the grounds that his answer was indisputably correct, and the university appointed an independent arbiter to decide the case. The arbiter judged that the answer was indeed correct, but it was decided to call the student in and allow him six minutes in which to provide a verbal answer, which showed at least a minimal familiarity with the basic principles of physics.

For five minutes the student sat in silence, holding his forehead in thought. The arbiter reminded him that time was running out, to which the student replied that he had several answers, but couldn't make up his mind which to use.

On being advised to hurry up the student replied as follows:
"Firstly, you could take the barometer up to the roof of the skyscraper, drop it over the edge, and measure the time it takes to reach the ground. The height of the building can then be worked out from the formula H = 0.5g x t squared. But the barometer would be destroyed." "Or, if the sun is shining you could measure the height of the barometer, then set it on end and measure the length of its shadow. Then you measure the length of the skyscraper's shadow, and thereafter it is a simple matter of proportional arithmetic to work out the height of the skyscraper."

"But if you wanted to be highly scientific about it, you could tie a short piece of string to the barometer and swing it like a pendulum, first at ground level and then on the roof of the skyscraper. The height is worked out by the difference in the gravitational restoring force T = 2 pi sqroot (l / g)." "Or if the skyscraper has an outside emergency staircase, it would be easier to walk up it and mark off the height of the skyscraper in barometer lengths, then add them up." "If you merely wanted to be boring and orthodox about it, of course, you could use the barometer to measure the air pressure on the roof of the skyscraper and on the ground, and convert the difference in millibars into feet to give the height of the building."

"But since we are constantly being exhorted to exercise independence of mind and apply scientific methods, undoubtedly the best way would be to knock on the janitor's door and say to him 'If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper'."

The student was Niels Bohr, the only person from Denmark to win the Nobel prize for Physics, and Albert Einstein was one of his closest friends.

[Sent by Rob Shrock]

2. ## Re: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

Oh, that's wonderful.

3. ## Re: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

It's a so wonderful story... I guess it's a true one. In fact, you can be a great scientist, and have a great humor.
L

4. ## Re: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

Originally Posted by Garritan
" to knock on the janitor's door and say to him 'If you would like a nice new barometer, I will give you this one if you tell me the height of this skyscraper'."

[Sent by Rob Shrock]
Economy of means is a beautiful thing.
regards

5. ## Re: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

great story! i love scientific humor

6. ## Re: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

Absolutely first rate!

7. ## Re: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

My 8th grade English teacher told us that one. It has a great theme for those in the academic world. Education should be about more than just learning facts and formulas for regurgitation on an exam. Teachers should not be trying to teach students how to think.

Despite the message of the story, I could find no strong evidence to support it. What I did find, however, was similar stories that mention a question about using a barometer to measure the height of a tall building. Because older versions of the story make no mention of Mr. Bohr, I believe that his name was later added at the end, and that the story is therefore false.

Lastly, Niels Bohr was not the only person from Denmark to win the Nobel Prize.

It is still a cool story with an important message.

8. ## Re: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

Funny! That was an outstanding story. Thanks Mr. G!

9. ## Re: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

Gorgeous!
(I might very well print that out, and frame it!)

10. ## Re: Thinking Outside the Skyscraper Box...

Styxx's Big Bang theory is right up there with Niels Bohr's science exam. Two geniuses - two eath-shattering theories

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