Three States of Matter and an Ignorant State of Mind




All of us know that Matter as we know it in this world, exists in three states: SOLID, LIQUID AND GASEOUS with progressively increasing temperatures. Purists will pardon me if I do not bring in the PLASMA state at this time, as this story is meant for the masses and the laity.


And now the Opening Gig


As a graduate student at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee in the late seventies, I was getting my feet wet grasping intricacies and subtle nuances of Biological treatment of wastewater under tutelage of the legendary and extremely affable Prof. W W Eckenfelder Jr. My favourite pastime after school hours was watching on TV the Tonight Show of starring Johnny Carson and his comical but more erudite sidekick Ed McMahon.


This was the talk show that set the trend and standard for all such shows that followed including the Oprah Winfrey show. Incidentally a young Oprah at that same time was the sidekick news reader on Nashville’s local TV channel WLAC. The Johnny Carson show featured invited guests of stature including bigwigs from Politics, Hollywood, Sports etc. The Show always began with a monologue – recounting an incident, a joke, a sketch comedy. Johnny Carson was a raconteur par excellence, with a straight face which invariably made the audience wait with bated breath for his punch line. One such joke remains etched in my mind and recently there was an occasion for this memory to be rekindled. The story was to illustrate how people change due to force of circumstance and make the best out of the opportunity.


The Nazi and Gestapo era under Hitler was just beginning in Germany. A Jewish writer by name Johann Wasserman saw the writing on the wall and moved to England considered a safe haven for refugees from Nazidom. Within a few months in England the Jew changed his name to a more staid English name of John Waterman.  After a few years in England Mr. Waterman felt an irresistible pull to move to America and he landed first in New York. Waterman promptly changed his name to a more American sounding abbreviated version and called himself Jack Waters and soon tasted more than moderate success in his writing career.


A few years later, Waters got a call from Hollywood to write a movie script for Paramount Studios. The moment he stepped into the hallowed portals of Universal Studios in Hollywood, Jack Waters magically transformed himself to Jean De La Fontaine Waters.


And now the event that triggered this memory


Recently I happened across a technical brochure of “Centrifugal Desludger” claiming to be a superior alternative to the conventional Filter press for dewatering excess sludge generated in sewage and industrial effluent treatment plants – a contraption apparently peddled by a company by name Claire Fontaine.




Apart from the De La Fontaine connection from Hollywood, what caught my eye was a patently bogus claim in the technical brochure.


This Doodad can apparently produce a dewatered sludge cake with 20-25% solids, and less than 30% moisture.  That left my inquisitive Chemical Engineering brain scratching my head at the fate of the residual 50% of the matter. Surely it cannot be Claire Fontaine’s claim that it is in the Gaseous state or has vanished into thin air? Poof! A puff of smoke?


I cannot vouch if it was sheer ignorance on the part of Claire Fontaine or a deliberate attempt to defraud. In any case, the gravity of the crime remains undiminished.


Aw! Let me be charitable. The only positive aspect of this brochure of Claire Fontaine is the memory it rekindled in me from more than forty years ago.


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