The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Chemistry experiments beyond the book.

When does being a student end and being a scientist begin? When the student goes beyond the book and does something new.
Ainan regularly goes beyond the book. He does his own thing. He thinks up his own experiments. This past week or so, provides an example.
Ainan has a chemistry set at home. It is pretty basic since I haven't seen anything sophisticated on sale in Singapore. One surmises that, in this age of threats from far and wide, that this is probably policy. The kind of chemistry set which used to be so readily available when I was a child (one with plenty of different chemicals in plentiful supply) doesn't seem to be so easy to find. At least, not in the shops here.
Nevertheless, given the severe limitations of the chemical resources available to him, Ainan has managed to find something new to do with his chemistry set.
The details of his reactions are unknown to me - but I saw them in action. In one he combined two seemingly uncoloured items, to produce a virulent blue product. It was quite the strongest colour. "This is a dye, Daddy.", he announced.
It seemed like it would make a good dye, to me.
"That experiment is not in the book, is it?" I checked, for I had read it myself and saw nothing remotely resembling this reaction in it.
He shook his head, in confirmation.
"How do you know how to do that?"
He just sort of shrugged. "I know.", he said, before launching off into a rapid-fire explanation of what exactly he had done - which I failed to follow well enough to describe here.
Then he did it again. He produced another tube of clear fluid, dropped another fluid into it - and produced a rich brown colouration. "And this is another dye." he declared.
Sure enough the colour was rich enough to be so used, to my eyes.
I don't know what the reactions were - but I know this: they weren't in the book. Nowhere in the materials provided to him, was this particular suggestion present. He had, therefore, gone beyond the book.

I think when a child does this - when they venture out onto their own and make something new (to them, at least) out of the resources to hand - they are demonstrating that they have the instincts of a scientist, of an independent thinker.
I am left to wonder what he would do - or try to do - had he a greater range of resources to hand. Given the constraints on chemical purchases here, I don't think a home lab is a feasible possibility. We will just have to get him consistent access to a fully-equipped lab. (As regular readers will know, this has proven anything but easy, here in Singapore. Lab owners seem most reluctant to let an interested young scientist into them. They only cater to bored older ones, who have lost their enthusiasm.)
Of course, there are dangers inherent in open experimentation. Some end products are not to be made lightly. It is clear, in this instance, however, that he knew what he was doing.
Furthermore, he is aware of the dangers of chemical synthesis - and knows how to steer clear of making commonly known dangerous products. So, I am not concerned that he would stumble on a dangerous outcome. He knows what to avoid. Nor would he ever deliberately seek to make a substance that would be hazardous to him.
However, if you have an experimentally minded child, it might be wise to supervise them, lest they be less circumspect than I know Ainan to be.
Of course, if you have a commercially bought chemistry set, it is unlikely that any of the chemical possibilities found within it, could result in a dangerous outcome - so that is another layer of safety.
These concerns aside, I was pleased to note that Ainan was applying his imagination to the possibilities inherent in the relatively few reactants available to him. I now have two samples of dye in my house to prove it: one a deep blue, the other a rich brown - both quite beautiful.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 11:37 PM 


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