Do Trees Grow Out of Air? – Richard Feynman On Simple Explanations of Complex Things

Did you know (in a way) the stored sun comes out when you burn wood? That trees grow out of air more than out of the ground?

Won’t it be amazing if someone could explain the entire process with such clarity that you could explain it to someone right after?

Thankfully there are like Dr. Richard Feynman, a Noble Prize-winning physicist and prolific writer, capable of doing that.

In 1983, the BBC did a ‘Fun to Imagine‘ series with Dr. Feynman, where he explains simple things like why rubber band is stretchy, why tennis balls don’t bounce forever. There are multiple places that have covered his method of teaching. His humour and clarity of thought, coupled with child-like curiosity, have led him to be called ‘The Great Explainer‘.

His eyes sparkle as he begins his sentences. There is a smile waiting to come to his face, as he sees that the knots in your brain are slowly opening. Nothing more than the tools you already have is required to untie them. That’s the hallmark of a great explainer.

Does A Tree Come Out of the Ground or Out of Thin Air?

Here’s how he explains it (paraphrased).

Oxygen would like to be next to carbon. If they go near each other they snap together. If they aren’t close, then they go apart without knowing they can snap together. It’s like a ball rolling up to a volcano. While rolling up it falls back. But if you could push it hard enough, the ball will fall in the volcano hole.

If you can heat them up somehow, oxygen and carbon would start to jiggle and lead to a fire.

So, why did the wood sitting with the oxygen (in the air) and carbon (inside it) all this time did not do it earlier?

The substance in a tree is carbon, which comes from C02 in the air.

Plants grow out of the land, but the carbon comes from the air. C02 goes inside the tree, kicking the oxygen and leaving carbon with water. Water from the ground comes from the sky. Thus, most trees grow out of air.

How does the tree manage to separate the carbon from oxygen, which is otherwise tightly packed?

Sunlight. Which comes from the sun and knocks the oxygen and carbon. So when a log is set on fire, the heat and light which comes out is the heat and light of the sunlight which went in. So the stored sun comes out.

It is also kind of beautiful that to burn fire, the carbon has to combine with the oxygen which the tree itself creates.

At Lawctopus Law School this is the quality of education we are looking at. To break down things so simply that the listener wants to tell everyone else that it is that simple.

You just need someone to make learning interesting. Check out our courses here. We are looking for our own ‘Great Explainers’ of law.

Interested in checking out more of Dr. Feynman’s work? Check out his books and talks.

If you wish to write for us or have a story to share, get in touch at umang.poddar@lawctopus.com.

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