Science & Technology

A 17-Year-Old Pakistani Student Stunned the World With a Scientific First

Kids these days, you know? We're not shaking our heads and wagging our fingers at them anymore; we're standing mouth-agape in awe. Kids as young as 12 years old and 16 years old are making strides in the cure for cancer, for goodness sake. Now, a 17-year-old has stunned the physics community with a scientific first. Next up for Muhammad Shaheer Niazi? Graduating high school.

Close up of the Rose-window instability (RWI).

Holy Honeycomb!

In 2016, Muhammad Shaheer Niazi became one of the first Pakistani participants in the International Young Physicists' Tournament, also referred to as the "Physics World Cup." While that is notable enough, he grabbed a bigger headline after entering the competition.

Niazi developed photographic evidence of charged ions creating an electric honeycomb. Replicating the phenomenon of the electric honeycomb is already an impressive task, but the photographic feat has never been accomplished before. His work was published on October 4, 2017 in the Royal Society Open Science. "I think it's outstanding for so young a scientist to reproduce these results," Alberto T. Pérez Izquierdo, a University of Seville physicist whose 1997 work on the subject inspired Mr. Niazi's project, told the New York Times.

A surface dimple which marks the initiation of the RWI. Wooden collar is also visible.

Looking Through Rose-Colored Windows

An electric honeycomb has nothing to do with honey or bees, and isn't quite as metal as it sounds. But to say it's unimpressive would be a mistake. An electric honeycomb is what occurs when certain kinds of charged particles travel between a pointy electrode and a flat one, but bump into some oil along the way. The polygonal pattern that emerges is also known as the rose-window instability (explaining Niazi's study titled "The Electric Honeycomb; an investigation of the Rose window instability"), because it resembles the stained-glass designs found in Gothic churches. It's a way for nature to keep an electric charge moving in an interrupted circuit.

Niazi's research on the rose window instability looks at it in a new light to help make clearer why currents form polygonal patterns over oil. The study concludes that "the ions are the main cause of the instability and image the system in two new perspectives (thermal and schlieren) which reveal previously unknown phenomena associated with the RWI." Niazi hopes to further study the mathematics of the electric honeycomb, and one day, dreams of earning a Nobel Prize. You have a strong start already, Muhammad.

Advice for young scientists

Written by Joanie Faletto October 27, 2017

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