The tap that dripped for 200 hours

Appliance of science: Teenager's research ranked alongside Nobel winners
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The Independent Online

Science Editor

An 18-year old Lancashire schoolboy today joins the ranks of the world's top scientists, as his research is published in the world's premier scientific journal, Nature.

Nobel prizewinners queue up to have their research published in Nature, but the journal today publishes the results of experiments Justin Marston did during his sixth-form A- level project.

Mr Marston spent more than 200 hours on his project - watching a dripping tap. It may sound downbeat, but his work actually deals with two of the hottest topics in science today - chaos and complexity theory.

Some of the best brains in the world ponder these topics at the high- powered Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico, USA. Mr Marston investigated them at Runshaw Tertiary College in Leyland near Preston, using "central heating header tanks bought from plumbers' merchants and a pump from the local garden centre".

Mr Marston was quick to deny that his work was of Nobel calibre. He said "I was shocked when I found out they [Nature] were going to publish it.''

In science, chaos is a tightly defined term, used to describe behaviour of physical or biological systems that appears completely random but actually has an underlying pattern or series of patterns. The term has stuck, despite being misleading in the way that its scientific use is almost the opposite of the everyday use.

"I always thought chaotic physics was small atoms moving around. But the dripping tap is a classic chaotic system. It's very close to my own experience. I think that brought it to life," said the young scientist.

He got interested in the phenomenon and recorded half a million observations. "Some of my friends said 'send it to a journal for publication' so I thought I might as well start at the top - Nature," he said.

Mr Marston studied how fast his "tap" (actually a capillary tube) dripped and how the rate was influenced by pressure in the header tank. He found that "as would be expected, with increasing water pressure, the average time between drips decreases, but not in a linear manner".

Despite having his experi-ment published, Mr Marston intends to study biochemistry at Durham University in October. He could have chosen almost any scientific discipline, since he obtained six straight A grades in his A-levels: mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, music and general studies.

He hopes to pursue a career in science, but has not yet decided between academia and industrial research.