Sunday, September 09, 2007


Why does the Superglue not stick to
the tube in which it comes?

When a friend recently asked me this rather ubiquitous yet ambiguous question, it got me thinking; about Catalysts. The simple textbook answer to this question would be that, the chemical in Superglue requires moisture to harden and as moisture is not available inside the tube, it does not harden and does not stick to the walls of the tube. Here, moisture is the catalyst for the reaction which causes the ‘trigger’ leading to the chemical bonding and hence when the superglue comes into contact with the moisture in the air, adhesion takes place.

A catalyst, as defined by the dictionary, is a person or thing that precipitates change. A catalyst also aids in the speeding up of a reaction thereby causing the change to take place. Deconstructing the question on the verbal elements I observed that the question had an adjective-Super, for glue. Would this question have made the same impact on my mind, had my friend not added this adjective? The adjective added potency to the question, which in itself was the catalyst to my thought process. Common glue also requires a catalyst to trigger the process of adhesion but because of the adjective ‘super’ the question assumes a rather nagging dimension. Does something superlative also require an external aid to help it achieve its objective? The adjective also necessitates the question about the quantity of the catalyst required.

Moving away from the realm of glue and adhesion, to the implications of these questions when posed in a human context? What triggers humans to achieve what they set themselves as targets? As moisture in itself is not responsible for the adhesion, this discussion here is about external catalysts, and will not delve on the topic of essential requirement of the ‘chemical’- the target which the human wants to achieve and will to do it, but only on what triggers this process. Motivation, appreciation, recognition etc can be considered as some examples which usually are cited as the catalysts which trigger performance among humans. It is also evident that companions and teams play the important role of catalysts for most men and women. Connecting with the right companion, or working in a right team is many a times a very significant performance trigger for humans.

But just as the adjective ‘super’ necessitated the question of the amount of catalyst required, this questions also pops up when superlatives among men were involved. There are an exceptional few, who among men have the unique distinction of being able to command the adjective of being super. If these superlative few also require an external catalyst, what is its nature and what quantity of it is required when compared to normal men and women?

As an answer consider this unusual twist. The chemical compound out of which Superglue is made out of also has moisture (the catalyst) in it, albeit in a different chemical form. All it needs is that little extra of one of its own ingredients to be realized externally to create the superlative adhesion. Similarly, the ‘ingredients’ which constitute supermen, already have all that is required within them, and the only catalyst they require for their superlative achievements, is to find that little bit of themselves (or their greatness) in others!

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