How physics and engineering resolve reproducibility issues


A few decades ago engineers discovered that adding nanometre-sized particles to a liquid makes it far more effective at carrying away heat than anyone expected. If true, this would have tremendous implications for designing more effective coolants! However, while some researchers confirmed the results, several laboratories were unable to reproduce the findings. Some even suggested that nanoparticles make heat transfer worse.

In experimental medicine such controversies are rare, as reproduction of pivotal findings is an uncommon exercise. If controversy arises (e.g. a recent series of attempted reproductions regarding the effect of APO-E directed therapy on ß-amyloid clearance in mouse models of Alzheimer’s, Science 24 May 2013: 924), it is rarely resolved.

How did the physics/engineering community resolve the issue?  By assembling the ‘International Nanofluid Property Benchmark Exercise’ (INPBE), in which over 30 organizations worldwide measured the thermal conductivity of identical samples of colloidally stable dispersions of nanoparticles or nanofluids, using a variety of experimental approaches (Buongiorno et al. Result: No anomalous enhancement of thermal conductivity!

Another best practice example from the physics community. Life sciences, take note!

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