Container Stumps Experts

The century-old investigation into the mysterious "smart" technology behind one of modern life's most popular inventions—the Thermos bottle—will soon be moved from the thistle-covered stone halls of Scotland's prestigious University of Aarrggh to the mundane brick-and-concrete confines of Chapman University's Hashinger Science Center.

"At the dawn of the new millennium, we are thrilled to become the new home of 'Thermos Be an Answer,' one of the oldest continuing research efforts in modern history," said Dr. James Doti, Chapman University president, while sipping an unknown beverage from a Thermos at a picnic-style lunch-time press conference. "The Thermos bottle has baffled the best minds in science for generations, and we hope to continue that tradition."

The project began looking for a new home last fall, when it became obvious that the trust fund that has supported it for 108 years will be completely exhausted by June. Doti plans to attract sponsorship from a consortium of lunch-box manufacturers, offering in exchange the use of several campus buildings on which to paint massive murals of popular movies, TV shows and recording stars.

The importance of continuing the research is obvious, said Dr. Ian McBelly III, whose great-great-grandfather founded the scientific project. "Perhaps you've enjoyed a glass of cold juice poured from a Thermos bottle on a hot summer day," he said. "Or maybe you've filled a Thermos bottle with hot chocolate or coffee to take to a football game or on a fishing trip. Therein lies our dilemma."

That dilemma presented itself almost from the very moment that Scottish scientist Sir James Dewar invented the so-called "Dewar flask" in 1892: How does this simple container know when to keep something hot and when to keep something cold?

Amazingly, after thousands and thousands of experiments, McBelly's research team is no closer to an answer now than it was more than a century ago. "Lately, mostly all we do is sit around and drink," McBelly explained. "Our best guess is that Dr. Dewar—the namesake of the famous Scotch whisky—was in the middle of an alcoholic blackout when he invented the Thermos. At this point, achieving his mental state at the moment of his inspiration is probably our best chance of figuring out what the hell he did."


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