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By cjohnson | February 13, 2006 10:38 pm

One of the reasons I love teaching is because there are times when you’ll never know what will occur to you mid-sentence, and then get incorporated into the lecture. No two lectures on the same material are ever alike… they get created afresh by your mood, your state of health, mind, body, the questions that get asked, and….. bad physics jokes!

Today I was demonstrating in my physics 408b class -Electromagnetism- what I consider to be one of the greatest (and most accessible) triumphs of theoretical and experimental physics working together: The fact that you can take Maxwell’s equations and show that they predict a wave-like phenomenon – which would have been interesting enough – but the prediction includes a specific value for the speed of propagation of of that wave, deriving it out of already known constants whose values were known from laboratory experiments in electromagnetism – and that speed is the speed of light! I still think that this is just one of the coolest things you ever see as an undergraduate in physics, and it still blows my skirt up even now.

So what was the bad physics joke? Oh, well, it really is bad. I was in the middle of saying that Maxwell’s equations are coupled differential equations, but that we can decouple them and see something interesting (what will turn out to be the wave equation) by simply curling, a practice which still survives to this day as an Olympic sport…..

There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in gagging with laughter while twelve young faces sit there stonily looking at you as though you’re nuts. That reaction just makes me laugh even more, and it feeds on itself. Took me a bit of time to recover.

Sorry about that joke (I won’t explain it….you had to be there and it is sort of an in-joke). It just occured to me mid-sentence. I can’t stop these things. (By the way, I saw somewhere on the web that my ipod Planck joke, an excellent opportunity to explain a bit about the physics of the holographic principle, was called the “nerdiest joke ever”…..I’m actually secretly very pleased about that. You won’t tell, will you?)

One of many bad physics jokes/puns I recall from my undergraduate years came up in a quantum mechanics lecture. We’d just learned about operators and commutators. Now I can’t recall if this showed up as a result of passing notes to each other during the lecture, or after, (and was probably thought up by my incredibly sharp and funny classmate Andrew Waters…. I wonder what happened to him) but I remember plainly the excellent groans it provoked in all who saw it:

I hope that made you groan too. I particularly like its resonance with the Los Angeles lifestyle.

To compensate for the curling remark, I’ll end with a better bad physics pun, or collection thereof. It was on a slide that my colleague Stephan Haas showed as part of his excellent presentation on “Resistance” in the last Categorically Not! (which was great….I’m supposed to do a post on sometime…..Hmmm.) Anyway, here it is…I’m not sure if it is attributable to him or not (I’ll try to find out):

Ok. Now it’s your turn. I bet that you have your own bad physics jokes/puns stored up from your student years….. or perhaps jokes/puns that show up at work….. or if you’re not a physicist… some bad jokes and puns from other science fields you want to get off your chest? I’m particularly fond of the sort of bad (yes, juvenile) puns shown above; longer cleverer jokes belong in a different category somehow. Do share your bad jokes and puns…. C’mon, let out the science geek within…. you know you want to!

-cvj

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