Friday, February 12, 2010

Sounding Smart

For those of you looking for some physics phrases that might make you sound smart, here are a few good ones:

  • The degeneracy of the ground state is broken under first-order perturbation of the Hamiltonian.
  • Relativistic corrections are found to be on the same order as spin-orbit coupling.
  • This problem is best approached in the grand canonical ensemble.
  • For an exact solution, we must yield to the Dirac Equation.
  • When in doubt, you can always expand the potential into spherical harmonics.
  • The solution can easily be expressed as superpositions of harmonic oscillator eigenstates.
Here are some other guidelines:

  • In speech, avoid the phrase "Quantum Mechanics". When conversing amongst each other, most physics people just call it "Quantum".
  • Avoid the phrase "the laws of physics". For example, rather than saying that something is "in violation of the laws of physics", try to be more specific. If you're not sure which law to reference, just say "the second law of thermodynamics". You'll probably be right.
  • Other good words to use include "trivial", "sensitivity", "orders of magnitude", "in principle", and "methodology". For example: "This new methodology should, in principle, trivially yield improvements in energy sensitivity that are orders of magnitude above current levels."
  • When a friend of yours somehow manages to extricate himself from a tough situation, try the phrase, "How'd you manage to tunnel out of that potential well?" I bet people will think you're really smart!
A lot of people get into physics with the hope that it'll make them sound smart. My experience shows that this may not be the case. As a matter of fact, it is often difficult to converse in physics without sounding like an idiot. Take, for example, the words we use in particle physics:

The world of subatomic particles was once so simple. They started with atoms. These atoms turned out to be made of protons and electrons. Then came the neutron.

Then the photon, the pion, the muon, the neutrino, the tauon...

Then came the quarks. They started with just two (up and down). Another one came, and it was called "strange". The next one had "charm". Two more soon arrived and were named "top" and "bottom" (leading to searches for particles with "bare tops" and "bare bottoms"-no, I'm not making this up).

Quarks and antiquarks come in different colors and flavors. The theory that describes their interactions is literally called "Chromodynamics". The theory explains that there must be a particle responsible for gluing particles in a nucleus together. This particle was called the "gluon". Three gluons can join together and form something called a "glu-ball".

These particles were not only found, but classified. Now in addition to quarks, we have hadrons, fermions, bosons, and leptons.

It doesn't end there. Should Supersymmetry prove to be valid, we'll also have squarks, sleptons, and bosinos (which includes my personal favorite- the wino).

Other theoretical particals include the WIMP (weakly interacting massive particle), and the MACHO (massive compact halo object).

I'll leave you with one more.

Particle physicists should be familiar with one class of Feynman diagrams called "Penguin diagrams". This odd term has its origin in a bar room wager in which physicist John Ellis was on the losing end and was forced to include the word "Penguin" in his next publication. Ellis wasn't sure how he would manage to pull this off, but after smoking a bit of an unspecified illegal substance, he came to the realization that the diagrams he had drawn up for the paper kind of looked like penguins. The rest is history.