Friday, March 14, 2008

Talk Like a Physicist Day

I think it was rather clever of us to hijack Pi Day from the mathematicians, and use it to create Talk Like a Physicist Day. The idea must have come from theorists or mathematical physicists, using the excuse of Einstein's birthday to March 14th. Wouldn't an experimental physicist pick another number or hero to worship? No one ever measured pi, and I have yet to see a goniometer or spectrometer with its angle measurement in radians.

But as a theorist currently teaching AC circuits, I'd offer terms like "impedance mismatch" or, in particular, the phrase "e-to-the-i-omega-t" as a first approximation to what belongs on such a list.

One thing that seems to set us apart is the use of equations (including greek symbols) in common speech. I've noticed that our math faculty don't talk greek very much beyond theta (or sometimes xi, eta, and zeta) and will apparently accept 3.0e- (or even 3.0e^{-3} in one recent case) as if it were correct scientific notation.

Physicists will also mutter "curl of the flow field" when discussing water going down a drain, or decide to buy gasoline before the tank is empty because the derivative of the per gallon price is positive.

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