Two Almost Physicists With Almost Something To Say

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I Wrote A Book

I can pour liquids

I can pour liquids

Like my co-blogger, I recently, finally, finished my physics thesis. Mine took 1.333(…) years more than his because: (a) I started with my research group in my 3rd year of grad school (instead of the summer before our 1st, like he did), (b)  I did all sorts of distracting/fulfilling outreach activities for funding over the course of my years at [Semi-Prestigious East Coast University You Can Find by Googling My Name Or Looking at My Mini-Bio and Remembering Which Famous Colleges Are in Rhode Island] which diverted my attention a bit, (c) Because I am a perfectionist who also realizes that he is lazy, and therefore made every bit of code I wrote idiot-proof for the idiot I knew I would be several months after I wrote it (which turned out to be time-consuming but useful, because I was right about that idiot thing), (d) My project ended up being nearly as large as things accomplished by groups composed of dozens of astronomers—but with just me working on it, (e) Dave is smarter than me.

This picture is me pouring champagne after the confirmation (which is always obvious to everyone other than the person presenting their PhD) that it’s all good, and you’re now a Doctor. I am, conveniently, standing in front of a case displaying former department heads. Other than the guy with the cool chemistry setup on the bottom, I’m the only one who got to know that the universe is much larger than the Milky Way and that the Big Bang happened. I mean, it wasn’t a thing I discovered myself, but it’s still weird.

With one day of distance from this experience I have two major observations. The first is that the passage of time has expanded drastically since the day, weeks ago, when I submitted my dissertation. My perception of time was strongly affected by how much I’d added to my thesis, and when I spent a few days getting something to work, but didn’t contribute pages to it, I felt like I was stuck in a moment and I couldn’t get out of it. Now that I’m done, time is again like it was when I was 8 and each new day was a new world of beautiful experiences to be savored. This whole PhD thing happened yesterday and it feels like years.

Secondly is the fact that my reviewers were fine with the several snide remarks and jokes that I sneaked in there. This, in itself, is ~50% as gratifying as the whole doctorate thing itself. I quoted Donald Rumsfeld and Stephen Colbert. I wrote snide footnotes about Albert Einstein and The Dress. And it will all be on a shelf on the [Semi-Prestigious East-Coast University] Library in perpetuity. That is the sweetest victory of all.

And yes, that is a tie with constellations on it. Because I’m a fucking astrophysicist.

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Eponymity in Physics

This is a re-post of a piece I wrote on my old blog, Topography of Ignorance, back in 2007. It’s a list I compiled of the types of things you could get named after you that come in the form [Name][Type of thing], as in the word “Law” from “Moore’s Law.” There are the obvious ones like “equation” but the unusual terms are more interesting because there might be only a single example. The title is itself an adaptation of an obscure word, eponym, which I loosely interpreted to mean “anything named after someone.” I don’t think it’s a real word, and using it probably confused readers (it also could have confused them that it’s basically just a massive list with very little prose). To preserve the classic 2007 “feel” of the original post, I’m keeping the poorly-chosen title and format.  Plus, lists are now back in a big way! (What with your Buzzfeeds et al.) So it seemed like an appropriate time to bring it back. Will animate with Jennifer Lawrence GIFs as soon as I’m able…


A physicist wanting to make an impact on the field most often imagines his or her name attached to an Equation, or a Theory. Or even, if they really want to move mountains, a Law. I have no idea what mathematicians think about, but I would assume that they are hoping to come up with Theorems and Conjectures. Of course, not everyone is an Einstein or a Kepler, able to remake a subject and declare a Law. But if you carve out a niche for yourself, or invent a novel way of dealing with a certain topic, you’re virtually assured of getting something. For an elegant discovery, you could have an Angle named after you, or a Number. Or in a more bizarre direction, a Sea or Paradox. de Sitter has an entire Universe! Me? If I could become the first person since Isaac Newton with an eponymous Bucket I would consider myself a success. There are so many strange things you could find named in your honor that I have compiled an extensive list of them with some examples namesakes on the right-hand side.

First, some of the most common:

[A Unit] Newton, Gauss, Joule
[A Constant] Planck, Boltzmann
Function Riemann-Zeta, Bessel
Effect Mössbauer, Stark, Bohr,
Gunn-Peterson, etc.

And then of course, there are rarer terms. These trend very roughly from less to more obscure.

Field Fermionic, Bosonic, Higgs
Matrix Kobayashi, Cabibbo
Relation Heisenberg, Tully-Fisher
Principle Copernican, Pauli Exclusion
Model Schwinger, Bohr
Method Schrödinger
Postulate Planck, Weyl
Approximation Born
Minkowski, Fock, Hilbert
Metric Friedmann-Robertson-Walker,
Distribution Wigner, Bose-Einstein, Fermi-Dirac
___-on Fermi, Bose
___-ian Laplace, Hamilton, Riemann
Notation Dirac
Potential Coulomb, Yukawa
Action Stueckelberg, Proca
Inequality Minkowski, Bell
Limit Chandrasekhar
Tensor Riemann
Scalar Ricci
Gauge Newtonian
Diagram Feynman
Radiation Cherenkov, Hawking
Cycle Carnot, Born
Interpretation Bohm, Copenhagen
Paradox Einstein-Podolski-Rosen,
Olber, Fermi
Problem Rabi, Fermi
Experiment Milikan Oil Drop
Spectrum Mössbauer
Conjecture Witten
Interaction Yakawa
Amplitude Feynman
Operator d’Alembert
Particle Higgs, Planck
Neutrino Majorana, Dirac
Motion Brownian
Length Jeans
Number Avogadro, Chandrasekhar, Euler
Surface Fermi
Condensate Bose-Einstein
Radius Schwartzschild, Bohr
Convention Einstein Summation
Transform Forier, Laplace
Series Balmer, Lyman
Line Lyman, Balmer
Rules Slater
Scattering Compton, Rayleigh, Thompson
Variable Cepheid, RR Lyrae
Diffusion Bohm
Junction Josephson
Expansion Taylor
Manifold Riemann
Topology Picard
Mechanism Higgs
Peak Wein
Test Tolman surface brightness
Repulsion Coulomb
Epoch Planck
Parameter Hubble
[An Element]
Einstein, Fermi, Curie, Mendeleev, Lawrence, Nobel
Wavelength de Broglie
Boson Higgs
Profile Hernquist
Criterion Landau
Rigidity Born
Cross-section Thompson
Zone Brillouin, (also see, List of Zones)
State Hartle-Hawking
Angle Weinberg
Universe de Sitter, Lemaître
Sea Dirac, Fermi
Splitting Zeeman
Forest Lyman-alpha
Blob Lyman-alpha
Swindle Jeans
Trough Gunn-Peterson
Window Gamow
Cage Faraday
Engine Carnot
Bucket Newton
Tuning Fork
Golden Rule Fermi
Pancake Zel’dovich
Brain Boltzmann
Demon Maxwell

If anyone else is able to repeat that last one, I will be highly impressed. I would also like to point out that the Higgs boson may be the only phenomenon or concept that has two namesakes, since the term boson originally comes from Satyendra Bose! If you can think of anything else let me know and I’ll add it.



Pairs       . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Cooper

Focus      . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Cassegrain, Nasmyth

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Where’s my Planck Beach Ball?

ComparisonSome years ago, on my old blog, I wrote about a promotional beach ball with the WMAP Cosmic Microwave Background measurements printed on it that was distributed mysteriously to cosmologists. It was a kind of puzzling move since it was given, seemingly at random, to astrophysicists who were certain to know about WMAP anyway, and was not actually purchasable by members of the public. My undergraduate advisor, for instance, received one in a plain manilla envelope shortly after the results were published, and like everyone else who got one, blew it up and put it in his office. It didn’t make him rely on WMAP more or less, he already knew all about the experiment (just like everyone else who cares about the contents of the universe), and it’s primary function seemed to be sitting in the background of pictures taken for faculty webpages. It became so ubiquitous among cosmologists that it’s been featured in shows like, appropriately, The Big Bang Theory. There’s even an interview with the ball’s creator on the Goddard site.

Despite being the kind of thing that would help promote the mission, NASA didn’t sell them, but did devote a website to it for some effing reason. I was jealous, and liberated one from captivity, as I wrote about here:

I am now free to disclose that I have triumphed over the forces allied against me– the beach ball website that mysteriously refuses to sell it, the people who said I would never amount to anything, the journals that keep rejecting my groundbreaking work on the anisotropy of CMB beach ball distribution, everyone. I have, indeed, obtained the ball:

I can’t go into the specifics of where it came from, but let’s just say that a certain physics department who could never appreciate it as much as I do had a habit of carelessly leaving it in a usually unlocked room full of other neglected items, which I thoughtfully did them the favor of not stealing

Despite bragging about my larceny online, I had effed the eff off down to Providence by then, and the beach ball authorities never caught up to me.

Now, years later, the long awaited Planck results have been released; a refinement of the anisotropy measurements done by WMAP with higher resolution, a slightly lower Hubble Constant, and an older universe with more matter. But there’s something missing: a beach ball with the radiation from the early universe printed on it. Well, that and the polarization results that aren’t coming out until next year. Sure, Planck is an improvement on the accomplishments of the WMAP probe, but it’s a little hard to take them seriously when they aren’t willing to put their data on the surface of an inflatable ball.

It was NASA that came up with the WMAP ball, while this time it’s the European Space Agency running Planck— though NASA does have some involvement. If NASA’s outreach division hadn’t just been decimated by the sequester, this could be their contribution. Instead it’s up to the Europeans. Get it done ESA/Planck!