Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Think Something is Wrong With Me

The boy came into the home office earlier today asking for help finding a scientist to write a report on for science class.

Dad: What scientists do you know?
Lad: Albert Einstein.
Dad: Everybody's going to do Einstein. Why not pick somebody else?
Lad: Like Newton?
Dad: You could do Newton, but he's pretty common also.
Lad: I don't know any others.

I reached back into my physics days. Everything is named after somebody. First one to pop into my head was Faraday.

Dad: What about Michael Faraday?
Lad: Who's that?
Dad: Well, he studied magnetic fields.
Lad: Okay, I'll do Faraday.
Dad: Why don't we look at a few more then if you still want to do Faraday, you can.
Lad: Okay.

So I pulled up a few more names.

Dad: Enrico Fermi was a particle physicist.
Lad: Maybe. Who is the guy who invented the atomic bomb?
Dad: Robert Oppenheimer?
Lad: Yeah, he has a cool name.
Dad: He didn't invent the atomic bomb, he lead the project. The Manhattan Project.
Lad: What's that?
Dad: The project to build the atomic bomb.
Lad: Okay, I'll do him.
Dad: Or you could pick Richard Feynman. He also worked on the Manhattan Project and he's an interesting guy, too.
Lad: Okay, I'll pick one of those two guys. Mom said if I want to go swimming I have to go now.

I decided to pull a few more names while he was in the pool. Last weekend I bought a used copy of Asimov's Understanding Physics (three volumes in one book version) because I could use a refresher course. I know enough to understand what is obsolete, so why not? anyway, I started looking through the index and found all these names that brought back memories.

Max Planck, Neils Bohr, James Clerk Maxwell, Louis Pasteur, Linus Pauling, Henry Cavendish, Paul Dirac, Werner Heisenberg.

He came back inside and I told him a little about them. I performed the Cavendish experiment as a senior (an exercise in patience). I told him I met Werner Heisenberg's son Jochen Heisenberg, a very amicable man with some incredible stories about hiding out in the German Alps during World War Two.

The boy finally settled on Louis Pasteur, but the digging back through all those names started me remembering all kinds of memories and missing the old physics days. I actually miss h-bar.
I miss solving boundary value problems with Bessel Functions. I miss Taylor series expansions. I miss the dirac delta function. I miss Maxwell's equations.
What is wrong with me?

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