Friday, 20 August 2010

Naked Physics

Update: I just checked Google Analytics, and this here entry had 38 (discrete!) hits yesterday. It also happens to be linked from my comment to Raymond's article, which is, you guessed it, comment number 39. I've always said: blogs are the world's first write-only medium.

The Old New Thing's Raymond Chen threw down the gauntlet this week, challenging any and all comers to come up with a real-world, actually-happened, physics-related pun, even more lame than his own prize sample. To give you an idea of the level of competition involved, his example involved meeting two colleagues named "Paul" in the works kitchen, allowing him to quip "Oh no, is this legal? I think it's a violation of the Paul Exclusion Principle."

Beat that for lame, eh? Easy.

I attended the Summer School for an Open University physics - sorry, natural philosophy - course some years (ok, decades) ago. It was held at the University of Sussex, near beautiful Brighton, sunny Sussex by the sea. At that time, the area was famous for hosting the one and only nudist beach in Britain. So on the evening of the first day, a group of us decided to grab our Kodak Instamatic 126es, and go for an off-campus drive (I was easily led). Just to see what we could see...

Never mind what we saw, that's completely irrelevant! We saw the sea. The point is that we made good our "escape", without getting arrested (nor forced to strip).

When we arrived back at the halls of residence, we encountered one of the physics - sorry, natural philosophy - tutors, whom we recognised from earlier in the day. At that time, he'd been telling us about energy levels in the atom, which can either be spaced a quantum apart (discrete), or else overlap (degenerate). We now offered to buy him a drink at the students' bar, and in the course of subsequent conversation, he happened to ask where we'd been earlier in the evening.

We told him we'd gone looking for the nudist beach, but we reckoned we'd managed to get away again without anyone spotting us.

"I see," he said thoughtfully, "you guys are quite degenerate. And yet quite discrete."

Disclaimer: parts of this story are true.
Bonus material: We also have two Pauls in our office. Fortunately they have opposing values of spin.

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