Physicists have the best vocabularies! (OK, so I'm prejudiced.) In particular, there are some terms that just roll off the tongue and rattle around the lecture hall (especially at 8 o'clock in the morning, when most young scholars wish they had planned a better class schedule so that they could still be abed). These are words that should be part of the shared culture of humanity. A half dozen of my favorite examples:
- Bremsstrahlung --- literally "braking-radiation", the light emitted when a charged particle suddenly stops (say BREM-schtra-lung, with a heavy Germanic tone of voice)
- Auger electrons --- named after a French physicist, the electrons knocked off an atom by a rapid passer-by particle, particularly pleasant because of its pronunciation (don't say AW-gher like the drill, but rather "O. J." or even "OH zhay!" with a French twinkle in your eyes)
- Zitterbewegung --- the jittering motion predicted by relativistic quantum mechanics when one tries to look too closely at a body; in the ultimate limit, all objects are constantly jumping every-which-way at almost the speed of light --- no wonder we feel so nervous nowadays! (another teriffic Teutonic term, TSIT-ter-beh-VAY-gung ... try saying that fast three times, eh?)
- Fresnel lenses --- those thin plates with concentric circles to focus light with a minimum weight penalty; another French name which tripped me up as an undergraduate (not FREZ-nell as I once said it, but "frah-NELL")
- Tokamak --- from the Russian Tok meaning "current", a type of high-temperature plasma confinement machine perhaps useful some day in controlled thermonuclear fusion energy devices (TOKE-a-MAC) --- Actually, while "tok" does mean "current" in Russian, the term Tokamak is actually a transliteration of the Russian word Токамак which itself comes from the Russian words: "тороидальная камера в магнитных катушках" (toroidal chamber in magnetic coils). This device is already being used to produce thermonuclear fusion and is the most likely candidate for a working fusion reactor.
- Ultraviolet catastrophe --- the breakdown of classical electromagnetism at short wavelengths, where the equations to predict that all matter must collapse instantly in a burst of deadly radiation; since, thankfully, this doesn't happen in real life there must be some mistake; a more sophisticated theory mercifully cures the problem ... ain't we lucky!
See also MusicWords
TopicScience - TopicHumor - Datetag20011022
-----Auger electron. A question from a non-physicist. What happens to the knocked off electron? Does it merge with the fast passer by? Or just float around unattached? What utilitarian aspects does this have? -- Judy Decker
(correlates: Zhurnal Zero, TreasureKnowledge, Worse Obsessions, ...)