Glow in the dark physics

29th September 2000 at 01:00
SO this neutron walks into a bar and orders a pint of lager. The barman pours it and hands it over. "How much will that be?" asks the elementary particle. "For you, sir, no charge," says mine host. Wait, there's more!

Right, there's this guy from Sellafield who claims his job driving a nuclear waste transporter is making him ill. So he goes before an industrial tribunal where he is asked about the safety measures taken in his job. "The waste is in lead flasks in a lead-lined truck," he says. "My cab is lead-lined and I wear overalls made with lead fibres woven in."

"So, if they take all those precautions, how can you claim radiation is making you ill?" asks the head of the tribunal. "Oh, it's not the radiation," says the driver. "I've got lead poisoning."

These are just two of the jokes that may be slipped into the Standard grade physics course if the audience look suitably receptive. Also worthy of insertion is Lenny Henry's gag about his family being so poor that they had to open the fridge door to heat the room up - this one's particularly good from the physicist's point of view because it happens to be correct.

Please don't get the impression that I stand in front of my classes wearing a red nose and a revolving bow-tie but I do like to put i the odd light touch.

What I did last Friday may qualify more as self-indulgence. The Higher class were about to study Newton's third law of motion, ie for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I got them settled in front of a video player and told them I was about to show them some examples of the principle in action.

We then enjoyed (well, I enjoyed it) the opening sequence of the film Top Secret, a tale of espionage and rock and roll made by the people who brought us The Naked Gun. It begins with a fabulous Beach Boys parody called Skeet Surfin'.

Hordes of blond American teenagers fit gun-racks to their Chevies and head for the coast to go clay pigeon shooting while riding the waves. When they fire their guns they fall off into the water due to the recoil. Perfect.

There are those who might object to this sort of nonsense but I take heart that I am in good company. James Clerk Maxwell, the first unified field theoretician, was not above parodying Burns.

Seek out his "Rigid Body Sings", a song about multi-body collisions to the tune of "Comin' Through the Rye". Physics is, was and always should be fun.

Gregor Steele's mother-in-law stole his revolving bow-tie to use as a propellor for her broomstick - ta-ra!

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