hollymath: (i love)
[personal profile] hollymath
One of my favorite things about physics is the nomenclature.

The names contain little fossilized stories, not about how things got to be that way, but about how scientistis discovered and attempted to understand how things got to be that way.

The weak force is called that because it's weaker than the strong force (who'd have thought!) and electromagnetism. These are three of the four "fundamental forces," but the fourth, gravity, is actually by far the weakest.

The weak force allows quarks to change from one "flavor" to another (quantom physics talks of things like "color" and "flavor" despite it being on a scale far too small for the detection of these things by the senses that we usually think of as perceiving color or flavor), thus allowing the possibility that the theory of the weak interation can be called "quantum flavordynamics."

That's going on the list of good band names, right next to Sin On The Roof.

Okay, so quarks. The quark model was independently proposed by two different people. One wanted to call them "aces," which I think is a pretty cool name. The other, Murray Gell-Mann, came up with quarks, whose spelling comes from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

There are six kinds, or flavors, of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, bottom and top.

Up and down refer to the opposing "spins" that they have.

The strange quark is named after another property of particles, which is actually called strangeness.

The discoverers of the charm quark said, "We called our construct the 'charmed quark', for we were fascinated and pleased by the symmetry it brought to the subnuclear world."

When I was little and first reading about quarks, the last two were called "truth" and "beauty" at least as often as "top" and "bottom," but the less whimsical terminology seems to have become the norm since. Which I think is kind of a shame.

I could argue that it's a shame because, say, "top" and "bottom" are potentially confusingly-similar to "up" and "down," or something like that. But really it's just because I prefer the more evocative labels "truth" and "beauty" (remember the "fascinated and pleased" of the charm quark?) and delight at their being part of science (also for the ability to decide whether beauty is truth, truth beauty or not).

Accelerators devoted to producing bottom quarks (another reason the other words are better is that, if you have friends like mine, it's too easy to imagine the sniggers at the inevitable rude-sounding uses of words like "bottom"!) are sometimes known as beauty factories.

There's no way they're going to be calling them bottom factories now.

I rest my case.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 10:11 am (UTC)
sfred: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sfred
This piece makes me smile a lot.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-16 07:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] haggis.livejournal.com
I think there's also a good scientific point to the names as well as a lot of charm - by calling them flavour or colour when they are clearly not flavours or colours in the normal way reminds people that these things are weird and mysterious and stops you assuming that you understand them because of the name. The counterexample here is talking about electron orbits in an atom - electrons are NOT little balls circling the nucleus like planets around a sun but the terminology misleads you into thinking they could be. (I'm basing this theory on a passage in Schroedinger's Kittens by John Gribben who thinks we'd be better off talking about slithy toves, gyring and gimbling.)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-16 07:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] haggis.livejournal.com
And also - love this post!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-16 07:55 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] haggis.livejournal.com
And the names carry their history, complete with mistakes and mis-steps - atom means unbreakable, hydrogen comes from water and X-rays were named because they were unknown.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-16 08:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] haggis.livejournal.com
Science: A History by John Gribbin plus In Our Time Science archive is currently reminding me why I loved chemistry (always a bit closer to my heart than physics and biology is sadly a mystery to me.)

Geek joy.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-16 08:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] haggis.livejournal.com
I've had it for a while but not finished it. So far, we have biology just before Darwin, chemists have just discovered carbon dioxide and engineers are cracking the problems of steam engines.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 08:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rocketeddy.livejournal.com
Nice post :) Are you familiar with planetary nebulae? They have nothing to do with planets whatsoever, but got the name because one particular astronomer (Herschel) felt they looked a lot like Uranus.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 01:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] notodette.livejournal.com
I love the naming in physics, too. So interesting, random and creative.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 04:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] whipchick.livejournal.com
I love your sense of joy and curiosity in in this piece! You get me excited about particles, too :)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-17 11:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] the-day-setup.livejournal.com
I am really enjoying your writing style. Just putting it out there.

I guess it's cool that physicists feel OK about giving their discoveries seemingly arbitrary / quasi-poetic names. It weirds me out as a little bit, because I like labels that are relatively clear whenever possible. But it does add a little romance to the field.

Also, I have no idea whether you read my "Work Room" posts, but I am already way ahead of you on Quantumm Flavadynamix (http://therealljidol.livejournal.com/555915.html?thread=59114379#t59114379). If you have mad rhymin' skills and want to be a part of LJI quark-hop history, holla @ me.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-18 02:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] m-malcontent.livejournal.com
Quite interesting, your enthusiasm shines through.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-18 06:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] myrna-bird.livejournal.com
I could sense YOUR enjoyment in writing this piece. Good going!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-18 07:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] n3m3sis42.livejournal.com
Aw, I prefer "truth" and "beauty" too. And while I am completely not well-versed in physics at all, I've always loved nomenclature in science in general. :D

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-18 11:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] halfshellvenus.livejournal.com
Nice little lesson in quarks and naming!

When I saw the prompt, I'll admit, my first thought was that it meant gravity, so the truth was a little befuddingly. But I took enough of it in to use it for crack purposes in my own entry. ;)

When I was little and first reading about quarks, the last two were called "truth" and "beauty" at least as often as "top" and "bottom," but the less whimsical terminology seems to have become the norm since.
Oh, I much prefer those names! Especially as relates to "charm" as a flavor.

Top/bottom set off the same juvenile connotations for me as for you, but also, they 1) DO sound too much like up and down. 2) imply a location/motion based on the name, which does not appear to be the case.

Beauty factories! Now those would be true Quarketeria. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-19 05:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jem0000000.livejournal.com
I like "truth" and "beauty" for them too. :)

It really is fascinating, the names that are used for things and the way those things are beautiful and mysterious and how the names fit or don't fit but are them nonetheless. ^_^

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-19 08:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ellakite.livejournal.com
Oh, you never know.

For years, the scientific community has been trying to replace the term "black hole" with the term "collapsed star", because "black hole" is an obscene phrase in Russian.

The change has never really caught on.

So... "bottom factories". Yeah, I can totally see that. :D


A cute little piece. Thanks for sharing it.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-19 10:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheshire23.livejournal.com
And people think science can't be beautiful...especially not something like physics. :P

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-19 03:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] karmasoup.livejournal.com
Okay, I wasn't inclined to go there with the sniggering, until you said "Bottom Factories," which of course, made me lose it. And, then, too, there's the whole thought that your bottom is really a beauty... too fun!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-19 11:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] medleymisty.livejournal.com
Oooh, that's interesting about the origin of the name for the weak force. Not very imaginative, eh?

But then - oh, truth and beauty. Two of my favorite things. I definitely prefer those words to top and bottom.

The strange truth has a charming beauty. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-04-20 12:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ecosopher.livejournal.com
Haha, this had me sniggering :) Good work!

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