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The Perils of Modern Living -- Harold P Furth

This week's theme - a series of somewhat playful poems by scientists on
various scientific topics
(Poem #795) The Perils of Modern Living
 Well up above the tropostrata
 There is a region stark and stellar
 Where, on a streak of anti-matter
 Lived Dr. Edward Anti-Teller.

 Remote from Fusion's origin,
 He lived unguessed and unawares
 With all his antikith and kin,
 And kept macassars on his chairs.

 One morning, idling by the sea,
 He spied a tin of monstrous girth
 That bore three letters: A. E. C.
 Out stepped a visitor from Earth.

 Then, shouting gladly o'er the sands,
 Met two who in their alien ways
 Were like as lentils. Their right hands
 Clasped, and the rest was gamma rays.
-- Harold P Furth

 Originally published in the New Yorker, 1956

 Tropostrata: More correctly, 'troposphere', the lowest region of the
   atmosphere (extending to about 18km, where it gives way to the
 AEC: The US Atomic Energy Commission. [broken link]
 Macassars: A pun on 'antimacassar', a chair cover

Who says scientists have no sense of play? The more interesting branches of
modern physics (i.e., almost all of them) have done more than capture the
imaginations of several generations of scientists - they have, in several
cases, moved them to quirky, whimsical and above all delightful verse. Part
of the reason is, I believe, that Science itself has begun to pass beyond
the scope of observational 'common sense', and present conclusions that are
in their own way as counterintuitive and magical as anything out of myth or
fantasy. And not just magical - in many cases, the seeming incongruities are
downright amusing, from relativity, as immortalised by the 'young lady named
Bright'[1], to quantum mechanics, whose paradoxes have spawned a whole genre
of jokes[2], the turbulent boundary between what we expect and what we are
assured is permeated by the foam of creativity.

[1] Who travelled much faster than light
    She went out one day
    In a Relative way
    And returned on the previous night

[2] "Wanted, dead or alive - Schrodinger's Cat", to quote just one

Today's poem stems from that most famous of equations, E=mc^2, which tells
us that if matter could be converted entirely to energy, there'd be an awful
lot of it. It refers to antimatter, matter composed of antiparticles which,
when they encounter their normal counterparts, annihilate each other in a
burst of energy. Antimatter particles exist, but there is no evidence for
antimaterial worlds, way up above the tropostrata or otherwise <g>.

  Bit early for that :) See instead

  And, from a summary of an article about Furth and his 'best known
    Lois Wingerson, "Harold Furth -- Fusion's Front Man", New Scientist, 9
    Sep 1982, pp.701-704, scientist who "seemed far more likely to end up as
    a minor poet", won poetry awards, wrote a famous poem about Edward
    Teller in New Yorker, 1956;

  And here's a biography of Teller

  The closest we've had to poetry by a scientist is Hein's 'On Problems'
  (Poem #668)

  We've had some science-themed poems, though:
    Poem #54: Walt Whitman, 'When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer'
    Poem #57: E. E. Cummings, 'pity this busy monster, manunkind'
    and, of course,
    Poem #490: Tom Lehrer, 'The Elements'

  Tangentially related is the Mathematics theme we ran a while ago:
    Poem #599 Rita Dove 'Geometry'
    Poem #601 E. V. Rieu 'Hall and Knight'
    Poem #604 Edna St. Vincent Millay 'Euclid Alone Has Looked On
              Beauty Bare'

As usual, theme suggestions and guest poems are welcome; note the dual
constraint, though - the poem must be both by a scientist and on some
scientific topic.


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Anonymous said...

The german magazine "Der Spiegel", once a respected political magazine, now a tabloid, introduced a story today about antimatter by saying "a typical corny pun by nerds is about Edward Teller meeting his antimatter-twin" and that "this actually never happend. Teller died of old age..."

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