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Funny Things Said by Professors

  1. Dec 2, 2016 #1
    I wonder if anyone has some fun or interesting stories about their high school or university physics teachers. In my case there are several, and some of these teachers had tremendous reputations. These were actual professors of mine, so I know this is not apocryphal. Of course I will never reveal their names.

    (1) On a physics test, there was a multiple choice question about the meaning of E = mc2. The correct answer according to the teacher was "energy and matter are the same thing." I questioned this at the time, and recently I heard the audio where Einstein said that it means "mass and energy are both but different manifestations of the same thing", which is not quite the same in my opinion. What do you think? Anyway I answered the question "correctly" while wondering if the teacher was playing some kind of joke by asking it in the first place. Sorry but I don't remember the other answers, just that they were obviously wrong.

    (2) A teacher who was an expert in cosmology was asked in class how the universe came into being from nothing as he stated. His reply was "nothingness is unstable." Again, an apparent joke. Or was it? How would you answer this question?

    (3) A teacher was asked which was the best choice of a foreign language to study: French, German, or Russian. He said he had studied both French and German because they were required for his PhD, but they were not useful. Also he said "Russian is impossible." It was funny because this guy was at ease with quantum mechanics and wrote a well-known physics textbook, yet he said Russian was impossible. I wonder how many Russian physics teachers would say that about English.

    (4) I was talking to a guy who was said to be a very careful experimentalist. We were discussing the solution to some mathematical problems and he said not to worry too much about getting exact solutions because "physics is sloppy." I was surprised by his answer because he seemed so enthusiastic when he said it. At the time he was showing me some very delicate equipment he was assembling.

    Here is the Einstein audio. If only we had videos of Einstein's lectures!

    Last edited: Dec 2, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2016 #2


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    Gold Member

    I would ask him for the evidence that leads him to believe there was "nothing" before the BB.

    Experimental physics is sloppy. In the sense that you can only get a certain degree of accuracy when testing some property of nature.

    Maybe he was born to be a Mathematician. :smile:
  4. Dec 3, 2016 #3
    This is not a funny story but it's interesting and I think it was something that required a lot of courage.

    On the first day of High School, our new class teacher (= responsible for management of a certain class, a "third parent") introduced us to his boyfriend. At the end of the first school day, he took us to cloak room and as we were leaving, there was this man and he told us his name and said he was his partner.
    It may seem strange, but I guess he wanted to be open from the first day, to avoid rumours (you could see his orientation immediately, it was evident, so it is sure everyone would know it, anyway). He was a good teacher, taught well and was friendly. He was respected for being open and as far as I know, no one had a problem with this. It was in 2003.
  5. Dec 3, 2016 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    A professor of mine once proclaimed in a small talk: "There are two types of physicists. Mathematicians and locksmiths."
    (Unfortunately it has been heard by a physicist who first learnt to be a locksmith when he grew up ...)
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