Happy Thanksgiving to Geeks, for Geeks, and Geek aficionados
There is a lot of buzz this time of year about being thankful. Submittals cruise through the ether of the web; things to be thankful for each day of the month, and for each letter of the alphabet.
To be quite different, I’ve compiled a list quite outside what’s been done so far. Sure, I’m profoundly grateful for many, many other things. To repeat them would be redundant, but a much abbreviated list would be health (in fact, the gift of life!, thanks Mom), free will, the blessings of a kind wonderful wife, three brilliant and healthy sons.
My list is a list for geeks, at least one item for each letter of the alphabet, and one for each day in November.
A is for Avogadro’s number. Its effects are wonderful: the number of particles in a mole is rigidly fixed, and consequently humid air is actually lighter than dry air; it is a huge number (6.02×1023, or 1026, depending on units), a testament to the very, very tiny size of molecules. It is our connection to the atomically and molecularly-sized very small. (1) <1>
A is also for Archimedes, the first real scientist (recorded) (2)
B is for Bernoulli’s fluid dynamics equation. Without it airplanes could not fly, baseballs would not curve or soar majestically 400 ft, and golf balls could not carry over 200 yd, nor would they slice or hook. (3)
C is for the speed of electromagnetic waves, c. This mind-boggling speed (3 x 108 meters/second; or 186,000 mph) makes nearly instantaneous communication possible. (4)
This value changes, slightly depending on the medium. This subtle change causes light to bend, making vision correcting lenses possible – as well as mirages, fiber optic communication, microscopes and most telescopes (even reflecting telescopes usually have a lens-based focusing feature).
D is for Charles Darwin, who opened our eyes and imagination to the wonders and mysteries of evolution, and our earthly origins. (5)
E is for the number e (6), and for the mathematician Euler (6a). He, and his magical number e, whose forms of derivative and integrals have the same form, provide a key for understanding how things oscillate, propagate, decay, and grow over time and/or distance.
E is also for Entropy. If you think you can’t get everything under control, you’re right! Entropy tells us that any closed system (like your life, or the universe) moves inexorably toward complete lack of structure; and the more energy is expended trying to enforce structure, the more unstructured the whole system inevitably must become. I minimize entropy by keeping my life and desk moderately messy at all times. Not sure I’m thankful for it; but it does help explain the universe’s and human’s general preference for messiness and chaos (7)
F is for Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, a keyhole passage into vast horizons of treatments for infections. (8)
G is for gravity, g (a unit of gravity) and for G (the universal gravitational constant). Without them, we’d need Velcro to stay on the planet’s surface, orbits would not be possible … so neither would sunrises, sunsets, or even beautiful clouds. (9)
H is for Heisenberg, and we’re not breaking bad here. His contribution to quantum physics informs us that nothing is completely measureable or knowable … unless we are willing to have uncertainty about knowing everything else. (10)
H is also for Planck’s constant, h. It helps describe the radiation of heat, the connection between energy and wavelength, to which we owe the warmth we receive from the sun. (11)
I is for i, which opened up whole areas of physics via the mathematics of complex numbers. (12)
J is for Joe, the oddest of geeks. It is also for j, the electrical engineers’ version of i (always have to be different). (13)
K is for Lord Kelvin (William Thomson), who made numerous contributions to science that helped support the evolution or improvements of: various motors, electric power, laying of undersea cables, data transmission. (14)
L is for Anton van Leeuwenhoek, inventor of the microscope. Our first views into the world of cells, microbes … showed that life is much more complicated than we could have imagined. (15) <2>
M is for mathematics, a system of equations, symbols, numbers — and rules for manipulating them — so as to promote understanding of our world, and make better use of its wondrous phenomena. (16)
N is for N, the set of natural numbers. Simple, yet infinite, it allows us to tally, count and wonder at its limitless detail, structure and patterns. (17)
O is for Oxygen, in the form O2, about 20% of our atmospheric air by mass and volume, which allows our bodies to function, our lungs to breathe. (18)
P is for pi (π) and phi (Φ), those funny quirky irrational numbers. Pi shows up all over mathematics and physics. Phi shows up in patterns of the natural world; many humans aspire to seek and design to its ratio, which is golden. (19 & 20)
Q is for quark, and Q is for quirky. Quarks are, as far as we now know, are the basic component, elementary particles, and comprise, among other things, the building blocks of sub-atomic particles like protons and neutrons. Without Quarks, and their quirky rules and patterns, there would be no universe … as we know it. (21 & 22) [Not gonna talk about bosons …]
S is for Schrödinger, whose varied insights led to the wave equation, new understanding in quantum physics, and lots of great cat jokes and t-shirts. (23)
R (see X, for “Röntgen Strahlen”)
T is for “tomorrow” … not geeky, but “The sun’ll come out tomorrow …” … “ I love ya, tomorrow. You’re always a day away.” (24)
U is uncertainty. Without it life would be boring. There would be no surprises, pleasant or unpleasant. And there would be no quantum mechanics. (25)
V is for velocity. The time derivative of position and a key component of kinetic energy, orbital mechanics, the integral of acceleration and a really neat sounding word. “He moved with great velocity” (26)
W is for work. Interchangeable with energy, when there are no losses; energy can do work, and work can store energy. Either can “get stuff done.” (27)
X is for X-rays (or Röntgen Strahlen), discovered by Wilhelm Röntgen, they allow us to see not only into our bodies, treat tumors, inspect weldments – they also allow us to learn about the universe, as many deep space phenomena produce these very short, high energy electromagnetic waves. (28)
Y is for the Y-chromosome. Yes, there are men. And that’s ok. Some are manly men, and some aren’t; and that’s ok too. (29)
Z is for zero. The additive identity; that which signifies “none” in math; aught and nought. And that’s all there is remaining: zero, zip, zilch, nada, nichts, niente. Goose egg baby. (30)
<1> modern chemical engineering practice is to use the (great Scrabble® or Probe® word) kilomole. Then the 1026 would be used. Old Style always uses moles, which is actually quite small and often inconvenient.
<2> Technically his last name starts with “v”; but his name is so cool. It means “Lions Corner” in Dutch.