APS News

Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

Physics in Seventeen Syllables - 2004

We were recently privileged to view the winning entries of a physics haiku contest sponsored by the Society of Physics Students. The entries revealed that these up-and-coming young physicists combine their love for the field with a penchant for poetry and, at times, a wicked sense of humor. Consider this winning haiku from Ivan Arnold, a junior physics major at the University of Louisville:

one explanation
intertwining dimensions
of vibrating strings

Suzie Topalian, a freshly minted BA from Boston University, put a new spin on an old joke:
... a spherical cow,
sure that makes a lot of sense
but how would it taste?

Brandon Swift, astrophysics student at the University of California, Berkeley, expressed his frustration in 17 succinct syllables:
Many, many times
Will I tunnel through this wall?
Ow. Probably not

Paul Tandy, a student at the University of Louisville, took a darker tone in his winning entry:
Boltzmann kills himself
Ehrenfest does the same thing
Stat mech is harmful

There were numerous other submissions worthy of mention:

Understanding makes
More beautiful red sunsets
And a bright blue sky
—Brandon Swift

Singular functions
Newton saw the fall
Of apple from tree to earth
And Einstein caught it.
—Brandon Swift

Maxwell mnemonic
del dot E is rho
del dot B equals zero
No source for confusion.
—Paul Tan

Singular functions
Dirac's Deltas are
impulsive; integrate, they're
on the Heaviside.
—Brandon Swift

Singular functions
If Alexander
Graham had seen like fortune, we'd
admire his Bell curve
—George Schuhmann

universe expands
and when the beast's lungs are full
universe contracts
—Ivan Arnold

If air were water
I would swim faster than light
making optic booms
—George Schuhmann

Some entries dealt specifically with college life:

$110 for a book!
pricey physics text
cannot afford to buy it
too big to xerox
—Paul Tandy

It looms over us
Graduate Record Exam
You should go study
—Paul Tandy

Guinness for Strength!
It all is so clear
When you explain it with a
Guinness bottlecap.
—Brandon Swift

Others expressed frustration at being unlucky physics majors in love:

Not a love connection
She spoke C++
But I speak FORTRAN
wasn't meant to be
—Paul Tandy

To all the girls
Talking to a girl
Face cringes when major told
Goodbye, girl, goodbye!
—Josef Norgan

Finally, while browsing the University of Illinois Physics Department's web site, we apparently clicked on a page that was no longer there. Instead of the usual error message, we got the following:

404: A Physics Haiku
Your page is in a
Quantum superposition
Of "here" and "not here"


Enter the Haiku Contest!

All this poeticizing has inspired us to launch our own physics haiku contest, in the spirit of March 1997's APS News limerick contest.

That contest brought in a deluge of physics-minded limericks from budding poets; we hope to get just as many haiku. Winners will receive a free copy of Physics in the 20th Century by Curt Supplee.

Entries should follow strict haiku format:
three lines, with five syllables in the first and third lines and seven syllables in the second line.

Submissions can be made via e-mail, fax or snail-mail to:

Haiku Contest
One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD 20740
FAX: 301-209- 0867

Deadline for submission is October 1, 2004.

The collection of APS physics limericks

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette