A couple of weeks ago, I was bemoaning the fact that I know nothing about anything. I stand by that position. However, I did just (maybe) learn the answer to one of my questions.
Yesterday, we took our son to the physics fair at UW. There I learned that it is EXTREMELY difficult for physics graduate students to explain anything about anything to civilians like me. One project that we looked at concerned plasma. I asked what plasma was, and got the response “ionized gas.” I asked what that was, and got another answer requiring a follow-up. I hope that university physics departments are teaching their students not only how to understand complicated concepts but also how to distill them so that the layman can at least get a sense. At times, I felt like I was having the following conversation with the student presenters:
Me: What’s that?
Them: A shmog.
Me: What’s a shmog?
Them: Two shmigs.
Me: What’s a shmig?
Them: Half a shmog.
But, I did learn one thing, getting back to my original point. I mentioned two weeks ago that I couldn’t start a fire without a match, and that I couldn’t make a match because I didn’t know what a match is. There was a project yesterday involving using radiant infrared heat (??) to light a match. I took the opportunity to ask a grad student what a match is. He wasn’t positive, but he thought it was a stick of wood that had sulfur and some iron on the end. The sulfur and iron for some reason burst into flame at a relatively low temperature, and the heat caused by the friction of striking the match is enough to set this process in motion.
I don’t know if that is right, and I still couldn’t make a match, but it is at least a description I can understand.
I know that I count among my vast readership one scientist and one former engineer. Gentleman, have I at least grasped one piece of the modern world correctly? Musicians, lawyers, weavers, please explain this world to me.