Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hazardous Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics is hazardous - make sure to wear a lab coat and protective goggles when handling delicate formulas!

(Found under the heading "Research" at, the online job market for higher-education professionals who are aiming to develop their career in Germany, Austria or Switzerland. I wonder what the operators of the web site know and think about their target group?)


  1. Actually, the writers for the whiteboard do smell quite poisonous. They actually smell differently for different colors. Either way, I too found this picture hilarious, it's such a nice example for the cliche of the scientist. And what are the chances she would pair this eyebrow makeup with the goggles more than once?

  2. Ya, you could be hit by a collapsing wave function.

  3. "The goggles do nothing!" -Rainier Wolfcastle

  4. One suspects she is naturally white-blonde and feigns melanin to boost her perceived intelligence. Is the math correct? Did she write it?

    Uncle Al is entitled to wear a labcoat and goggles (against inept co-workers at the sides).

  5. To be fair, bra-ket formulas (especially with explicit summation and some tensor multiplication!) are probably some of the most attractive formulas in science, for a layperson. Meaning, to the web designer who put together this page.

    (The definition of "attractive formula" which I am using in this context is a really interesting topic on its own; it's certainly not the one I would use normally.)

  6. Hi Bee,

    Perhaps who composed the piece heard that QM had something to do with uncertainly and thought that some protection would be called for; or perhaps this is one of David Deutsch’s other worlds where such attire would be the norm. Most likely though, you are seeing a marketer’s view, where the sizzle is more important then the steak. Now if they would have portrayed what's depicted here it would have been closer to the mark and attracted more of the correct caliber and character of people:-)



  7. So, what's the big shiny thing on this page? Plasma something-or-other?

  8. Hi,

    I visited the site and I wonder how you get to this site ? Is that a "business site" ? Even just by taking a look on the site and not by looking at the funny photograph , I would imply that they want to make money with this site.

    Taking a look at the vacancies I get the addresses of the institutes and universities, but that's all I need. How would they make money with this ? I don't have to say, that I would directly go to the website of the research institute (university) and so on...

    So, then the photo comes into the game that would turn me wondering into me laughing loudly.

    May be I am too serious :-)

    Kay (Frankfurt am Main)

    By the way which bank would give any amount of money to support this 'business idea' ? Unbelievable. May be I am too serious again :-)

    And should I cry or laugh ?

  9. Hello,

    my Classical-Mechanics teacher at university was wearing Labcoats in class. Rumor says he started in his early years as assistant to be easily recognized.


  10. To be fair, it's not entirely unheard of for theorists to appear in lab coats. Far from diminishing the wearer's stature, it adds an extra layer of mystification :)

    (From what I understand at my university, there used to be the expectation that teaching occur in a) a proper suit or b) a lab coat.

    Wearing whatever you liked and slipping the coat over it when you went to lecture placated expectations while maintaining convenience.)

  11. Hi Domenic, interesting point with the attractive formulas. I personally am always sorry for putting something into bra-kets, it's like the poor things are being locked in, so they just look unhappy to me (yah, I know that's stupid). I like everything with tildes and stars and so on. Generally however I find formulas more attractive the shorter they are. Best,


  12. Hi Phil,

    This video is great :-) Feynman totally belongs to the YouTube generation. What is he singing there, he wants his orange juice? Definitely, the king of Bongo bong. Is there a vegetatian equivalent for the sizzle of the steak? Best,


  13. Hello,
    seems they replaced the photo by some
    without goggles.
    The tradition of goggles comes from the
    chalk used on blackboards, because
    somebody told a "Kreide-Physiker" that
    the dust from it is corrosive to eyes. :=)
    About lab coats worn in lectures etc:
    I remember a teacher (latin and geography)
    in grammar school (50/60ties), who always wore a lab coat and riding boots.
    Nobody wondered, nobody asked.
    The lab coat was to save money on suits,
    I think, but regarding the boots I do
    not have an idea.

  14. rillian, to me it looks like a warped throat ;-p

  15. Maybe she's just back from snowboarding?

  16. Yes, the lab coat and goggles should come in handy in case your own wave function collapses...

  17. You are all wrong. The picture indicates correctly that in this business you must have another job to complement your salary. So teaching is just a part time job, her other job is in the industry. She's just arrived in time from the lab (the other job) for the class. It also indicates correctly that you will not have time for anything else, as she didn't even have the time to change her clothes. It's all explained in the picture.

  18. Hi Kay,

    I visited the site and I wonder how you get to this site? Is that a "business site" ?

    Actually, I've clicked on an advertisement banner placed prominently on the frontpage of ;-). The ad said something about research in Germany, which made me curious.

    The site is run, it seems, by the publisher of ZEIT, the big German weekly newspaper which has a long tradition of printing job advertisement for top-level job openings at universities. With this site, they go online with these advertisements, and can probably reach much more people than with the German-language print edition of the paper. I think this is a great and timely idea.

    However, I am not so convinced by the design and esthetics of the site, which looks a bit like marketing for toothpaste or an online dating agency to me ;-)

    Hi rilian,

    So, what's the big shiny thing on this page? Plasma something-or-other?

    I guess you are completely right - according to their Terms & Conditions, the photo is from the Max Planck Institute for plasma physics.

    BTW, did anyone of you recognize the formula? What is its meaning? Looks like some fancy entangled state?

    Best, Stefan

  19. Hi Bee,

    “Feynman totally belongs to the YouTube generation. What is he singing there, he wants his orange juice?”

    Yes I would agree that Feynman was basically a showman that by some strange twist of circumstance became a Theoretical Physicist. I never knew how much until after listening to his lectures (in the car) on tape. Years earlier I had read them, yet until I heard him in person I never did understand all the recognition and fondness expressed by his students. Perhaps assistant Profs should be required to take a course to demonstrate and perhaps instill some of this in them, particularly when it comes to the undergraduate level. They could call it Bongos 101 for Profs:-)

    “Is there a vegetatian equivalent for the sizzle of the steak?"

    But of course, you have the crispness of lettuce, the snap of fresh peas, the crunch of an apple and of course the a-peel of a banana :-) I also thought of broccoli, yet here I hit a wall :-)



  20. Good spotting on the photo credit, Stefan! All the copper made me think tokamak, but the shape and all the ports seemed wrong.

    Further digging reveals it to be their Stellarator. Pretty lines.

    As for the equation, I sometimes wonder if they don't make these things up, optimizing for "prettiness". The $\Sigma_{i,j} |i><j|$ looks weird to me, but I've not done much field theory.


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