Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lehrer's Physics

The July issue of Physics Today has a collection songs about physics. The article is behind a subscription firewall, but for those of you who don't subscribe, I offer four songs from "The Physical Revue (a music drama in one scene)" by Tom Lehrer. He was a mathematics graduate student at Harvard at the time.

A LITER AND A GRAM (to "A Bushel and a Peck" by Loesser)
I love you a liter and a gram,
A liter and a gram, and it's crazy that I am,
A meter and a yard and anewton and a watt,
A newton and a watt, and I wanna know a lot
About you, about you
(A meter and a liter,
nothing could be sweeter.)
'Cause I love you a liter and a gram,
And it's crazy that I am for you.

I love you a poundal and a dyne,
A poundal and a dyne, and I wanna make you mine,
A foot-pound and an erg and a joule and a calorie
A joule and a calorie, and I wanna spend my salary
On you, on you
(Centigrades and Fahrenheits,
You lift me up to darin' heights."
'Cause I love you a poundal and a dyne,
And I wanna make you mine, I do.

THE PROFESSOR'S SONG ("If you give me your attention" Arthur Sullivan)
If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am.
I'm a genius and a physicist (and something of a ham).
I have tried for numerous degrees, in fact, I've one of each:
Of course, that makes me eminently qualified to teach.
I understand the subject matter thoroughly, it's true,
And I can't see why it isn't all as obvious to you.
My lectures all are masterpieces, excellently planned,
Yet everybody tells me that I'm hard to understand,
And I can't think why

[snip the second verse, it isn't as funny]

Consider, for example, oscillation of a spring:
The force that acts upon it is a very simple thing,
It's kx3, or kx2 – no, just kx I'll bet,
The sign in front is plus (or is it minus? ... I forget).
Well, anyway, there is a force, of that there is no doubt;
All these problems are quite trivial, if you only think them out.
Yet people tell me: "I have memorized the whole term through,
Everything you've told us, but the problems I can't do."
And I can't think why.

The other two songs are "Relativity" (to the melody of "Personality" by van Heusen) and "Don't Major in Physics" (to "The Trouble with Women" by Kurt Weill). The article also lists songs written by physicists, showing how well they can rhyme obscure Greek symbols and German names. If you have a strong stomach, and access to Physics Today, you can listen to these . . . gems. They are even holding a contest, encouraging such behavior.

No comments: