Nerds Having a Laugh

My quantum mechanics professor waltzed into class yesterday chuckling under his breath, and, before we’d scarcely taken our seats, asked (in his medium-strength Russian accent),

“Deed anyone go to zhe conference at Simons Center zees morning?”

As it happened, I had, along with a few others in the class. We raised our hands dutifully.

Dr. Abanov’s eyes flashed. He continued:

” And deed you all see zhe error zat Michael made in heez presentation?”

We timidly shook our heads no.

“Ach! What a shame. Eet was wery, wery amusing.”

He was referring to Michael Freedman, the famous Fields Medalist now working at Microsoft’s Station Q, who had come to Stony Brook for the Conference on New Directions in Quantum Computing organized by out very own Vlademir Korepin (side note– Korepin is on the shortlist of folks I’d like to work for when I get to my thesis). Anyway, Freedman had been talking broadly about techniques for realizing quantum computing, and at some point he had apparently flashed a slide that looked something like this:

While doing so, he apparently said that “basic principles of quantum mechanics dictate that this is the only allowed wavefunction for the system, up to a complex phase.” But I should really let my bad phonetically-typed impression of Dr. Abanov tell the story:

“Eet was wery funny!” He explained to us, “becuase of course you cannot have wavefunction which ees not differentiable like zees one ees. And eet was funny because he is saying at zat wery moment zat ‘bazic principles’ say zee ozer wavefunctions are not allowed, but also zees one is not allowed by even more bazic principle!”

We all chuckled awkwardly, and wondered if we would one day have to develop a sense of humor that nerdy if we wanted to be physics professors.

Of course, the error Dr. Abanov was pointing out was basically a cosmetic one; basically just to say that he should have made the drawing on his slide more carefully. But he really was quite tickled to see this brilliant mathematician slip up like that, and kept chuckling to himself f for the first 10 minutes of the class or so.

The whole thing reminded me very much of this clip:

And no, none of that means anything at all, if you were wondering. And I particularly like how, on the blackboard in the background, it’s apparent that Hugh chose “lambda” to represent the amplitude of a wave. Hahahahaha….




Oh dear.


About Colin West
Colin West is a graduate student in quantum information theory, working at the Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University. Originally from Colorado (where he attended college), his interests outside of physics include politics, paper-folding, puzzles, playing-cards, and apparently, plosives.

One Response to Nerds Having a Laugh

  1. Pingback: The Return of WLOG Blog (with free bonus update about my semester) « WLOG blog

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