Entry 594: What’s the Matter?

Well, the Nobel Prize for Physics has been announced, and the winner is Vladimir Putin.

Just kidding. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.* (He didn’t win, but I’m sure he thought it was an honor just to be nominated.)

The winners of this year’s prize for physics were were David Thouless, Duncan Haldane nobel_day2_phys_31and Michael Kosterlitz for their “studies of unusual states of matter, which may open up new applications in electronics.”

Before I go on, I would like to say that, considering physicists tend to play around with stuff that is highly volatile and potentially world-ending, it’s somewhat 103447-crosby-stills-nash-2008-6171unnerving to recognize that, in the illustration above right, Thouless, Haldane and Kosterlitz look disturbingly like Crosby, Stills and Nash.

But I digress.

In a statement about the award-winners, the Nobel Committee said, “Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter.”

Evidently, scientists all over the world are now researching something called “condensed matter physics” in the hopes of developing “new generations of electronics and superconductors or future quantum computers.”

Well, first, allow me to congratulate Thouless, Haldane and Kosterlitz. I sincerely hope they enjoy their $937,000.00 prize. And second, about their work, let me just say…


graphicWe do not need any new kinds of matter. We have all the matter we need, thank you very much. And we certainly don’t want our matter going through phases. My daughter went through phases growing up, and while I’m not sure any of them could be described as “exotic,” a few of them were not very pleasant.

Also, I have no idea how to operate my current electronics (not to mention my electronic currents) without having to worry about Smart TVs: The Next Generation. And look what we’ve done with this generation of computers. You have people walking off cliffs while chasing fictional characters; presidential candidates sending incoherent tweets at three in the morning; and idiots sending me emails telling me to discover natural and affordable treatment options for my overactive bladder. What the hell are these lunatics going to do with quantum computers?  (As an aside, are certain candidates up at 3 am because they have overactive bladders?)

The winning project in this year’s Nobel science fair follows in the footsteps of every other one this century, in that no normal person could possibly know what the heck they are. Since 2001, the Nobel committee has recognized such discoveries as neutrino oscillations; blue light-emitting diodes; experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems; two-dimensional material graphene; spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics; Giant Magnetoresistance; blackbody form; the quantum theory of optical coherence; the optical frequency comb technique; asymptotic freedom; and superfluids.

I will admit that Giant Magnetoresistance sounds cool and should definitely be the villain in the next X-Men movie, but otherwise, all of the above “accomplishments” sound like clusters of nonsense words thrown together randomly. I’m also pretty sure that none of those major advancements has affected my life in the slightest, although I think my neutrinos may have oscillated last week after some bad Mexican food.

I know, I know–you’re going to tell me that blackbodies matter. Maybe so, but I can tell you that I haven’t needed any sort of comb, much less an optical frequency comb, for decades.

Compare the science projects above with winners from last century. In 1971, for example, Dennis Gabor won for inventing holographs. See? That’s something useful. Half the science fiction movies released in the last 40 years couldn’t have been made without that. Philipp Eduard Anton von Lenard won in 1905 for his work in cathode rays, which led to television, although if Lenard was alive for shows like Bridezillas, he might have worked on something else.

And what about Johannes Stark, the winner in 1919 for something involving the Doppler traineffect, without which we wouldn’t be able to hear trains coming (and going) or inaccurately predict the weather. Plus, it’s possible that Johannes Stark was Howard Stark’s father, in which case his work in the bedroom led directly to Iron Man.**

I think the Nobel Prize should be awarded for more immediately practical discoveries like those. For instance, they should be incentivizing these geniuses to invent ways to permanently keep our eyeglasses clean. That’s something that would be worth $937,000.00.

Give us kale that tastes like chocolate. Give us a weapon that allows us to remotely kill annoying people on TV. Give us a way to get all the benefits of exercise while sitting on the couch eating popcorn.

We’re tired of subatomic, theoretical, quantum stuff. Give us something useful, dammit!

Although I would like to know if those superfluids come in root beer flavor.

See you soon.

P.S. Happy anniversary Casey & Alex.

*True, in 2014. And Stalin was nominated twice. And Hitler once.
**Howard Stark, father of Tony Stark, aka Robert Downey Jr.

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