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Wanna know how little physics you know?

Ever wondered how little sense cutting-edge physics research would make to a layperson like you or me? (I’m assuming that you don’t have a PhD in physics; if I’m wrong, please let me know, because – well, it would be pretty cool if there were any Physics PhDs reading this blog.) Well, find out now! – by playing arXiv Vs. snarXiv, a game in which you’re asked to choose which of two titles belongs to an actual research paper in physics and which one is made up.

Even though it’s sometimes pretty easy to get the answer right (hint: research papers in any science very rarely have titles that are just two or three words long), try to concentrate on the fact that you (and I) don’t have any clue what a lot of the words and concepts in the actual physics papers’ titles mean.

Just so you know (and learn something out of this endeavour), the arXiv (pronounced “archive”; the X represents the Greek letter “chi”)  is an archive for electronic pre-prints (i.e. not-yet peer reviewed drafts) of scientific papers in the fields of mathematics, physics, astronomy, computer science, quantitative biology and statistics.

The snarXiv, according to its creator, “only gen­er­ates tan­ta­liz­ing titles and abstracts at the moment, while the arXiv deliv­ers match­ing papers as well.” Here are the uses he suggests for the site:

  • If you’re a grad­u­ate stu­dent, gloomily read through the abstracts, think­ing to your­self that you don’t under­stand papers on the real arXiv any better.
  • If you’re a post-doc, reload until you find some­thing to work on.
  • If you’re a pro­fes­sor, get really excited when a paper claims to solve the hier­ar­chy prob­lem, the lit­tle hier­ar­chy prob­lem, the mu prob­lem, and the con­fine­ment prob­lem. Then expe­ri­ence pro­found disappointment.
  • If you’re a famous physi­cist, keep reload­ing until you see your name on some­thing, then claim credit for it.
  • Every­one else should play arXiv vs. snarXiv.
arXiv vs. snarXiv is fun for a while (not for too long, though), and the game comes up with interesting assessments of your success at guessing. For example, there’s “Worse than a monkey” and “Nobel Prize winner” (that’s for 100% accuracy).

The first correct illustration of the structure of DNA

The following link takes you to the article – by James Watson and Francis Crick – in which the structure of DNA was correctly identified for the first time. It was published in Science in 1953.

I just love the restraint they showed in writing about what their proposed structure might mean for the study of heredity in all living things: “It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.” And that’s all they say on the matter, preferring to wait for experimental confirmation before pursuing the idea further.

You have got to see this. After all, 190 million other people found it worth watching. According to TIME magazine, it’s the most-watched YouTube video of all time (as of March 29, 2010). It’s fascinating not only because it’s the most popular video on YouTube, but also because it’s really not the kind of thing one would think of when asked to picture what YouTube’s most popular video would look like.