Stories from Science

Journalists once caught Alexander Fleming in the morning: "What are you thinking about right now? We wish to know what a great scientist thinks while getting ready for breakfast."
His reply: "Whether to have one egg or two."

Science does have its perils, as one William Halmstead found in the 19th century. He was the first physician to use cocaine as an anaesthetic - and almost ruined his career when he got addicted to the stuff.

John Hunter, professor of surgery somewhere, once discovered he had only a single student in his class. He walked out, saying that he couldn't waste his time on a single student, and returned with a model skeleton. Propping this next to the bemused student, he began "Gentlemen, we were discussing..."

The artist Samuel Morse once painted a man dying, and showed the picture to a doctor friend for an opinion. "Malaria" replied the physician.

Alfred Nobel's greatest wish, at least as far as his autobiography was concerned, was not to be buried alive.

Enrico Fermi once attended Robert Oppenheimer's students' seminar - and couldn't understand a word of it. He was cheered by the last sentence however: "...and this is Fermi's theory of beta decay."

Pauli Effect: Things in labs shatter on their own.

Microbiologist John Porter had a book published at the same time as his first kid was born. On being congratulated - for the latter - he replied "Thanks, but I couldn't have done it without two of my graduate students!"

C.V.Raman marked his textbooks using three phrases: "Excellent", "Elementary" or "silly".

I wrote a paper about the collaboration graph that filled, I claimed, a much-needed gap in the mathematical literature. -- Ron Graham (if it was needed, why fill it?)

(The following incident was related to me by Prof Izak Broere of South Africa. He was teaching a class, and wanted to give an example of an impossible event.)
Izak : I saw a pink cat with purple eyes.
Smart-alec student: Oh, did you see it too sir?

There is a story about mathematician David Hilbert's adherence to rules. He was to give a lecture on some topic between 8 and 9 am twice a week or something, and the two students in his class were models of punctuality. They had to be, as this incident shows: once they were delayed by snow, and arrived five minutes late to find Hilbert lecturing to an empty class... his contract specified giving a lecture, regardless of the presence of students.

There is no God and Dirac is his prophet. (Dirac - I forget which one - was an atheist, and this quote was attributed to him, or about him, can't remember which)

"Throwing money at them does not solve problems such as AIDS. Starving efforts don't help the situation either." - Ed Brandy, 1987, April 17. He was one of the few high officials who initiated efforts to get funding for research in the disease.

I have a computer program that translates Soviet research papers. Having done all the language translation it proceeds to append all statements "it is easy to see" with "after a couple of days".

Dirac was giving a seminar in Toronto. A member of the audience asked afterwards "Prof Dirac, I do not understand how you derived the formula on the top left hand side of the blackboard." Dirac replied "That is a statement, not a question. Next question, please."

Edison was asked at a social event what he was working on at that moment. "On my exit" he replied.

Pastor to young lady: I like your young man in every respect save one. He lacks a sense of humor. I asked him to explain to me Einstein's Theory of Relativity and he actually tried to do it.

Gershwin Jr, on Einstein's theory: Imagine working for twenty years on an idea and then being able to write it down in three pages!
Gershwin, Sr: It was probably in very small print.

Success = Work + Play + Shutting Up (Einstein)

Einstein: God does not play dice.
Bohr: Stop telling God what to do!

Einstein: Everybody talks about me and nobody understands me!

E: The true purpose of education is to train the mind to think. For that reason it is priceless.

The wife of Alexander Fleming was asked what her husband would do if she died. She replied "I am sure he'll marry again. But whoever she is, she'll have to do the proposing."

New Scientist once published a letter from a reader in Australia... "customers in Queensland can buy free-range eggs endorsed by the RSPCA. The egg boxes carry this statement: "These eggs come from hens that are: Free from hunger and thirst; Free from pain, injury and disease; Free from fear and distress; Free from discomfort; Free to express themselves." Someone should apply for a job as a free-range hen in Queensland.