Scientific revenge poetry

There are few things more annoying for a scientist presenting at a conference than to be scheduled as the last presenter. A lot of attendees have lost interest by then or have left the conference, leaving you with a sparse and worn-out audience. When Australian astrophysicist, J. W. V. Storey, found himself in this unenviable situation in the 1980s, he got his revenge by presenting his research in the form of a poem and then later submitting his paper to the conference proceedings in poem-form.

Here is a sample:

I wrote my abstract, sent it in,
With words that don’t offend.
Imagine my horror to find that I
Am scheduled at the end.

Let me say, to be last speaker,
There are very few things worse.
And so this talk, to get revenge,
Will be entirely in verse.

The subject I address today
Is that of star formation.
And what we’ve found out recently
About the situation.

Stars start out as clouds of gas and
Dust and bits of spinning stuff.
Collapsing gravitationally
Until they’re dense enough.

They form themselves in little lumps,
(Or so says this bloke Jeans).
‘Dynamic Instabilities’
Whatever that term means.

It goes on for quite a while and includes figures, some of them charmingly hand-drawn. But the story doesn’t end there.

Last year, Storey’s family shared the following with one of my colleagues, which shows that the referee assigned to review Storey’s paper — who can now be identified as John Whiteoak — responded in kind, by producing his own poem to express his commentary (“Dick-Ed” is Richard McGee, the proceedings editor):

Whiteoak review


Crash some planets (or not)

Thanks to Facebook, this game is becoming popular with my colleagues:

Super Planet Crash

The goal is to see if you can create a stable planetary system that includes, not just a few piddly Earth-mass planets, but giant ice planets and stellar companions, as well. Stable, in this case, means the system lasts at least 500 years without any planets crashing. It helps if you know a bit about Newtonian mechanics, but even if you know nothing about physics, you can gain some intuition just by playing the game. (Read more about the game here.)

So, how many planets can you cram into two Earth orbits?