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MacGyver Physics 165

counterfriction writes "This month's issue of Symmetry, a magazine jointly published by SLAC and Fermilab, is featuring an article that points out the sometimes extemporaneous and unconventional solutions physicists have come up with in (and out of) the laboratory. From the article: 'Leon Lederman ... used a pocket knife, tape, and items on anyone's grocery list to confirm that interactions involving the weak force do now show perfect mirror symmetry, or parity, as scientists had long assumed.'"
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MacGyver Physics

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  • Doctor Who (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thoughtlover ( 83833 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @11:20PM (#19297017)
    So, I'm watching Doctor Who and someone asks, "Who is this guy?" and the reply's always the same, "He's the Doctor."

    So I think to myself, "How does this guy always get out of these crazy situations?

    "He's like some time-traveling MacGyver," I think to myself as I switch over to trusty, old Slashdot, only to see that same name right off.
  • by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:08AM (#19297287)
    Actually, even though you're joking, this is the essence of the scientific method. Hard science works because anybody can (and should, periodically) check that the assumptions are true now. There's no room for faith in the truth of past experiments.

    An experiment which isn't repeated again and again by as many people as possible is a meaningless experiment. That's one of the reasons why undergraduate physics students are given classic experiments to (re)confirm themselves in labwork.

  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @12:19AM (#19297349) Journal
    Since when was some poor student's experiment on people's weekly grocery list. Yes they used everyday items to modify the experiment which they took apart (causing the student to cry but apparently they weren't interested in "niceties").

    Just like MacGyver. Look how MacGvyer creates a nuclear reaction with just this hammer, chisel, coke bottle, string, 300mL of acetone....oh and a nuclear reactor.
  • The thing about their story that got me was the fact that they decided they absolutely had to do this *right now* at 2am just to satisfy their own curiosity and were so self-absorbed that they killed the work a grad student had done in that particular lab in order to cannibalize his experiments so they didn't have to build everything themselves.

    I'm sorry. That's not the mark of great scientists. That's the mark of self-important assholes despite the outcome.
  • by bidule ( 173941 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @01:36AM (#19297659) Homepage

    Genious is about using the spark when you have it. If you come in at 9 and take off just past 5 you're nothing but a corporate drone. I've worked both side and let myself be bogged down by administrativia to know that this is the best way to kill inventiveness.

    If you don't have the guts to risk a sleepless night and spend a week restoring the damage you have done to the lab, you don't deserve to find answers.

    Your self-righteousness is the true mark of self-important bureaucrats.
  • Actually it's a matter of ethics. If you can't expect someone to do something properly on the small scale, how can you trust them to do the right thing on a large scale?

    Them destroying the ongoing work of another person just to save themselves a little bit of work shows a supreme lack of not only ethics but of decency.

    Science is more than just a result on a data sheet. It's also the path you take to get there (if you decide it is proper to go there at all).
  • by Bodrius ( 191265 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @02:06AM (#19297763) Homepage
    Risking someone else's sleepless nights is not a matter of genius and guts, or avoiding bureaucracy.

    It is a matter of being an asshole, genius or not.

    I agree with you about the 9-5, and the need to grasp inspiration on the spot to keep creativity alive.
    But that is no excuse to trample over other people's work without asking for their permission / collaboration.

    You may be very convinced of your own genius and inventiveness. Good for you.
    But you might as well be destroying more important, time-consuming, work by other geniuses in the room.

    If you don't have the guts to work the extra sleepless night setting up your own experiment, or (gasp) actually asking for the help if needed, then you really didn't deserve to find the answer.

  • by aztektum ( 170569 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @03:02AM (#19297997)
    They are simply referencing the premise of a show. You know how you just said you fondly remember watching the show as a kid? Perhaps these guys do too. All the while realizing the fact that said show made no excuse for its hooky interpretation of the rule of physics. They solved a physics puzzle with on-hand parts and said "Hey we're like MacGyver!"

    It's why Superman can fly and stop trains by standing on the tracks and letting them slam into him with his hands out in front. People don't care about E=mc2 when they want to be entertained. The opposite is also true. No one cares if MacGyver's physics were accurate, it just was like "Whoa all MacGyver and shit!"
  • Re:Doctor Who (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColaMan ( 37550 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @03:18AM (#19298051) Journal
    "He's like some time-traveling MacGyver," I think to myself


    Dr. Who is not like some time-travelling MacGyver, MacGyver is like some temporally-impaired Dr. Who.

    There's a hell of a difference.
  • Re:big deal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by gaderael ( 1081429 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `learedag'> on Monday May 28, 2007 @04:44AM (#19298303)
    I can understand where you're coming from with the vaseline, the plastic wrap, and the Ovaltine jar. What disturbs me is the unknown idea in your head as to what you'd be using the spagetti for. Unless of course you want to "eat out" the synthetic pussy, and the taste of vaseline and Ovaltine just doesn't do it for ya.

    I've put more thought into this than I really should have.

    ***Oh, how perfect, the word in the image I have to type to submit my post is insert.***
  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Monday May 28, 2007 @06:55AM (#19298657)
    You don't have to repeat it as many times as possible! That's just wasting time and money. Doing experiments with variations, to confirm what the limits of the theory are and testing related hypotheses is much more effective.

    The real reason undergraduates get those classic experiments is to teach them how to do experiments, the limits of their instruments, how to record all relevant data, the difference between accuracy and precision, etc. The big experiment being done is actually on the students themselves, to see if they've learned to do reliable experiments. You absolutely do not want to do sensitive experiments with students whose reliability and even whose honesty have not yet been tested in lab work with known expected results.

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears