THE LAST WORD
The Ultimate Scientific Dictionary
Activation Energy: The useful quantity of energy available in one cup
Atomic Theory: A mythological explanation of the nature of matter,
first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and now
thoroughly discredited by modern computer
simulation. Attempts to verify the theory by
modern computer simulation have failed. Instead,
it has been demonstrated repeatedly that computer
outputs depend upon the color of the programmer's
eyes, or occasionally upon the month of his or her
birth. This apparent astrological connection, at
last, vindicates the alchemist's view of astrology
as the mother of all science.
Bacon, Roger: An English friar who dabbled in science and made
experimentation fashionable. Bacon was the first
science popularizer to make it big on the banquet
and talk-show circuit, and his books even outsold
the fad diets of the period.
Biological Science: A contradiction in terms.
Bunsen Burner: A device invented by Robert Bunsen (1811-1899) for
brewing coffee in the laboratory, thereby enabling
the chemist to be poisoned without having to go all
the way to the company cafeteria.
Butyl: An unpleasant-sounding word denoting an unpleasant-
CAI: Acronym for "Computer-Aided Instruction". The
modern system of training professional scientists
withoutever exposing them to the hazards and
expense of laboratory work. Graduates of CAI-based
programs are very good at simulated research.
Cavendish: A variety of pipe tobacco that is reputed to
produce remarkably clear thought processes, and
thereby leads to major scientific discoveries;
hence, the name of a British research laboratory
where the tobacco is smoked in abundance.
Chemical: A substance that: 1) An organic chemist turns into
a foul odor; 2) an analytical chemist turns into a
procedure; 3) a physical chemist turns into a
straight line; 4) a biochemist turns into a helix;
5) a chemical engineer turns into a profit.
Chemical Engineering: The practice of doing for a profit what an organic
chemist only does for fun.
Chromatography: (From Gr. chromo [color] + graphos [writing]) The
practice of submitting manuscripts for publication
with the original figures drawn in non-reproducing
Clinical Testing: The use of humans as guinea pigs. (See also PHAR-
MACOLOGY and TOXICOLOGY)
Compound: To make worse, as in: 1) A fracture; 2) the
mutual adulteration of two or more elements.
Computer Resources: The major item of any budget, allowing for the
acquisition of any capital equipment that is
obsolete before the purchase request is released.
Eigen Function: The use to which an eigen is put.
En: The universal bidentate ligand used by coordination
chemists. For years, efforts were made to use
ethylene-diamine for this purpose, but chemists
were unable to squeeze all the letters between the
corners of the octahedron diagram. The timely
invention of en in 1947 revolutionized the science.
Evaporation Allowance: The volume of alcohol that the graduate students
can drink in a year's time.
Exhaustive Methylation: A marathon event in which the participants
methylate until they drop from exhaustion.
First Order Reaction: The reaction that occurs first, not always the one
desired. For example, the formation of brown gunk
in an organic prep.
Flame Test: Trial by fire.
Genetic Engineering: A recent attempt to formalize what engineers have
been doing informally all along.
Grignard: A fictitious class of compounds often found on
organic exams and never in real life.
Inorganic Chemistry: That which is left over after the organic,
analytical, and physical chemists get through
picking over the periodic table.
Mercury: (From L. Mercurius, the swift messenger of the
gods) Element No. 80, so named because of the speed
of which one of its compounds (calomel, Hg2Cl2)
goes through the human digestive tract. The element
is perhaps misnamed, because the gods probably
would not be pleased by the physiological message
Monomer: One mer. (Compare POLYMER).
Natural Product: A substance that earns organic chemists fame and
glory when they manage to systhesize it with great
difficulty, while Nature gets no credit for making
it with great ease.
Organic Chemistry: The practice of transmuting vile substances into
Partition Function: The function of a partition is to protect the lab
supervisor from shrapnel produced in laboratory
Pass/Fail: An attempt by professional educators to replace
the traditional academic grading system with a
binary one that can be handled by a large digital
Pharmacology: The use of rabbits and dogs as guinea pigs. (See
also CLINICAL TESTING, TOXICOLOGY).
Physical Chemistry: The pitiful attempt to apply y=mx+b to everything
in the universe.
Pilot Plant: A modest facility used for confirming design
errors before they are built into a costly,
full-scale production facility.
Polymer: Many mers. (Compare MONOMERS).
Prelims: (From L. pre [before] + limbo [oblivion]) An
obligatory ritual practiced by graduate students
just before the granting of a Ph.D. (if the gods
are appeased) or an M.S. (if they aren't).
Publish or Perish: The imposed, involuntary choice between fame and
oblivion, neither of which is handled gracefully
by most faculty members.
Purple Passion: A deadly libation prepared by mixing equal volumes
of grape juice and lab alcohol.
Quantum Mechanics: A crew kept on the payroll to repair quantums,
which decay frequently to the ground state.
Rate Equations: (Verb phrase) To give a grade or a ranking to a
formula based on its utility and applicability.
H=E, for example, applies to everything everywhere,
and therefore rates an A. pV=nRT, on the other
hand, is good only for nonexistent gases and thus
receives only a D+, but this grade can be changed
to a B- if enough empirical virial coefficients
Research: (Irregular noun) That which I do for the benefit
of humanity, you do for the money, he does to hog
all the glory.
Sagan: The international unit of humility.
Scientific Method: The widely held philosophy that a theory can never
be proved, only disproved, and that all attempts
to explain anything are therefore futile.
SI: Acronym for "Systeme Infernelle".
Spectrophotometry: A long word used mainly to intimidate freshman
Spectroscope: A disgusting-looking instrument used by medical
specialists to probe and examine the spectrum.
Toxicology: The wholesale slaughter of white rats bred
especially for that purpose. (See also CLINICAL
X-Ray Diffraction: An occupational disorder common among physicians,
caused by reading X-ray pictures in darkened rooms
for prolonged periods. The condition is readily
cured by a greater reliance on blood chemistries;
the lab results are just as inconclusive as the
X-rays, but are easier to read.
Ytterbium: A rare and inconsequential element, named after
the village of Ytterby, Sweden (not to be confused
with Iturbi, the late pianist and film personality,
who was actually Spanish, not Swedish). Ytterbium
is used mainly to fill block 70 in the periodic
table. Iturbi was used mainly to play Jane