by Ryan Ridden-Harper
It’s a weird thing sometimes to be a physics student, and I bet even more so to be a physicist. For the most part of life you move through the world normally, no one notices anything strange or off about you.
But sometimes something that never ceases to fail to amuse me happens.
Take for example the most common case of this something. I am sitting down staring at myself in the mirror, in deep self reflection while my hair is being removed. As is customary I engage in the usual small talk, which usually follows a rather clinical and predictable trajectory. It starts with comments about the day, it has either been good or it has been bad, I agree happily or sympathetically, respectably. The next step is the question “what do you do?”
It appears in some shape or another to which I answer that I am a student at the University of Canterbury; rather obviously the next question is “What do you study?”
To which the only answer I have is physics and mathematics. This is where it gets weird. Almost always the hairdresser will pause and stare at me in what can only be described as mild amazement.
Following this pause are the remarks about how clever I must be or how they always found maths and/or physics hard at school. I downplay the intellect remarks, but from that point on there is a different attitude, a newfound respect.
This fascinates me to no end.
Our society on its face value, from what it consumes, does not appear overly academically minded, but then this almost always happens. This doesn’t just happen with hairdressers, it happens with most people I meet and talk to at check outs and parties.
It’s almost as if they themselves wish that they could too have studied physics and maths, or some other science. But at the time it was out of their grasp either by their own design, by seeing no point in it, or by the design of the education system. This interest in science is hidden away, the reason for it I cannot say, but I imagine a day where it is not hidden away and I wonder if we as a species would change, or then again if nothing would change.
I would wager that a society where everyone is encouraged to embrace their interest in science and where scientists are collectively admired would produce a more vibrant culture and economy. But then again, that’s just a guess; it’s not like the last time that happened western society found itself in the middle of a renaissance.
It’s a weird thing sometimes being a physics student, I can only imagine (for now) what it is like being a physics professor.
Ryan Ridden-Harper is a University of Canterbury physics student and member of the Canterbury Astronomical Society