Sunday, September 02, 2012

Amusing Anecdotes with Scientists (ವಿಜ್ಞಾನಿಗಳೊಡನೆ ರಸನಿಮಿಷಗಳು)

My father, J R Lakshmana Rao, wrote a book called ವಿಜ್ಞಾನಿಗಳೊಡನೆ ರಸನಿಮಿಷಗಳು (vijnAnigaLoDane rasanimiSagalu) - a collection of humorous anecdotes involving scientists. It was a great success and saw at least seven reprints.

At my father's suggestion, I have translated that book and here is a sample of three incidents.

Mr. Ramamurthy, the great cartoonist famous through his Mr. Citizen cartoons for the Deccan Herald created brilliant cartoons as illustrations for the book. 

The way it came about itself is interesting. A friend of my father, who knew Mr. Murthy, requested him to provide the illustrations. Like the true artist that he was, he had to be coaxed and finally agreed to provide some ten illustrations. He had to be provided the pictures of some of the lesser well known (to him) scientists so that he could draw using them as reference.

The anecdotes apparently caught his fancy and he ended up doing 52 cartoons that enhanced the book immensely! 

I am looking for a publisher to take up the publication of the English version. Anyone interested may please contact me. Suggestions are welcome too!

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The Boy who Would not Let Read

If you are asked to name the three greatest mathematicians of all times, it is difficult to leave out the name of Karl Friedrich Gauss, the German mathematician, physicist and astronomer who lived during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
As a professor at Göttingen for many years, he brought name and fame to the university. His mathematical acumen was recognised from his childhood. He was a child prodigy.
Gauss’ father was an assistant to a civil contractor. He had the habit of sitting in the courtyard of his house and doing all his paper work. He was sitting there one payday and was paying the labourers their weekly wages. He called out the name and mentioned the wage paid to each labourer. Then he noted it down in a ledger. After every one was paid, he totalled up the wages. He read out the numbers aloud while he did so. When he finished the list and wrote down the total, Gauss who was playing in the yard said, “Your total is wrong. It falls short by eighty-three Marks.” The surprised father did the addition again and found that the child was right. Gauss was just a toddler of three at that time.

A few years later the boy started going to school. One day the teacher was in no mood to teach but could not let the students off. He hit upon an idea to keep the students busy. He asked the boys to write down all the numbers from1 to 200 and add them up. He was sure that this would keep them busy for quite some time. He then settled down to read a novel, sure of an hour of peace and quiet. To make sure, he added, “No mistakes! Once you are finished, check it all again.”
            He had not read even half a page when Gauss stood up and said, “Sir, the answer is 20,100”, and the answer was right. The teacher, in shock, asked, “How did you do it so fast?”

            Gauss said, “I used the formula”:       (n × (n +1)) ÷ 2
                                                            = (200 × (200 +1)) ÷ 2
                                                            = 20100
            “Who taught you the formula?”, wailed the teacher.
            “I arrived at it myself”, said the boy.
            “Just now”, said the little imp.

Ah! That Elusive Word . . . .

A student of Norbert Wiener, the renowned mathematician and father of Cybernetics, had great admiration for him. But, he had not had an opportunity to talk to him. One morning, when the student went to the Post Office, Wiener was there. He was looking intently at a sheet of paper on the desk. The student, being an ardent admirer, saw immense concentration in that look. He did not know if he could talk to him. Wiener suddenly left the paper, walked to the opposite wall, stood there for a moment and returned to the paper and started staring at it again. The admirer still did not know if he could talk to him. Wiener left the paper again but, this time, walked directly towards the admiring student. Now he had to, at least, greet him. He did. “Good morning Professor Wiener”, he said. A smile broke out on the face that was so serious until then. He stopped, stared at the student for a moment. He then slapped hisforehead and exclaimed, “Ah! It is Wiener. Isn’t it? I just could not recall that elusive word, however hard I tried. Thanks!” He now returned to the paper and continued filling the form. 

Different points of view

When the first experimental nuclear explosion was carried out in a desert in New Mexico, all the scientists and officials connected with the atomic bomb project had gathered in a safe place, a good distance away from the explosion site, to witness the test. Both Leslie Groves, a two star general, who was the military director of the project and Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the project, were there.
A newspaper reporter, awed by the explosion, asked Oppenheimer, “What did you see?” A perturbed Oppenheimer replied, “….the end of the world”.
The reporter asked the two star general the same question. “The third star”, was the prompt reply.

Not a Question, a Statement

Paul Dirac was notorious for his extreme taciturnity. Once he gave a talk in an American university. At the end of the talk, the chairman invited questions from the audience. Someone got up and said, “I did not understand such and such in your talk” and sat down. Dirac sat comfortably without saying anything. Everyone was curious and after sometime even uncomfortable. The chairman asked rather hesitantly, “Prof. Dirac, could you please answer that question?” 
“That was not a question but, a statement of fact” replied Dirac nonchalantly.


  1. Nagesh S K9:16 a.m.

    Good ones!!

    Please let us know here when you publish these. I would like to buy.

    1. Thanks Nagesh and sure will let you know.

  2. very happy to see the English version. well done.

    1. Thanks Raghu! Moves afoot for the publication!