Problem 2b

Physics 137a

Physics, and the study thereof, is not an undertaking for the faint of heart. It requires a strong mental will and a keen perception of the world in which we live. Many people can boast of having these skills, but physics takes that and one thing more: the ability to deal with emotional rigors like those brought upon by problem 2b.

Problem number one went off without a hitch. Finding the reflectivity of a delta Dirac potential field harkens me back to my grade school days, when we would throw apples at a wall just to watch them explode. 2a? Cake. I’m not impressed by harmonic oscillators. Not even a little. But it was 2b that got us. A problem so simple and yet, so heinously contrived as to make one question one’s calling in life. It seemed to stare directly into your soul…past your soul. It seemed to see your soul, then see something more interesting and stare at that. It was holy. It was evil.

We tried everything we knew. We even got Rafael, the Marxist physics student who feared no problem set, to come work with us. As he began to work his socialist incantation over the problem we saw him wince a little, then freeze up. “That’s a pretty tough problem,” he mused. “Pretty tough.”

Tatiana, the Astrophysics girl produced her Pez and an industrial-sized bag of 600 pixie stixs. She might be going down, but her blood sugar level wasn’t. She threw them out on the table. It was going to be a long night.

The minutes dragged out into hours, the hours in to non-zero sets of hours. The silence of our contemplation was broken only by the occasional stray Trotskyist hymn. The tension was so thick, that it could not be cut, even by a knife. Finally, I did what I had to do, what I had put off, but could put off no longer. I went to get a burrito.

Tati and I returned to a changed room. Several of our now vacuous study buddies were there, but conspicuously absent were the body and genius mind of the people’s Raph. He was instead replaced with the spent casings of five hundred and fifty six individually wrapped pixie stixs meticulously tessellated across the table into an evolving pattern with five-fold symmetry. I looked left, I looked right, and realizing that I existed in 4-pi geometry, looked up.

Raphael dropped onto me with the force and intensity of capitalist bourgeois propaganda and began to viciously slam his second edition copy of Peter Landshoff’s Essential Quantum Physics into my head. “I don’t know how to solve 2b!” I cried, as I pounded fist after fist into his frail Bolshevik jaw, “Why don’t you try sticking missiles in Cuba now!?”

The pixie stixs had control now. But they were only the opportunist disease. What had reduced once physics buddies to bitter combatants was no simple tube of paper filled with rich sweet sugar. No, it was a humble physics problem. Problem 2b.