In The Right Class, Relatively Speaking

| Learning | August 16, 2014

(I got my BA in physics and have just started grad school. I’m still doing physics, but I’m in the electrical engineering department. It’s my first semester and I’ve been having some trouble with some terms that electrical engineers use slightly differently. After class I go up to the professor to ask him a question.)

Me: “When you talk about the ‘total energy’ of an electron are you including the .511 MeV of electron rest mass energy in your total energy?”

Professor:What?

Me: “You know, rest mass. I was always taught that an electron had .511 MeV of rest mass energy. Even if it was at absolute zero it still had that energy.”

Professor: “Wait, you mean like e=mc^2? Relativistic mass?! No! Why would you even— What did you get your degree in, physics?!”

Me: “Yes, actually!”

Professor: *smiling* “Get out! What are you doing here? You belong in the high energy physics building. Go!” *makes shooing motions*

Me: *laughing* “But—”

Professor: “Go!”

Me: *leaves, still laughing*

(After that he had a much easier time answering my questions, since he realized where I was coming from. He also asked me several times if I was sure I didn’t want to switch back to physics. He even offered to talk to some of his friends in the physics department and fix it up for me, which was very sweet of him.)

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