Posted by: unlikelygrad | October 7, 2010

picking off sand grains with tweezers

One of my most favorite professors to take classes from here at MyU has a real knack for coming up with real-world examples to explain theoretical concepts. My most favorite of all of these came when we were talking about the thermodynamics of expansion.

He drew a piston on the whiteboard with a weight on top. What would happen if the weight were removed? Expansion would happen all at once, of course. But now, he said, imagine what would happen if you had an equivalent weight of grains of sand on top of the piston…and picked them off, one by one, with tweezers. Here he turned towards us with a big grin on his face and said, “Because that is the sort of job professors give to grad students, right?” Of course, we all chuckled about that as he went on to explain how to use integrals to evaluate that sort of incremental expansion.

He must have made an impression on me, because ever since that class, every time my advisor has me work on nit-picky grunt work, I find myself thinking: “Here I go again, picking off sand grains with tweezers again.”

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