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Of Scien tists & Mathematicians…

Well, here is a tiny little collection of interesting anecdotes about some of the
greatest minds in human history… particularly scientists and mathematicians.
Hope you find it enjoyable.



Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937)

One student in Rutherford's lab was very hard-working. Rutherford had noticed
it and asked one evening: - Do you work in the mornings too?
- Yes, - proudly answered the student sure he would be commended.
- But when do you think? - amazed Rutherford.


Einstein : “It is hard to teach in a co-ed college since guys are only looking
on girls and not listening to the teacher.”
He was objected that they would be listening to HIM very attentively,
forgetting about any girls.
“But such guys won't be worth teaching!!” - replied the great man.


During a lecture, professor Dirac made a mistake in an equation he was

writing on the blackboard. A courageous student raises his finger and says
timidly : "Professor Dirac, I do not understand equation 2.".
Dirac continues writing without any reaction. The student supposes Dirac
has not heard him and raises his finger again, and says, louder this time:
"Professor Dirac, I do not understand equation 2."
No reaction. Somebody on the first row decides to intervene and says: "Professor
Dirac, that man is asking a question."
"Oh," Dirac replies, “I thought he was making a statement."

Einstein never has to dress well.

When Einstein's Wife told him to dress properly when going to the office
he argued:
"Why should I? Everyone knows me there."

When he was told to dress properly for his first big conference:
"Why should I? No one knows me there."


It was well known to Pauli's co-workers that Pauli should be kept away
from experiments. When he came near any experiment it would go wrong and
instruments would go broke. This became known as the Pauli Effect.
One day an important experiment went wrong without any apparent reason.
Pauli was not even around, so this was very strange .... until they discovered a few
days later that Pauli was in the train that was passing the building at the time of
the crash.


One day while Mr. Edison and I were were calling on Luther Burbank in
California, he asked us to register in his guest book. The book had a column for
signature, another for home address, another for occupation and a final one
entitled 'Interested in'. Mr. Edison signed in a few quick but unhurried
motions...In the final column he wrote without a moment's hesitation:
-- Henry Ford, _My Friend Mr. Edison_


How about the story of the MIT student who cornered the famous John von
Neumann in the hallway:

Student: "Er, excuse me, Professor von Neumann, could you please help me with
a calculus problem?"
John: "Okay, sonny, if it's real quick -- I'm a busy man."
Student: "I'm having trouble with this integral."
John: "Let's have a look."
(a brief pause here)
"Alright, sonny, the answer's two-pi over 5."
Student: "I know that, sir, the answer's in the back -- I'm having trouble deriving
it, though."
John: "Okay, let me see it again."
(another pause)
"The answer's two-pi over 5."
Student (frustrated): "Uh, sir, I know the answer, I just don't see how to derive
John: "Whaddya want, sonny, I worked the problem in two different ways!"


Albert Einstein apparently referred to formal occasions, parties etc as "feeding

time at the zoo"!


In the period that Einstein was active as a professor, one of his students came to
him and said: "The questions of this year's exam are the same as last years!"
"True," Einstein said, "but this year all answers are different."

It is told that in 1921 George de Hevesey suspected that the leftovers from his
dinner were not thrown away, but kept for the next day. To check that he added a
minimal amount of a radioactive substance to his leftovers. The next day he
tested the goulash soup that was served to him with a Geiger counter. The soup
was indeed radioactive.
And this way radioactive tracers were discovered.


Bischoff, one of the leading anatomists of Europe, thrived in the 1870s.

He carefully measured brain weights, and after many years' accumulation
of much data he observed that the average weight of a man's brain was 1350
grams, that of a woman only 1250 grams.
This at once, he argued, was infallible proof of the mental superiority of
men over women. Throughout his life he defended this hypothesis with the
conviction of a zealot. Being the true scientist, he specified in his will that his own
brain be added to his impressive collection.
The postmortem examination elicited the interesting fact that his own
brain weighed only 1245 grams. -- Scientific American [March 1992]

Einstein once went to a restaurant. The waiter placed a menu-card before him.
Unfortunately Einstein had left his reading glasses home, so he said to waiter,
"Would you please read it out to me?"
The waiter hesitated a bit and then replied," I would have been glad to Sir, but I
am also an illiterate like you."


While lecturing on 'ideal gases' one day, Ludwig Boltzmann casually

mentioned a number of complex calculations. Near the end of the class, the
students, utterly unable to follow his progress, asked Boltzmann to do his
calculations on the blackboard.
He apologized and promised to do better next time... Soon enough, the
next lesson arrived.
"Gentlemen," Boltzmann began, "if we combine Boyle's law with Charles's
law we get the equation pv = psub 0 vsub 0 (1 + a t)... Now it is clear that sub a S
sup b = f(x) dx x (a), so pv = RT and sub V S f(x,y,z) dV = 0. It is as simple as one
and one equals two."
Then, suddenly recalling his promise from the previous class, he dutifully
wrote "1 + 1 = 2" on the blackboard before continuing with the lecture.


In 1966 Richard Feynman, a passionate drummer, was asked by a Swedish
encyclopedia publisher to supply a photograph of himself "beating the drum to
give a human approach to a presentation of the difficult matter that theoretical
physics represents."
Feynman's reply: Dear Sir, The fact that I beat a drum has nothing to do with the
fact that I do theoretical physics. Theoretical physics is a human endeavor, one of
the higher developments of human beings, and the perpetual desire to prove that
people who do it are human by showing that they do other things that a few other
humans do (like playing bongo drums) is insulting to me. I am human enough to
tell you to go to hell.
Yours, RPF.

While musing upon the subject of thermodynamics one day, Lord Kelvin
suddenly realized that his wife was discussing plans for an afternoon excursion.
"At what time," he asked, glancing up, "does the dissipation of energy begin?"

Physicist James Franck was among the professors who examined the twenty-
three-year-old Robert Oppenheimer for his doctorate at Gottingen University.
Upon emerging from the oral examination, Franck appeared somewhat shaken.
"I got out of there just in time," the professor explained. "He was beginning to
ask me questions!"

Niels Bohr had a propensity for thinking aloud, often using a convenient student
or colleague as a sounding board. On one occasion, Bohr, in search of company
after a week-long ocean voyage, entered Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study,
cornered two colleagues (Abraham Pais and Wolfgang Pauli) into an office, sat
them down, and proceeded to muse at length on quantum theory.
They were finally able to interrupt - two hours later.


After Einstein had fled from Hitler's Germany, one hundred Nazi professors
published a book condemning his theory of relativity. "If I were wrong," Einstein
said in his defense, "one professor would have been enough."


Scientific American once ran a competition offering several thousand dollars for
the best explanation of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity in three
thousand words.
"I'm the only one in my entire circle of friends who is not entering," Einstein
ruefully remarked. "I don't believe I could do it."

The great mathematician Waclaw Sierpinski was old and rather absent-minded.
Once he had to move to a new place for some reason. His wife didn't trust him
very much, so when they stood down on the street with all their things, she said:
“ - Now, you stand here and watch our ten trunks, while I go and get a taxi.”
She left and left him there, eyes somewhat glazed and humming absently.
Some minutes later she returned, presumably having called for a taxi.
Says Mr. Sierpinski :
“ - I thought you said there were ten trunks, but I've only counted nine.”
“ - No, they're TEN!”
“ - No, count them: 0, 1, 2, ..."

One day, one of Albert Einstein's assistants expressed his joy that
experimental results had confirmed the General Theory of Relativity.
"But I knew that the theory was correct," Einstein calmly remarked.
The assistant then asked what he would have done had his predictions not
been confirmed. "Then," Einstein replied, "I would have felt sorry for our dear
God - the theory is correct."


Von Neumann supposedly had the habit of simply writing answers to homework
assignments on the board (the method of solution being, of course, obvious)
when he was asked how to solve problems. One time one of his students tried to
get more helpful information by asking if there was another way to solve the
Von Neumann looked blank for a moment, thought, and then answered, "Yes".


Einstein once wrote to a fifteen-year-old girl who had written for help on a
homework assignment:
"Do not worry about your difficulties in mathematics; I can assure you that mine
are much greater."


The following problem can be solved either the easy way or the hard way.
Two trains 200 miles apart are moving toward each other; each one is going at a
speed of 50 miles per hour. A fly starting on the front of one of them flies back
and forth between them at a rate of 75 miles per hour. It does this until the trains
collide and crush the fly to death. What is the total distance the fly has flown?
One could solve the problem the hard way with pencil and paper by summing an
infinite series of distances. The easy way is as follows: Since the trains are 200
miles apart and each train is going 50 miles an hour, it takes 2 hours for the
trains to collide. Therefore the fly was flying for two hours. Since the fly was
flying at a rate of 75 miles per hour, the fly must have flown 150 miles. That's all
there is to it.
When this problem was posed to John von Neumann, he immediately replied,
"It is very strange," said the poser, "but nearly everyone tries to sum the infinite
"What do you mean, strange?" asked Neumann. "That's exactly how I did it!"

EINSTEIN went to look at a kibbutz while on a visit to Palestine in 1921. He

asked many questions of the 22-year-old girl who was head of the young
community. One question was,
"What is the relationship here of men to women?"
Thinking that he was one of the many visitors who thought that women were
common property in the kibbutz, she stammered, very embarrassed,
"But, Herr Professor, each man here has one woman."
Einstein's eyes twinkled. He took the girl's hand and said,
"Don't be alarmed at my question - by 'relationship' we physicists mean
something rather simple, and that is… how many men are there and how many

IN 1931 Charlie Chaplin invited Albert Einstein, who was visiting Hollywood, to a
private screening of his new film City Lights. As the two men drove into town
together, passersby waved and cheered. Chaplin turned to his guest and
"The people are applauding you because none of them understands you and
applauding me because everybody understands me."


In his lecture, Von Neumann formulated a theorem and said: "The proof is
obvious". Then he thought for a minute, left the lecture room, returned after 15
minutes and happily concluded: "It is indeed obvious!"

After the birth of his sister Maja, the two and a half year old Albert Einstein was
told he would now have something to play with.
After looking at the baby he complained "Yes... but where are its wheels?"


Ernst Eduard Kummer (1810-1893), a German algebraist, was sometimes slow at

calculations.. Whenever he had occasion to do simple arithmetic in class, he
would get his students to help him. Once he had to find 7 x 9. "Seven times nine,"
he began, "Seven times nine is er -- ah --- ah -- seven times nine is. . . ." "Sixty-
one," a student suggested. Kummer wrote 61 on the board. "Sir," said another
student, "it should be sixty-nine." "Come, come, gentlemen, it can't be both,"
Kummer exclaimed. "It must be one or the other."


Norbert Wiener was very absent minded. The following story is told about him:
They moved from Cambridge to Newton. His wife was certain that he would
forget that they had moved and where they had moved to. So she wrote down the
new address on a piece of paper, and gave it to him. In course of the day, an
insight occurred to him. He reached in his pocket, found a piece of paper on
which he furiously scribbled some notes, thought it over, decided it was faulty,
and threw the piece of paper away.
At the end of the day he went home (to the old address in Cambridge, of course).

When he got there he realized that they had moved, that he had no idea where
they had moved to, and that the piece of paper with the address was long gone.
Fortunately inspiration struck. There was a young girl sitting on the steps and he
conceived the idea of asking her.
"Excuse me, perhaps you know me. I'm Norbert Wiener and we've just moved.
Would you know where we've moved to?"
To which the young girl replied, "Yes daddy, mommy said this would happen…"