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The Last Word

The Ultimate Scientific Dictionary

Author unknown, somewhere at UMass/Lowell

Activation Energy:

The useful quantity of energy available in one cup of coffee.

Atomic Theory:

A mythological explanation of the nature of matter, first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and now thoroughly discredited by modern computer simulation. Attempts to verify the theory by modern computer simulation have failed. Instead, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that computer outputs depend upon the color of the programmer's eyes, or occasionally upon the month of his or her birth. This apparent astrological connection, at last, vindicates the alchemist's view of astrology as the mother of all science.

Bacon, Roger:

An English friar who dabbled in science and made experimentation fashionable. Bacon was the first science popularizer to make it big on the banquet and talk-show circuit, and his books even outsold the fad diets of the period.

Biological Science:

A contradiction in terms.

Bunsen Burner:

A device invented by Robert Bunsen (1811-1899) for brewing coffee in the laboratory, thereby enabling the chemist to be poisoned without having to go all the way to the company cafeteria.


An unpleasant-sounding word denoting an unpleasant-smelling alcohol.


Acronym for "Computer-Aided Instruction". The modern system of training professional scientists without ever exposing them to the hazards and expense of laboratory work. Graduates of CAI-based programs are very good at simulated research.


A variety of pipe tobacco that is reputed to produce remarkably clear thought processes, and thereby leads to major scientific discoveries; hence, the name of a British research laboratory where the tobacco is smoked in abundance.


A substance that: 1) An organic chemist turns into a foul odor; 2) an analytical chemist turns into a procedure; 3) a physical chemist turns into a straight line; 4) a biochemist turns into a helix; 5) a chemical engineer turns into a profit.

Chemical Engineering:

The practice of doing for a profit what an organic chemist only does for fun.


(From Gr. chromo [color] + graphos [writing]) The practice of submitting manuscripts for publication with the original figures drawn in non-reproducing blue ink.

Clinical Testing:

The use of humans as guinea pigs. (See also PHARMACOLOGY and TOXICOLOGY)


To make worse, as in: 1) A fracture; 2) the mutual adulteration of two or more elements.

Computer Resources:

The major item of any budget, allowing for the acquisition of any capital equipment that is obsolete before the purchase request is released.

Eigen Function:

The use to which an eigen is put.


The universal bidentate ligand used by coordination chemists. For years, efforts were made to use ethylene- diamine for this purpose, but chemists were unable to squeeze all the letters between the corners of the octahedron diagram. The timely invention of en in 1947 revolutionized the science.

Evaporation Allowance:

The volume of alcohol that the graduate students can drink in a year's time.

Exhaustive Methylation:

A marathon event in which the participants methylate until they drop from exhaustion.

First Order Reaction:

The reaction that occurs first, not always the one desired. For example, the formation of brown gunk in an organic prep.

Flame Test:

Trial by fire.

Genetic Engineering:

A recent attempt to formalize what engineers have been doing informally all along.


A fictitious class of compounds often found on organic exams and never in real life.

Inorganic Chemistry:

That which is left over after the organic, analytical, and physical chemists get through picking over the periodic table.


(From L. Mercurius, the swift messenger of the gods) Element No. 80, so named because of the speed of which one of its compounds (calomel, Hg2Cl2) goes through the human digestive tract. The element is perhaps misnamed, because the gods probably would not be pleased by the physiological message so delivered.


One mer. (Compare POLYMER).

Natural Product:

A substance that earns organic chemists fame and glory when they manage to systhesize it with great difficulty, while Nature gets no credit for making it with great ease.

Organic Chemistry:

The practice of transmuting vile substances into publications.

Partition Function:

The function of a partition is to protect the lab supervisor from shrapnel produced in laboratory explosions.


An attempt by professional educators to replace the traditional academic grading system with a binary one that can be handled by a large digital computer.


The use of rabbits and dogs as guinea pigs. (See also CLINICAL TESTING, TOXICOLOGY).

Physical Chemistry:

he pitiful attempt to apply y=mx+b to everything in the universe.

Pilot Plant:

A modest facility used for confirming design errors before they are built into a costly, full-scale production facility.


Many mers. (Compare MONOMERS).


(From L. pre [before] + limbo [oblivion]) An obligatory ritual practiced by graduate students just before the granting of a Ph.D. (if the gods are appeased) or an M.S. (if they aren't).

Publish or Perish:

The imposed, involuntary choice between fame and oblivion, neither of which is handled gracefully by most faculty members.

Purple Passion:

A deadly libation prepared by mixing equal volumes of grape juice and lab alcohol.

Quantum Mechanics:

crew kept on the payroll to repair quantums, which decay frequently to the ground state.

Rate Equations:

(Verb phrase) To give a grade or a ranking to a formula based on its utility and applicability. H=E, for example, applies to everything everywhere, and therefore rates an A. pV=nRT, on the other hand, is good only for nonexistent gases and thus receives only a D+, but this grade can be changed to a B- if enough empirical virial coefficients are added.


(Irregular noun) That which I do for the benefit of humanity, you do for the money, he does to hog all the glory.


The international unit of humility.

Scientific Method:

he widely held philosophy that a theory can never be proved, only disproved, and that all attempts to explain anything are therefore futile.


Acronym for "Système Infernelle".


long word used mainly to intimidate freshman nonmajors.


A disgusting-looking instrument used by medical specialists to probe and examine the spectrum.


The wholesale slaughter of white rats bred especially for that purpose. (See also CLINICAL TESTING, PHARMACOLOGY).

X-Ray Diffraction:

n occupational disorder common among physicians, caused by reading X-ray pictures in darkened rooms for prolonged periods. The condition is readily cured by a greater reliance on blood chemistries; the lab results are just as inconclusive as the X-rays, but are easier to read.


A rare and inconsequential element, named after the village of Ytterby, Sweden (not to be confused with Iturbi, the late pianist and film personality, who was actually Spanish, not Swedish). Ytterbium is used mainly to fill block 70 in the periodic table. Iturbi was used mainly to play Jane Powell's father.


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Thomas Bätzler,