Friday, 6 February 2009

Take Away Your Billion Dollars

Up on the lawns of Washington the physicists assemble
From all the land are men at hand, their wisdom to exchange.
A great man stands to speak, and with applause the rafters tremble.
"My friends," says he, "you all can see that physics now must change.

"Now in my lab we had our plans, but these we'll now expand,
Research right now is useless, we have come to understand.
We now propose constructing at an ancient Army base,
The best electro-nuclear machine in any place.

"Oh – it will cost a billion dollars, ten billion volts ‘twill give,
It will take five thousand scholars seven years to make it live.
All the generals approve it, all the money's now at hand,
And to help advance our program, teaching students now we've banned."
"We have chartered transportation, we provide a weekly dance.
Our motto's integration, there is nothing left to chance.
This machine is just a model for a bigger one of course.
That's the future road for physics, as I'm sure you'll all endorse."

And as the halls with cheers resound and praises fill the air,
one single man remains aloof and silent in his chair.
And when the room is quiet and the crowd has ceased to cheer,
he rises up and thunders forth an answer loud and clear.

"It seems that I'm a failure, just a piddling dilettante.
Within six months a mere 10,000 bucks is all I've spent.
With love and string and sealing wax was physics kept alive.
Let not the weath of Midas hide the gold for which we strive.

"Oh – take away your billion dollars, take away your tainted gold.
You can keep your damn ten billion volts; my soul will not be sold.
Take away your army generals, their kiss is death I'm sure.
Everything I build is mine, every volt I make is pure.
Take away your integration and let us learn and let us teach.
For beware this epidemic, for colitis I beseech.
"Oh, dammit – engineering isn't physics – isn't that plain?
Take, oh take your billion dollars. Let's be physicists again."

Arthur Roberts (1946), published in Physics Today Nov. 1948. (c) American Institute of Physics

Hear it here, performed by Arthur Roberts and the Chorus of the Iowa State University Department of Physics.

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