Neutrinos, Chastinos: Meet Tom, Dick, and Harry
Boris Kayser, a theoretical physicist at Fermilab, was part way into a Feb. 13 talk at the AAAS meeting in Chicago about the role of neutrinos in the evolution of the universe. He asked, are neutrinos the reason we exist? Maybe so--if, as some theorize, these ethereal particles were responsible for the triumph of matter over antimatter in the early universe.
He went on to explain that neutrinos come in three types, or flavors: the electron neutrino, the muon neutrino, and the tau neutrino, each denoted by the Greek letter ν followed by a number. But let's just call them Tom, Dick and Harry.
Kayser says he got the idea from the cover of the May 2007 isssue of symmetry, which featured a guide to subatomic particles, real and imagined, by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast. More of her cartoons are inside the issue, illustrating an article on the search for dark energy.
He said he always hated the rather sterile Greek-letter names of the neutrinos. So for a public lecture in Aspen in January 2008, he asked Chast for permission to use some of the symmetry cartoons in his slides, and he called the neutrinos by their Chastian monikers.
"I would rather the names be more poetic than Tom, Dick, and Harry," he said, "but I'd rather have Tom, Dick, and Harry than the first, second, and third one."
He said he was a bit apprehensive at first: Would the audience go for the pictures and not the physics? But, he said, "it turned out very well."