A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Physics license plates

12/09/08

Regular readers of symmetry will have seen our collection of physics license plates but we are always looking to expand it. The latest print issue features a couple of extra plates we've added to the gallery: QUARKS, FYZYKZ, and SU3SU2U1.

Send us a photo of your physics license plate with a short text about what inspired you to get it, what kinds of reactions you get, or even just what it means (if it is obscure!) You can send your submissions to mail@symmetrymagazine.org.

Here are a couple of images from the gallery.

PHYSICS

I have Illinois license plate PHYSICS on my 2005 Toyota Camry. I believe that it cannot get more physics than that! The story is simple, unlike Tom Nash’s (Oct/Nov 07). I work at Fermilab and I used to have a Toyota pickup truck with 900 GEV plates (the TeV ring energy at that time). When I traded my truck in for a Camry, I had to get new plates because Illinois does not allow truck plates on cars. I applied for PHYSICS as my first choice and, much to my surprise, I got it.

E MINUS

Jym Clendenin, a retired SLAC physicist, acquired his plates about 15 years ago when he was commissioning the SLC polarized electron source. E MINUS stands for electrons and their negative electric charge. Clendenin was in charge of the SLAC linac electron injector until his recent retirement. Common comment received: “That’s a really poor grade!”

SOLITON

I’ve had the custom license plate SOLITON for 30 years. I transfer it from one car to the next. In many ways a car behaves like a soliton: It is a wave localized in a certain region of space, it keeps its shape when traveling, and it interacts with other solitons (cars) emerging unchanged, most times, perhaps with only a small phase shift.

NUCLEON

It’s a lot of fun and a great conversation starter using aspects of my work as a physicist on license plates. Friends are quick to spot whenever a new one goes on the car, and invariably ask what it means. For some I provide a brief explanation, but for my weekly hiking group there is ample time to also give some background about the significance of the research. Those not familiar with Los Alamos National Laboratory are pleasantly surprised to learn that there is basic research going on in addition to work on nuclear weapons. I try to come up with a new license plate every year. I am proudest of the very first one: NUCLEON, because it contains my first name. On the other hand, one wag suggested it was an invitation to nuke Leon.


Editor's note: Since this article was published, we've added a few more license plates to our collection! See them here (and here and here).

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