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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the December 2011 issue of the Canadian Nuclear Society Bulletin, Vol.32, No.4.

A Mediated Interaction By Any Other Name

by Jeremy Whitlock

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: The International Physics Union (IPU) announced today that it will be seeking new names for the Weak and Strong Nuclear forces. The decision was made at the IPU's annual conference, following a lively debate on the pros and cons of updating the decades-old terminology.

"These are basically silly names," explains IPU President Horst Mulegger. "Clearly there wasn't a lot of thought put into them at the time. We can't blame our predecessors really ... it was a busy time, what with quarks and gluons and heavy bosons taking all their attention."

"In the early days they had more time for naming fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism... Talk about firing the imagination! Catching your attention! But 'strong' and 'weak'? And then abominations like 'electroweak' come along, once the forces start getting unified... I tell you, it's like watching a train wreck."

But the time has come to correct that, Dr. Mulegger points out.

"These days communication is everything. We got to thinking: why are people so afraid of radiation, and nuclear power? These concepts are no more complicated than, say, spaceflight, and yet people aren't kept up at night worrying about spaceflight."

The answer, according to the IPU, is all in the name.

"Everything is physics," Mulegger asserts, "including public communication. So we put our best minds together and came up with the solution. It was quite obvious actually: change the name of the nuclear forces; change the attitude of the public."

The IPU's news release explains further how both types of nuclear forces are of utmost importance to life on this planet, not just in holding everything together (literally) but also in releasing energy that sustains us all.

Nuclear power is basically the unleashing of the Strong Nuclear force for the good of humanity, according to the IPU. The Weak Nuclear force, on the other hand, is responsible for everything from our Sun's warming rays, to the geothermal heat in the earth's core that maintains the planet's magnetic field and protects us all from deadly cosmic radiation.

"Those are some hefty responsibilities", points out Dr. Mulegger, "so why give such important forces of nature such dumb names?"

The question, then, is what to name them. The IPU is certain its membership will come up with some creative ideas.

"Physicists are very innovative people. They like to think outside the sphere."

Some suggestions have already started to trickle in. Dr. Mulegger himself has started the ball rolling.

"I'm partial to 'Bilbo' and 'Frodo' Forces, respectively", he says proudly. "Everyone likes hobbits. They're cuddly but tenacious, and they tend to come through in the end and save the world."

Is the world ready for Bilbo power stations, Frodo-powered PET scanners, and can Samwise, Pippin, and Meriadoc technology be far behind?

Mulegger laughs off this suggestion.

"That's getting a tad facetious. Although, the idea of a 'Gandalf' grand unifying theory has a certain appeal."

How supportive does the IPU expect the world's scientific community to be of its decision to rename a couple of forces that generations have grown up with?

"There's bound be a few stuck in the old ways", agrees Mulegger, "You should see the tussles that still take place over the IAU's demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet. And the hullabaloos over superstring D-branes, Higgsless models, and whether Han Solo shot Greedo first ... don't get me started."

"But particle physics is very colourful to begin with. Quite literally in fact. It's actually somewhat inconsistent to give these particularly prominent agents of nature such mundane labels."

Other suggestions to date include the "Asimov" and "Clarke" forces, the "Lucas" and "Spielberg" forces, the "Stan Lee" and "Bob Kane" forces, the "Jobs" and "Wozniak" forces, and, of course, "Anakin" and "Obi-Wan".

"We are certain society will embrace whatever nomenclature we settle on," adds Mulegger confidently, "and then widespread support for globally sustainable nuclear technology will grow in leaps and bounds."

Mulegger gazes wistfully out his office window.

"And children everywhere will dream of bathing in femtometre-scale Bilbo-generated Frodo rays to turn themselves into superheroes."

No doubt some are doing this already.

Discussion welcome.

©2013 Jeremy Whitlock

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