That’s mathematics! (song by Tom Lehrer)

Counting sheep
When you’re trying to sleep,
Being fair
When there’s something to share,
Being neat
When you’re folding a sheet,
That’s mathematics!

When a ball
Bounces off of a wall,
When you cook
From a recipe book,
When you know
How much money you owe,
That’s mathematics!

How much gold can you hold in an elephant’s ear?
When it’s noon on the moon, then what time is it here?
If you could count for a year, would you get to infinity,
Or somewhere in that vicinity?

When you choose
How much postage to use,
When you know
What’s the chance it will snow,
When you bet
And you end up in debt,
Oh try as you may,
You just can’t get away
From mathematics!


To the Tune of “Thats Entertaimant!”, lyrics by the great Tom Lehrer.



Relativity (a song by Tom Lehrer)

Einstein was the first who stated,
He was the first who dared:
Mass and energy are related,
By E = mc2.


When Isaac Newton wrote The Laws that we all quote,
It’s now extremely apparent that he
Neglected to consider — Relativity.


What focused our attention on the fourth dimension?
We’d been doing so well with just three:
‘Twas Mr. Einstein’s brainchild — Relativity.


Now who would think, and who’d forecast,
That bodies shrink, when they go fast.
It makes old Isaac’s theory
Look weary.


So then if you are near when atom bombs appear,
And you’re reduced to a pile of debris,
You’ll know it’s largely due to — Relativity.
Yes, you can place the blame on — Relativity.


These lyrics were published in Physics Today, July 2005, p. 59.

Brief Reflection on Cats Growing in Trees

When moles still had their annual general meetings
and when they still had better eyesight it befell
that they expressed a wish to discover what was above.

So they elected a commission to ascertain what was above.
The commission dispatched a sharp-sighted fleet-footed
mole. He, having left his native mother earth,
caught sight of a tree with a bird on it.

Thus a theory was put forward that up above
birds grew on trees. However,
some moles thought this was
too simple. So they dispatched another
mole to ascertain if birds did grow on trees.

By then it was evening and on the tree
some cats were mewing. Mewing cats,
the second mole announced, grew on the tree.
Thus an alternative theory emerged about cats.

The two conflicting theories bothered an elderly
neurotic member of the commission. And he
climbed up to see for himself.
By then it was night and all was pitch-black.

Both schools are mistaken, the venerable mole declared.
Birds and cats are optical illusions produced
by the refraction of light. In fact, things above

Were the same as below, only the clay was less dense and
the upper roots of the trees were whispering something,
but only a little.

And that was that.

Ever since the moles have remained below ground:
they do not set up commissions
or presuppose the existence of cats.

Or if so only a little.

Miroslav Holub

A poem describing the scientific method and why scientists can disagree on results. From ‘Poems Before & After’, Blood axe Books, 2006.

Poems Before & After is available from

A Valentine that is Technically a Sonnet

How do I love thee? Let me quantify the ways.
I loved thee when first I observed thy configuration,
And I jumped to an excited state.
Before I met thee, I was a free radical,
But thou has made me more stable.
I loved thy reaction when a jewel (joule?) I shocked thee with.
We bonded and are now at equilibrium in the combined state.

Thou makest me feel almost noble.
I love thee for the children thou hast generated,
Who daily prove the second law of thermodynamics.
I love thee this Valentine’s Day, February 14,
Which incidentally is Jimmy Hoffa’s birthday.
I tell thee how I love thee,
That our love may never be reduced.

by Lowell T. Christensen

Collected from

Victorian Scientists writing poetry

Back in 2011, New Scientist magazine produced an excellent article on poetry written by Victorian scientists, including the great James Clark Maxwell. In 1865 he demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel through space as waves moving at the speed of light.

The poems the article mentions are collected  here:

They are quite serious in the main, and sometimes written to catch the reader out. But this one is simply fun, a physics parody of the great Rabbie Burns:

Rigid Body Sings

Gin a body meet a body
Flyin’ through the air.
Gin a body hit a body,
Will it fly? And where?
Ilka impact has its measure,
Ne’er a ane hae I,
Yet a’ the lads they measure me,
Or, at least, they try.

Gin a body meet a body
Altogether free,
How they travel afterwards
We do not always see.
Ilka problem has its method
By analytics high;
For me, I ken na ane o’ them,
But what the waur am I?