Gilbert and Sullivan (and Cambridge, Condensed-Matter Physics, and The Elements)

Tom Lehrer once proclaimed, as part of the song “Clementine,” that songs from Gilbert and Sullivan (especially when it comes to a “rousing finale”) were “full of words and music and signifying nothing.”

Of course, Gilbert and Sullivan often provide a great foundation to write a parody, as Tom Lehrer himself demonstrated in “The Elements” (and in “Clementine”).

Indeed, many others have gotten into the act, and “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” (which Lehrer parodied in “The Elements”) is a good place to start. University of Cambridge has a Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics with the lamentably unpronounceable acronym of DAMTP. Thankfully, this lamentation has been expressed in verse via a parody of “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.” The lyrics begin with the following verse:

When naming a department,
The shorthand’s not academical,
Particularly when the work
Is mostly theoretical;
Noble and Perspicuous,
Yet positively memorable,
And at the very least,
It should be certainly pronounceable.

Not to be outdone, I decided to get into the act and make fun of condensed-matter physics at the same time. Condensed-matter physics, which is ostensibly (and according to Wikipedia) the branch of physics that concerns “the physical properties of condensed phases of matter” (so it is seemingly well-named), evolved in part from solid-state physics, but it is in fact much more general than mere condensed phases of matter or even physics. I wrote about this in verse in a parody of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Matter-Patter Trio,” which seemed ideal for my purposes. In one snarky verse about complex systems, I bite the proverbial hand that feeds me (given my own research interests):

If I had been so lucky I would have studied complex systems
But unless I find a power law surely nobody will listen –
I was given good advice when my mentor saw me erring
That to study networks and call it “physics” would be ever so daring,
And then with real data I would truly get to fiddle,
And publish papers in Nature and Science that aren’t worth a piddle.
That particularly vapid, unintelligible patter
Is very sexy nowadays, but we all know it’s really condensed matter!