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Heee - ee - re’s Einstein!

Photonics Spectra
Apr 2005
Einstein’s theories have been presented and debated in many forms and forums, but a performing group called punkscience may be the first to present them as a comedy act. The team, which includes actors, a clown, a writer and a musician, will present its revue in May at The Science Museum in London, targeting an audience that participating comedian Jonathan Milton describes as “any adult who has ever showed even the slightest interest in science.” Sounds like a hot date destination.


The content leaves boy-meets-girl plots and change-a-lightbulb jokes in the dust, concentrating on Einstein’s concepts of Brownian motion and photoelectric effect and his general and special theories of relativity. In fact, the museum commissioned the show as part of a program honoring the 100th anniversary of the physicist’s publication of his papers on these topics.  The problem with a show about theoretical physics, Milton said, is that the topic is not that visual. But the group finds ways to help the audience out. For example, he explained, “With the photoelectric effect, we create a human atom. Dan [Carter-Hope] is the nucleus, and I am the electrons dancing around him in an annoying fashion, holding some balls in my hands. We then introduce light in the form of a baseball bat that hits the electrons (balls) out of my hands.”

Yes, he admits, it’s a bit oversimplified, but he insists it gets the point across.

Another skit uses a light clock with a photon bouncing between two mirrors to demonstrate special relativity. “I won’t say how we do it because it would spoil the illusion,” Milton said, but he added that the photon is a ball on a stick and a fake arm gets into the act, too.

Now, what we want to know is whether the troupe has found a square emcee to introduce it.

A unit of energy equal to the amount of energy absorbed by one molecule of material undergoing a photochemical reaction, as determined by the Stark-Einstein law.
photoelectric effect
The emission of an electron from a surface that occurs when a photon impinges upon the surface and is absorbed. This effect is the means by which photons may be detected.
Basic ScienceEinsteinLighter Sidephotoelectric effectpunkscienceScience Museumtheoretical physics

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