My students often ask me for good books, or web sites, to read on this or that topic. In my solid state physics course, they wanted a reference on semiconductor physics. Rather sheepishly I told them to google “Britney Spears”. That’s right, Britney Spears – teen idol turned train wreck. It turns out that the best reference on semiconductor physics on the web is called the Britney Spears’ Guide to Semiconductor Physics, and it mixes lessons in hard core physics with comments about Britney’s lip gloss. Some very bored students (yes they are in the UK) realized there was a need for a semiconductor guide and thought it would be entertaining to mix in some pop culture. To be honest, they really did a nice job with the science. And back when they made this site, Britney was just a cute young thing, rather than the celebrity Icarus that she is now. (I really like the picture of her next to Einstein here)

Well, it didn’t stop there. The Princeton chemist, Bob Cava, liked Christina Aguilera better (with good reason, she’s got an awesome voice). Anyway, Bob was apparently just itching for a chance to make a similar homage to her.

Along comes Magnesium Boride – a chemical compound made of only two elements, Magnesium and Boron. There are only so many elements on the periodic table (about one hundred of them), and so the number of compounds you can make with only two elements is rather limited. With hundreds of thousands of chemists in the world mixing things up constantly, you would think that something as simple as Magnesium Boride would have been studied to death by this time. Well, by some fluke of history, it had not been. It turns out that MgB2 (as it is now known) has a really stunning property – it superconducts at a temperature much higher than anything except a very very few extremely complex compounds. No one had noticed this until 2001 when a Japanese group announced their discovery in perhaps the shortest paper ever written in one of the premier scientific journals, Nature.

Cava, as a prominent chemist in the field, was asked to write a blurb (News and Views) in Nature to accompany the announcement. Somehow or other, he managed to get Nature to title his article “Genie in a Bottle”. Apparently none of the editors at the journal Nature listen to pop music.

Us nerds is easily amused.


T said...

I suspect Magnesium Boride must be beautiful in every single way.

Steve said...

Magnesium Boride was discovered a few months before the release of the grammy winning "Beautiful". Perhaps it was the inspiration for the song.

No matter what they say...