Sunday, February 01, 2009

Sock and Anti-Sock Pairs

Back when I was hard at work doing my Physics undergraduate degree (a quarter of a century ago!) I remember a few of us finding creative ways to spend the time during the 4 hour practical sessions we had twice a week. Well there are only so many times you can do Millikan's experiment or kill a cat in an enclosed box with a stray beta particle. (OK that last one is something we planned but never quite did for obvious reasons and it still scores high on the "what if?" discussions at reunions.) So what we often did was end up spending hours reading New Scientist.

The one article that has stuck in my mind for that length of time was a brief description of why you end up with odd socks in the wash and usually a piece of fluff. From what I can recall, it talked about spontaneous creation of anti-socks and sock/anti-sock annihilation. To us physics students it appealed on at least two levels: the obvious physics analogies concerning matter and anti-matter, but also the fact that for most of us this was the first time we'd been away from home and having to worry about doing our own washing, much of which was full of fluff and stray socks that we were sure weren't our own! Many times over the years I wish I'd kept that article. I had hoped that the wonder of the digital age would help, but this is the closest I've found.

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