[In lab. An UNDERGRAD research assistant is hard at work on their project as their PROFESSOR packs up to leave.]
PROFESSOR: Hey, have any more questions about the project? I’m about to head out.
UNDERGRAD: Uhh, no, I think I’m okay for now…
P: I’ll see you tomorrow then! Great work so far.
[PROFESSOR opens the door and begins to leave, but UNDERGRAD stops them]
U: Professor? I, uhh… I do have a question, but not about the project…
P: [turning in the doorway] Oh? Can you make it quick?
U: Yeah, uhh… I was just wondering… Where do theories come from?
P: [flustered] Oh! Well, erm… Where did you hear about theories?
U: Some of the grads were talking about making theories at lunch…
P: [laughs nervously] Ahah, I’ll have to have a talk with their advisers… Well, you see, it’s an amazing thing. Physicists have thoughts, right, and coffee has caffeine…
U: [rapt] Uh huh
P: And, uh… Well, when a physicist loves a cup of coffee very much, the caffeine from the coffee and the thoughts from the physicist join together in the physicist’s brain to form an idea. The idea sits there and develops, and after about nine months is put to paper as a theory!
U: Oh wow.
P: Is that more clear now?
U: I guess…
P: Wonderful. Well, good luck with your work! You really don’t need to be worrying about theories at your age.
[PROFESSOR turns to leave again, nearly closing the door behind them. UNDERGRAD stops them again]
U: Uh, professor?
P: [head poking through the door] Yes?
U: Um… How does the caffeine get inside the physicist?
P: [blushing deeply] Ahh, well… um… You know, that’s something you’ll learn when you’re older.
This post originally appeared in an email announcing the Cornell physics graduate student coffee hour.