So long and thanks for all the physics: The Hitchhiker's Guide
|A Hitchhiker's Guide for first-year physics students
Of all of the documents uploaded to the arXiv - a virtual library of scientific publications - it is possible that only one is adorned with a smiling alien made of Feynman diagrams and the words "DON'T PANIC."
You might need an Infinite Improbability Drive to verify that claim, though. Over the course of more than 19 years, users have uploaded more than 627,000 publications to the database.
The document in question is "The Hitchhiker's Guide to First Year Physics Labs at UCD," a collection of handouts Ph.D. student Philip Ilten wrote between 2009 and 2010 for a class of freshmen he taught at University College Dublin.
Ilten arranged his handouts into a book during downtime at a theory school on QCD phenomenology and shared them with the world on Sept. 9.
"I'm a die-hard believer of open-source," he wrote in an e-mail. "I really believe that for science to make progress, we need to share absolutely everything."
It's not that he thinks his explanations are perfect. In the introduction to the book, he warns, "Despite my best effort, I am certain this book still contains spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, and worst of all, physics mistakes."
But the book is a living, crowd-sourced effort. A couple of people have already contacted him to offer their input, and he has made corrections.
A glance through the Physics Education section of the arXiv reveals that comprehensive guides like this are rare in the library. Rarer still might be the guide's approachable language and conversational tone.