Monday, October 16, 2006

And now, a tale from The Husband’s grad lab

As we are all aware by now, The Husband is also a huge geek. Even geekier than I, as a matter of fact, at least in the traditional sense. He, however, was smart enough to stop his education with a Master’s Degree instead of subjecting himself to the Ph.D. experience.

But this story is not about The Husband. This story is about one of The Husband’s grad school labmates, Clueless. Clueless was in his second year of graduate school, pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering, having already earned a B.S. in engineering. But one afternoon when both Clueless and The Husband were working on a homework assignment for a class they were both taking, Clueless asked The Husband, “What’s a determinant?”

The Husband was mildly surprised that Clueless did not already know, but realized that the concept of “determinant” is not actually very easy, so he figured that Clueless had just forgotten how to calculate them or something and said, “It’s the cross product of the bottom two rows of the matrix, remember?”

“Huh?” Clueless responded. “I don’t know what you are talking about. I’ve never even heard of a determinant.”

For those of you reading this who are not engineers, let me tell you that The Doktah’s jaw has just hit the floor in shock. Because it is impossible to get a degree in engineering without learning about determinants in about nine different classes. They are first introduced in Calculus III, and then they are used in Thermodynamics, Heat and Mass Transfer, Fluid Dynamics, Differential Equations... I could go on. So, while it is possible that someone could graduate with a degree in engineering without understanding determinants – Lord knows I don’t remember what they are used for, just that they are very, very useful – there is no way to get an B.S.E. without having heard of determinants. This was worse than The Husband’s never having heard of Donnie and Marie.

In closing, I will leave you with Webster’s definition of a determinant. I’m sure it will completely explain the concept to you.

de•ter•mi•nant
Pronunciation: di-'t&r-m&-n&nt
Function: noun
2 : a square array of numbers bordered on the left and right by a vertical line and having a value equal to the algebraic sum of all possible products where the number of factors in each product is the same as the number of rows or columns, each factor in a given product is taken from a different row and column, and the sign of a product is positive or negative depending upon whether the number of permutations necessary to place the indices representing each factor's position in its row or column in the order of the natural numbers is odd or even

Got that?

2 comments:

Doktah said...

Yep, on the floor.

Tracy said...

same for my dh. what on earth, he said? how???