I was grabbing lunch over at the student center before a big meeting today and saw a colleague from the math department carrying a sack that had e to the i pi, except using math symbols that I don't know how to reproduce in blogger or wordprocessors. (So, that's e, the symbol of the base of the natural logarithm thingy; i, the symbol of the imaginary square root of negative one; and pi, the ratio of any circle's circumference to its diameter--which has to be one of the coolest things to learn is a constant, no?)
Now, I pretty much understand the concept of i and pi, but e I just didn't get at all. I remembered from sixth grade math or something that it's the natural log, but what the heck does that mean?
So I asked! And it's SO COOL! My colleague started drawing stuff on the campus newspaper lying nearby, and it made sense! (My colleague's stuff looks much like these Wikipedia illustrations.)
What a very, very cool number! Why didn't they teach us that part in sixth grade?
I love that I can learn things in casual conversation that answer questions I never quite knew I had until the conversation starts.
Now I want to track down a chemistry colleague and ask why there are 6.02 x 10 to the 23 (10 superscript 23, however one does that on blogger) particles per mole. Why did ol' Avogadro choose that number? Because it always seemed to me so arbitrary, like a dozen, just an arbitrary extra name for a weird number that we had to learn. But, knowing chemists, there's some really great reason for that particular number.
There are lots of things in life that I semi-remember from grade or high school, and love to get a good explanation from my colleagues about. And the delightful thing is, my colleagues here are usually incredibly good at explaining things and helping me understand them, and willing to do so with a generous spirit and great kindness.
What questions would you line up?