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Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Matt McGann '00

Feb 9, 2008

Physics Prof. Peter Fisher on Conan

Posted in: Best of the Blogs, MIT Facts

You may know Conan O'Brien, host of the popular late night talk show Late Night with Conan O'Brien. For the past month, Conan's show has been airing without the benefit of writers, due to the strike (soon to be settled?) by the Writers Guild of America. Without writers, the show has resorted to some fairly ridiculous ways to kill time, including an ongoing feud with Stephen Colbert (resolved in a battle royale), a German disco light shows, a visit to the doctor, a turtle race, and ring spinning.

In what has been very compelling television, Conan has been spinning his wedding ring on his desk, trying to see for how long he can get it to spin. He has been trying in vain to beat his record of 41 seconds.

Clearly, this is a physics problem. And when there's an important physics problem, who do you call? That's right -- MIT.

So last night, MIT Physics Professor Peter Fisher appeared on Late Night to help Conan finally beat the record.

As Conan explained on the air, the show called Prof. Fisher "out of the blue." Nevermind that his principle work is on dark matter, not really related to the ring spinning -- but who cares. He's still an MIT Physicist.

To solve the problem, Prof. Fisher asked many other for help, including his students in freshman physics class ("50 pulsating brains at my disposal"), MIT researcher Jocelyn Monroe, and his daughter.

My favorite exchange of the evening comes right before they try to break the record.


Conan: [with sarcasm] A lot of people, many Americans have cancelled their plans tonight and are watching right now.


Prof. Fisher: This is an important problem! The great physicist Richard Feynman [MIT '39] in thinking about a problem like this solved quantum electrodynamics.

Conan: Yes. So maybe by thinking about this problem we will solve a much larger problem. How to travel through time!

Prof. Fisher: We solved that. My colleague Eddie Farhi worked that out, in fact.

Conan: Well of course. Probably by spinning a ring.

Prof. Fisher: Well, you can do it but the universe explodes afterwards.

Conan: Big whoop. Small price to pay to get to meet Lincoln, you know?


Also, the vocabulary word of the day is nutate:


nutate: verb - rock, sway, or nod; usually involuntarily


Because the segment ran 14 minutes (14 minutes!), the YouTube video is broken up into two parts below. Check it out, and enjoy!

In the end, Prof. Fisher's teflon solution helped Conan break the record, setting a new mark of 51 seconds!

This spring, you can see Prof. Fisher teaching 8.02 (freshman physics: electricity & magnetism) every Monday and Wednesday from 11am to 1pm and every Friday from 11am to noon in Room 26-152. And you can read online about his research with the Dark Matter Time Projection Chamber (currently employing four very lucky UROPs!).

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)


Posted by: 0 on February 9, 2008

"Well, you can do it but the universe explodes afterwards."

This has got to be the best filler they've ever done. I'm kind of hoping, in some crazy, twisted way, that the strike doesn't get resolved for a little longer. Maybe they can bring Walter Lewin on or something -- now THAT would be funny.

Oh, and a note to all those "FIRST!" posters out there: getting the first post is NOT THAT BIG OF A DEAL. In fact, posting just to say "FIRST!" is not really as exhilirating as it seems, and you'll most likely embarrass yourself in the process.

Posted by: asm on February 9, 2008


Posted by: 0 on February 9, 2008

That was the most awesomely useless use of Physics ever.

Posted by: Nick on February 9, 2008

This was one of the best Conan interviews I've seen in a had science, silliness, and, at the end, one dazed professor. He seemed a bit taken aback by all the hubbub he'd caused.

I'm a bit surprised that, being a Harvard alum, Conan didn't call up one of their professors. But I'm not complaining.

Go Tech!

Posted by: Matt, PSU '11 on February 9, 2008

The better physics problem would be to get a Brass rat to spin for that long.

Posted by: 0 on February 9, 2008

I really wanted to watch that last night but it was on at 12:30.

The lubrication test is the best part.

Posted by: Steph on February 9, 2008

ZOMG I have the same lab notebook!!

Posted by: 0 on February 9, 2008

Wow, haha, their exchange on him being a Patriot is great. "Don't hit the man, he's got glasses."

Posted by: Jarey on February 9, 2008

It's nutating!!! lol great segment

Posted by: 0 on February 9, 2008

he gave it extra energy mid-spin :(
I demand a re-spin!

Posted by: adam ionescu on February 9, 2008

I love how, once the professor mentioned lubricants, the audience started giggling, while I immediately thought of graphite and teflon.

Posted by: Laura on February 10, 2008

he didn't give it any torque. the spin is good raspberry

also, this video made my day and I've shown it to everyone on my hall. also, this is funny, too:

Posted by: lulu on February 10, 2008

Hahaha, that was great! I am sure this work will find a good use someday.

And I figured out that I am not very good at spinning a ring. 7.8 seconds. :-|

Posted by: Tanmay on February 10, 2008

I wonder what they planned on doing with all the balloons, confetti, and dancing guys if the they hadn't broken the record....

And unrelated to ring spinning...Stephen Colbert clearly won that melee, he's the only true talk show host of the three :-p

Posted by: David Howdyshell on February 10, 2008

I am showing this to my friends who still believe science is not cool ^^

Posted by: Isshak on February 10, 2008

Hahaha I love how Fisher is just sitting there with this WTF look on his face while Conan's jumping up and down and doing pushups.

Posted by: milena '11 on February 10, 2008

Wow I honestly can't believe I watched all that. lol too much awesomeness

Posted by: Kevin Xu on February 10, 2008

LOL hilarious video, I wish i could have seen live. Loved the part with the math, the berkeley thing, and when they celebrated at the end. Prof. Fisher's face was priceless (im adding it to my bookmarks on youtube).
-sam r.

Posted by: Sam R. '12 on February 10, 2008

On the first day of 8.02 this term Prof. Fischer gave his spiel about not getting into MIT and going to Berkeley. That was definitely a pretty fun class.

We were going over vector fields and had to get up and walk around to simulate particles in fields -- he put one on the board where all field lines led to the door. Everyone was like "uhhhhh..." and Prof. Fisher announced "BREAK TIME!"

Posted by: rko on February 10, 2008

This is so excellent! I bookmarked it too. Also, thank you and the rest of the bloggers for the Valentine's Day card! Things like this make me sure MIT is the school for me =)

Posted by: Ginger on February 10, 2008

I agree with Milena & Sam R.

Professor Fisher's reaction was perfect. Specifically when 3 dancers were behind him and Conan was going crazy in front. (starting 7:45 of video 2) Funny!

Posted by: Chris T on February 10, 2008

Man, thats some way of learning physics :D... I love it!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Shruthi on February 11, 2008

I agree with Milena & Sam R.

People believe that it will be reality for the ordinary people to travel through time!, due to the MIT solution. I watched the show and found it both funny and inspirational.

Posted by: HappilyNerdy88 on February 11, 2008

lol,lol too much awesomeness.Yay.

Posted by: 0 on February 11, 2008

I'm a bit surprised that, being a Harvard alum, Conan didn't call up one of their professors. But I'm not complaining.

Posted by: Kim on February 11, 2008

I actually feel a little bad for Professor Fisher. "It took you two pages to find out that air drag was insignificant?" No, it took him two pages to *prove* it. Sheesh.

Posted by: Susan on February 11, 2008

While I feel proud as a part of DMTPC, I should also mention those Youtube videos, while awesome, violate a whole slew of copyright laws and will likely be taken down soon. :(

Posted by: Timur on February 11, 2008

Aaaand it's down. :(

Posted by: Timur on February 12, 2008

One problem though; my application fee waiver request remains unprocessed, too bad!

Posted by: Deusse on February 12, 2008

I love how, once the professor mentioned lubricants, the audience started giggling, while I immediately thought of graphite and teflon.

Posted by: Megan on February 12, 2008

What? No more video?

Posted by: Alecia on February 12, 2008

The video's gone :(
Youtube's gotten uncannily fast at taking these down.

Posted by: Hyun Jin on February 13, 2008

Very funny!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I couldn't stop laughing!

I completely agree with whoever said that the first posts have got to stop.

Posted by: aleksey on February 13, 2008

Working copies of the videos can be found here.

Posted by: Blake Stacey on February 14, 2008

Dear Hiliheiff,

You fail at the Internet. Congratulations on your idiocy.


Posted by: Timur on February 20, 2008

Comments have been closed.