By GallowsHumor - 15/09/2014 20:28 - Finland

Today, I sat in on a university-level physics lecture, listening to my hyped-up co-students approximating the hypothetical situation of the Sun consisting of gerbils. The conversation then continued towards how much better energy/mass ratio the gerbil-sun would have compared to the actual star. FML
I agree, your life sucks 28 526
You deserved it 4 398

GallowsHumor tells us more.

GallowsHumor 8

Hi, I'm the OP. I realized I was reading my own FML and thus created this account. To elaborate the story, these estimations are called Fermi problems and they're designed to teach dimensional analysis and approximation. They're typical in physics and engineering education and mine is a mix of both. The gerbil-sun is actually an approximation presented by Dr. Larry Weinstein - a physics professor and co-author of 'Guesstimation: Solving the World's Problem's on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin'. I believe the title should speak for itself... *sigh*... and that is exactly how it felt to be on the lecture. It is not that I think that learning to approximate is something to be scoffed at, per se. Indeed, it is skill that all experimental scientists and other people alike do need and find useful - often in basic, everyday life. However this was the third lecture in the series and they all have gone more or less within the realm of vagueness, "hip" examples and little to grasp for the inevitable physics homework that doesn't solve itself. On a related note, my lecture-mates also eagerly discussed the approximate number of piano tuners in Finland (in the original problem the place is Chicago) and at which height Felix Baumgartner might have broken the sound barrier during his sky-dive from the altitude of 39 kilometers (estimate). As this endless drone went on and on, I sat there, bored out of my mind, desperately wondering if and when the tune of the lecture(s) would change and how the heck would I utilize this in the homework, most of which requires some actual and exact calculation, not just some half-baked estimates. Thus the FML. P.S. There's actually a short article in about Weinstein and his gerbil-sun, and I must say it was way more interesting (not to mention less time-consuming) a read than listening my class drone on and on about it and the other Fermi problems for 90 minutes straight.

Top comments

I'm not smart enough to understand this simple post.

What? I zoned out near the middle. That's some over the top stuff there.


I'm not smart enough to understand this simple post.

The classmate is saying "If the sun was made up of gerbils, it would have a better energy to mass ratio than the actual sun itself"

Life sure is hard for OP knowing stuff like this. FHL indeed.

I know some people think that not understanding math and science is cool and all but seriously? Can't you ******* read? Enough gerbils to occupy the Sun would have a higher energy/mass ratio than the star. You may think you're cool because you don't understand math and science but in reality you just can't read simple English.

Hey, I'm sure #1 doesn't think he's cool for not understanding the FML. I'm pretty sure saying you're not smart enough isn't a compliment.

that class sounds like a waste of college money to pay for

76- Students are talking amongst themselves. The lecture itself may not have and likely didn't have any superheated mammals inside cosmic bodies. At least, that's how I read the FML. EDIT: Just read the author's follow-up. Never mind.

I don't follow though. The sun consists of hydrogen and Helium. The two elements with the least density in the universe. Gerbils are carbon based life forms with oxygen mixed in there as well. So they would have much a much higher mass. A gerbil sun with the same mass as the current sun would be much smaller and wouldn't give off that much heat. Unless we are talking about fusing oxygen or carbon together?!

OP's from Finland, they have free higher education. So, technically Finnish government paid for the gerbil lecture.

GallowsHumor 8

Hi, I'm the OP and yes, that would be correct.

Sometimes it can be silly, but thought experiments are a useful way to think of "what ifs" in the world. It helps us keep on our toes and be prepared for unexpected events or findings. Scientists need to be creative too.

GallowsHumor 8

I wholeheartedly agree with what you're saying! It might have been interesting and fun to hear people pondering about this, say, on a bus, on their own time and mine, just not hours on end on a lecture, where the learning potential could be a lot higher. (If interested, I've elaborated the FML in comment #24)

Actually, there is a website called "what-if" that explored this idea of gerbils, if I remember it right... in a much more appropriated media, indeed, OP. Oh, I love you country and I'm definitely going there one day o/

"The Finnish government paid it"? Everyone who's paying taxes paid it. And that's one of the many reasons why the true tax rate is almost 50% in Finland.

I know that feeling. Stupid students, right?

I think they were actually having a pretty creative and awesome conversation. I wish I was there to see how they began the topic of a gerbil sun and give some input.

#3 How are they stupid? They're college level physics students. I never thought of what would happen if the sun was made of gerbils. They could be onto something and maybe it could spawn a fantastic new discovery. I'm just glad you weren't there to ruin it Mr. Buzzkill.

Somehow it seems like a fun conversation. Illogical, yes, but still fun.

As OP said, this conversation would only be fun if it a) was somewhere else where OP wasn't forced to listen and could leave whenever he wanted, & b) wasn't an hour long lecture that could be replaced with something of actual value towards his education.

anniemeece 23

I fail to see the FML here. Sounds awesome and fun!

It's a waste of time/money/resources. Things you can never get back. I'd rather learn everything faster to have more time to study for exams then waste it on that stuff.

GallowsHumor 8

I agree. That is exactly what I was trying to say. It feels like a huge waste of time. Off the topic: I'm also an only child. Coincidence? Or are we more no-nonsense than the rest?

trellz17 19

Well the gerbil sun would use way less energy. I'm with those kids

the kids are saying that if the gerbil sun had the same energy as the sun, it would have a better mass to energy ratio. if the gerbil sun used less energy, it would have a lower mass to energy ratio

trellz17 19

Yes I can comprehend that. I'm saying that if possible a sun that was comprised of gerbils would consume less energy than a norm star. Well I think it would.

Yes but it only works for spherical gerbils in a vacuum

fffianist 9

You're not really one of those "young people are our greatest hope" types, are you?

Sounds to me like they were actually engaging in a conversation about physics. Even though it was a silly subject, you need to have a basic understanding of physics to actually think that situation through. Smart kids, if a bit silly.

I don't understand how this is an FML. It just sounds like some college students having a little fun.