“I don’t get all this fuss. I thought one of the Greek letters was already nu,” said one physics student.
Photo by Julia Wong
A recent announcement from the National Academy of Sciences has declared that physicists have run out of Greek letters. Although the strategic reserves of critical letters like lambda and mu were thought to be nearly inexhaustible, exponential progress in all fields of physics has outpaced production of new Greek letters, leading to physicists running out of vital alphas. This has triggered a discourse in the scientific community, and physicists are concerned they will need to come up with original notation for physical constants.
Several prominent researchers have weighed in on the crisis. Shelley Quark, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said, “It’s really hard to go without any Greek. I don’t need it to function, but I think using a delta every once in a while doesn’t really even count, and I’m honestly not that dependent on it.”
Some physicists blamed the crisis on other fields. “Everyone wants to blame the physicists, but if you think about it, we don’t even use that many,” said one physicist. “The math people use way more. What even is a sigma algebra anyways? Epsilon-delta? Lambda calculus? Aleph-null? That’s not even Greek!”
In response, the White House announced that they would begin investing in advanced recycling programs to reduce their dependence on imports from Greece. However, the supply of literature containing Greek letters is difficult to estimate, and investments may take years to become operational. The White House released a statement, declaring, “The United States is committed to securing the future of our Greek letter supplies, and we will use whatever means we deem appropriate to ensure our scientists have access to Greek.”
The crisis has prompted some resourceful physicists to search for other languages and cultures to appropriate. Mathematicians have pivoted to Hebrew, while many physicists at MIT have begun using kanji. Some have even resorted to inventing their own letters. A theoretical physicist who discovered a new particle interaction termed his discovery the “unGreek letter coefficient.”
Not all news is bad news, however. In response to the rapidly rising price of Greek letters and the subsequent hoarding of mu, tau, and rho, Greek letter manufacturers are experiencing a complete reversal of fortune from their low points during the COVID-19 pandemic. Greek writers are even beginning to produce “luxury letters” to appeal to upper-class readers, introducing such letters as “organic omega” and “fair-trade phi.”
Universities and laboratories are also racing to secure a reliable supply of Greek letters. When asked what steps the university is taking to ameliorate the crisis, UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla responded, “As a world-class research institution, we are committed to mistreating researchers, graduate students, undergraduate students, and generally making people’s lives worse. In accordance with these UCSD principles of community, we are now offering students the opportunity to be unpaid letter-producing interns for our physicists and mathematicians on campus.”