Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Hideous Kinky

So, there's this interesting effect going on with the size of lead nuclei as you add more neutrons, whereby the radius suddenly goes up at a much larger rate as you go beyond 126 neutrons.  This is commonly called the "kink effect" in the isotope shift.  People have been calling it that in published papers for years.

I recently wrote a paper with a student and another academic about the reason that this happens.  I think we came across the correct reason, and that it's simultaneously simple and profound.  Thinking those things, I thought it was worth writing up for publication in journal Physical Review Letters, which is the sort of place one sends stuff which should be of general interest to the wider physics community, and is also quite prestigious and a bit difficult to publish in.

The good result is that the referees liked the paper and it will be published there.  The bad news is that our title for the paper, "Why is lead so kinky?" was deemed unsuitable by the journal.  Even before sending it to referees, they asked us to change the title to something which reflected the content of the paper.  In every dictionary I looked in (including the one I bought when I lived in America) the word kinky meant having a kink in the sense of a bend, in exactly the way the radius of lead isotopes does.  Sure, there is also a meaning, usually listed in the dictionary as informal or slang, in which kinky means having an outrĂ© sexual taste, but obviously we didn't mean that.

In the end, we had little choice but to change the title, but it seems a shame.  The title seemed entirely appropriate to me, and we were answering the question posed.  On the other hand, I don't want to complain too bitterly;  after all, the paper was accepted, and the science was considered sound.  Too bad that the American Physical Society are in favour of bowdlerising.  Except when they aren't...