Bohemian Mechanics
Words by Jake Ralston

Tune: "Bohemian Rhapsody", by Freddie Mercury
Click here to play tune in the background

Bohemian Mechanics by Jake Ralston
Is this the real life-
Is this just classical-
Caught in a square well-
No escape from potential walls-
Open your mind
To quantum mechanics and see-
The particle’s in, a superposition-
Of many eigenstates, wave functions,
Some spin up, some spin down,
Phipps and Taylor’s results, tells us spin’s intrinsic, to e-
To e-

Teacher, just cut a tip,
Put it in the S.T.M.
Saw the tunneling current,
Teacher, the tip worked so well,
But now I’ve gone and dropped it on the floor-
Teacher, ooo-,
Didn’t mean to call Suzanne-
But she’s the only one who cuts it well-
Overflow, overflow, cause the current’s way too high.

Wavestate, time to collapse,
Become an eigenstate-
Of the measurement you take,
Goodbye, operator- I’ve got to change-
Gotta get inside the bra- and the ket
Commutator ooo- (depends on which one goes first)
You will never know,
Two things when the commutator’s not zero.

I see a result which implies a paradox,
Think it through, think it though will you do the thought experiment-
Fermi calculations- very, very frightening me-

Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman,
Albert Einstein, Albert Einstein,
Richard Feynman Q.E.D. – Relativity--

I’m just a proton with an electron-
He’s hydrogenic, thus fully solvable!
Spare him his pride from approx-imations!

Spherical, Cartesian- will you let me choose?
Cartesian! No-, we must choose spherical- Let me choose-
Cartesian! We must choose spherical- Let me choose-
Cartesian! We must choose spherical- Let me choose-
Must choose spherical- Let me choose-
Must choose spherical- Let me choose-
Rho, rho, rho, rho, rho, rho, rho-
Sphere harmonics, sphere harmonics, sphere harmonics, superpose!
Sch-rödinger has a value put aside for me, for me, for me!

So you think you can measure time and energy?
So you think you can measure Ly and Lz?
Oh baby- Heisenberg says no baby-
There’s uncertainty, there’s uncertainty built in here.

Nothing’s really matter,
E is m c squared,
Nothing’s really matter, nothing’s really matter to me.

(Anyway the spin goes...)

Original version (Bohemian Rhapsody), by Freddie Mercury
Is this the real life-
Is this just fantasy-
Caught in a landslide-
No escape from reality-
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see-
I’m just a poor boy, i need no sympathy-
Because I’m easy come, easy go,
A little high, little low,
Anyway the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me,
To me

Mama, just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head,
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead,
Mama, life had just begun,
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away-
Mama ooo,
Didn’t mean to make you cry-
If I’m not back again this time tomorrow-
Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters-

Too late, my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine-
Body’s aching all the time,
Goodbye everybody-I’ve got to go-
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth-
Mama ooo- (any way the wind blows)
I don’t want to die,
I sometimes wish Id never been born at all.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, scaramouche will you do the fandango-
Thunderbolt and lightning-very very frightening me-

Galileo, Galileo,
Galileo, Galileo
Galileo, Figaro- magnifico-

But I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me-
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family-
Spare him his life from this monstrosity!

Easy come easy go-, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No-,we will not let you go-Let him go-
Bismillah! We will not let you go-Let him go
Bismillah! We will not let you go-Let me go
Will not let you go-Let me go
Will not let you go- Let me go
No, no, no, no, no, no, no-
Mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go!
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me!

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
So you think you can love me and leave me to die?
Oh baby-can't do this to me baby-
Just gotta get out-just gotta get right outta here.

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters-,nothing really matters to me.

(Anyway the wind blows...)

1) Phipps and Taylor were the first to do the Stern-Gerlach experiment with hydrogen, showing the effect of electron spin in a very clean way. Read a nice explanation of the Stern-Gerlach experiment by Prof. David M. Harrison of the University of Toronto. Read Phipps and Taylor's original article.
2) "Suzanne" is Prof. Suzanne Amador-Kane, of the Haverford College physics dept. Amongst her many gifts is an uncanny ability to cut good STM tips.
3) The song says, "You will never know / Two things when the commutator's not zero." This is a reference to the generalized uncertainty principle. I've been unable to find a good web page to explain this, but here is the summary of my lecture about it, which, even if incomprehensible without having seen my lecture, is at least brief and perhaps even amusing, especially if you like Spaceballs. There's a reference to an instance of this principle near the end, when the song says, "
So you think you can measure Ly and Lz?". In this case, the uncertainty principle is that the product of the uncertainty in Ly and the uncertainty in Lz is proportional to Lx.
Play with a fun applet illustrating the Phipps & Taylor version of the Stern-Gerlach experiment.
(From the Physics Education Technology project at the University of Colorado.)

Purchase the CD of the album on which Bohemian Rhapsody originally appeared from

Purchase the original song in DRM-free mp3 format from
(Click on the play icon for a 30-second sample.)


mp3 of the first ever performance, in Haverford College Physics 214b, 5-9-08
(Lead vocals by WFS, harmony by Marian McKenzie, auxiliary harmony by Andrew Ross. Note: performance quality is not very good, so this is mostly for historical interest.)

Background image: The Phipps-Taylor experiment (i.e. the Stern-Gerlach experiment, but done with hydrogen instead of silver), adapted from lecture notes by Prof. M. E. Tuckerman, New York University

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