Comics about mathematics, science, and the student life.


Left panel (How it happened): Two points connected by a twisting journey that is messy. Right panel (What we show): Two points connected by a curve which only goes up and down a bit. Tangle-free.

We aren’t photons, so we do like to give a story that isn’t a straight line.


A student complaining to their teacher. Student: "Give me one example of when I'll use this!" Teacher: "Your test next week?" Student: "Damn it, good point."

The teacher: “If you think about it, we’re giving you the most topical information you could ever want for success in your career as a student.”


A plot of believability versus the number of coincidences. Life is a constant function, and in fiction, there's a step function that drops to near-zero after two coincidences.

I think this is the reason behind the saying that life is stranger than fiction. Life is allowed to be as weird and wonderful as it likes, while those writers need to adhere to strict rules.


A plot of ambition versus the location in a paper. The introduction starts off with a lot of ambition, and things steadily drop as we get to the model and the technical results. But by the time we get to conclusion, we're skyrocketing in ambition.

The classic “U” shape of a paper. I’m guilty too.


Twelve different groups. 1: An Ensemble of Statistical Physicists, as a bunch of dots. 2: A Galaxy of Astrophysicists, as a galaxy composed of people. 3: A Mole of Chemists, as a bunch of dots that are close to a mole. 4: A Ring of Algebraists, arranged in a ring. 5: A Mass of Gravitational Physicists, as a bound cluster. 6: A Superposition of Quantum Physicists, as a wavefunction. 7: A Clique of Graph Theorists, arranged in a clique on a graph. 8: A Scattering of Particle Physicists, as a Feynman diagram. 9: A Cluster of Computational Scientists, arranged in a cluster with their laptops. 10: A Manifold of Topologists, arranged on a manifold. 11: A Distribution of Statisticians, arranged according to a probability distribution. 12: A Minimum of Optimization Scientists, at the minimum of a function.

I used to be in the Mass of Gravitational Physicists, but I couldn’t resist the allure of the Superposition of Quantum Physicists.

(Side note: This is the 500th comic. When I began, I couldn’t even imagine doing fifty. I had no idea I’d find so much handwaving to do. Thanks for reading!)


Four panels, with title: Distractions for Scientists. Top left: A fancy plot. Top right (An unexpected observation): A researcher on their laptop, holding their chin and saying, "That's weird." Bottom left (Papers online): The site for the arXiv. Bottom right (Free food): First scientist, "Going to the seminar? There's free food." Other scientist, "I'm in."

Other distractions: The internet, any stray blackboard with a half-finished calculation, a dinner table with a bunch of other scientists, and a stack full of good fiction books to read.


Researcher at a board: "Any questions?" "..." from the audience. The researcher: "Okay, I'll assume everything was clear." Caption: I think we need a new default assumption.

The trick for engagement: “Whoever didn’t understand anything of what I said, please say nothing.”


Three panels. First panel (Caption: Hours of debugging): A researcher writing code at their computer. Second panel (Caption: One satisfying second for launching it): The researcher clicks a key on the laptop. Third panel (Caption: Hours of staring at the job while it runs): "Well, it's 0.01% done."

I have some weird obsession checking the progress of code as it runs, even when I know that it’s going to be a while.


A graph showing the amount of self-learning over time. The curve remains at zero for a long time, until the spiking up at the start of graduate school.

Where do you think those school fees go, anyway? Teachers?

Magical Ingredient

A graph showing the proportion of time spent in the different parts of writing a paper. A small part is the initial draft, most of the line is revision, and then at the very end is publication. An arrow points to the revision section, noting: The not-so-magical ingredient to good writing.

Unless you hit on an amazing concept in the first draft, you shouldn’t be surprised to see changes between the initial and final product.