An Unfortunate NameJanuary 12th, 2012
I mentioned in last year’s periodic table of cupcakes post that I go to a local high school about once a week to serve as a mentor for a program associated with Caltech’s NSF “Powering the Planet” center. A team of five students at the school synthesizes metal-oxide semiconductors on FTO-coated glass electrodes and screens these materials for catalytic activity in the photoelectrolysis of water. What makes the program so cool is that it’s not just a lab demo, it’s “real” research. There is a chance—albeit small—that we could happen across a great catalyst that will help solve the global energy problem.
When I started in the program, we used a scanning station assembled by a team at the University of Wyoming. They called the instrument “SHArK” for Solar Hydrogen Activity Research Kit and it had a cool shark logo and everything. Later on, one of the PIs at Caltech improved on the idea and built a second-generation scanning station that allowed for faster and more reliable screening. As with any new instrument, it came with a new name…the Solar Materials Discovery kit.
The benefits of the new kit were more-than-fair compensation for losing the cool shark mascot. At the beginning of this academic year, we discussed renaming the kit, but my suggestion of ORCA (Oxidation-Reduction Catalyst Assessment) was shot down. We ended up sticking with Solar Materials Discovery, or “SMD” for short. We have two SMD kits, SMD-1 and SMD-2, which my fellow mentors and I sign up to take to local schools for our weekly SMD activities.
So, that has been going on all year. Two days ago, I had lunch on campus with three former students who participated in the program when it was SHArK. These guys are back home from college and looking for trouble. Halfway into my meal of beef flautas, one of the students commented that the new name was weird and asked why we’d make such a ridiculous change.
“Why?” I asked.
“Ummm…because SMD stands for….ummm…suck my….”
Uh oh. I whipped out my phone to consult the Urban Dictionary, and sure enough, SMD is an accepted acronym for that vulgar phrase. And it’s not like this is an obscure, unpopular term—it has two thousand “thumbs up” votes for accuracy.
How on Earth did we all miss this? How did I—someone tuned into the worlds of technology and ribald humor—miss this?
For the past four months, I’ve been sending e-mails to sixteen-year olds asking the best time for me to come over for SMD. Caltech also has a Web site devoted to SMD, and we regularly give presentations discussing SMD and our SMD kits. I even designed that logo at the top of the post.
Ugh. Never have I felt so old…or dirty.