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Astrophysicist finds faster way to board planes

Whatever you do, don’t annoy an astrophysicist, because he will devote tremendous time, brainpower and vocabulary to making us all look like idiots. A few years ago, Jason Steffen got all agitated while waiting to take his airplane seat. Had it been a Ron Howard movie, this scene would have had an elaborate CGI montage with floating numbers and complex algorithms flying through the air as Steffen realizes that our current method – boarding in groups, back to front – is really dumb. I mean, hasn’t anyone heard of a Fermi-Dirac Distribution, for chrissakes? (I hadn’t, but apparently it is real and relevant to boarding an airplane).

Clearly, something had to be done, and Steffen wrote an entire software program dedicated to finding a solution. After a few more montages and some pulsating electronic music (like that opening sequence of THE SOCIAL NETWORK), Steffen struck upon a new-and-improved model to load passengers from the back, starting with people seated along the windows. The whole thing gets really confusing, but basically the first passenger to board sits in the window seat in the last row, followed by the person sitting at the window two rows ahead. Then the window seat for each row in-between boards next. Repeat as necessary for middle and aisle seats. In Steffen’s own words: “Since the decision-making and passenger-boarding models ultimately result in a microcanonical ensemble of passenger states, the chemical potential is determined by the number of passengers and their energies and not by a chemical potential of a passenger exchanging reservoir as in the grand canonical ensemble.” Duh.

As it turns out, airlines are pretty keen on finding speedy new boarding methods since their planes only generate revenue while they’re in the air. So in June, Steffen’s method was tested along with four other proposals, with 72 passengers loaded onto a Boeing 757. At 3 minutes and 36 seconds, Steffen’s model was way faster than the current back-t0-front method, which clocked in at 6:11. For those of us who watched Bill Nye during our childhoods, let’s hear a hearty “Science Rules!”