On campus yesterday, I ran into a colleague I had not seen in a long time. She was with her daughter. She introduced us, saying, among other things, that Professor Johnson is “Big in Cosmology”.
I’ll admit that I giggled like a naughty schoolgirl for a longish, unprofessorial moment. It was sort of hard to explain, and would have derailed the conversation, so I did not try. Why was I giggling? Well, it is just that the field of cosmology (which, for the record, is indeed a topic I often think about, to which some of my work pertains – mostly via the quantum gravity and the nature of spacetime route – but not enough to really call me a Cosmologist per se) is largely about physics on the largest of scales, so large that entire galaxies (which each contain hundreds of billions of stars) are treated (quite accurately, for some questions) as tiny structureless flecks of dust.
So to be described as “Big in Cosmology” has a double entendre to it that is on the one hand about as flattering as one can get in my field (were I to take it seriously, and I won’t – she was simply being kind), and on the other hand, just plain (albeit unintentionally) funny.