Word of the Day: Degenerate

There are many words which take a very different meaning in their scientific context to what they might mean in everyday use.

One that can cause a little bit of shock, then perhaps a giggle, is “degenerate”, used as an adjective.

Usually when you call someone or something degenerate, you are being insulting. It has connotations of stupidity, inferiority, degredation. In science, it can be much more innocent.

If you’re in physics or chemistry class and a pair or set of things get called “degenerate”, all it means is that they have the same amount of energy. So, there’s nothing wrong with a pair of degenerate electrons, they are just two electrons hanging out with the same energy.