Imaginary things and a real £1000 prize

The following letter was submitted to the New Scientist from the company and was published on 27 May 2006.


I never imagined making comment about Stephen Hawking’s quantum properties of the cosmos and imaginary time (22 April, p28) but your paper mentions that electrical engineers routinely use complex numbers to design electrical circuits, as though this somehow might make the concept of imaginary time acceptable.

We do use complex numbers a lot, but only as a means of solving what would otherwise be horribly difficult trigonometry problems.  Voltages and currents of the same frequency are represented by co-planar vectors and these are overlaid with an Argand Diagram so that the vectors become complex numbers.  Dividing voltage by current gives a complex impedance with real part (resistance) and imaginary part (reactance).  Multiplying voltage and current gives a complex power with real power and imaginary power components.  I hate some of these names but we understand exactly what they mean.  Frequency, time and everything else in electrical engineering and, come to think about it, everything else in science, is real and we should not forget it.

My company has a £1000 prize awaiting the first who can name anything, which is indisputably imaginary in science, excluding mathematics!

John Sanderson, Managing Director

Terms and conditions apply.

If you would like to claim the £1000 prize, then E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Terms and Conditions for £1000 prize

  1. Power Engineering Consultants Plc, hereafter called the Sponsor, provides the single prize of £1000. Entries must be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. There is no closing date.
  2. The Sponsor, in consultation with the Editor of New Scientist, shall decide the winner, if any. This decision shall be final.
  3. Entrants further grant to the Sponsor the irrevocable right, but not the obligation, to use and publish online, in print or in any other media, their entry, proper name, town and/or county of their postal address.
  4. By entering, participants release and hold harmless the Sponsor, their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, directors, officers, employees and agents from any and all liability arising from or in connection with any prize won or any publication or use of entry, name and address as aforesaid.
  5. The Sponsor will not be responsible for the non-inclusion of any entries by virtue of any technical failures of its web site or otherwise and, whether any such failure is within the control of the Sponsor or not. Proof of sending an email is not proof of receipt of entry.
  6. If any portion of these Terms and Conditions is deemed unlawful, void or unenforceable, then that part shall be deemed severable and will not affect the validity and enforceability of any remaining provisions.
  7. By entering, you agree that you have read these Terms and Conditions and will conform with them.

End of Terms and Conditions