Rory and Lorelai Visit Harvard University

After examining the map, Lorelai surprises Rory by driving her to Harvard University, which is in the city of Cambridge in Massachusetts, part of the Boston metropolitan area. Why Rory didn’t think of it herself is really the big surprise in this scene – surely she knows where Harvard is, and wouldn’t she have been begging her mother to take her there? Apparently not, as they get all the way to the front gates before Rory seems to realise where they are.

Rory wants to get a guide to the university – Harvard offers free one-hour guided group tours of its campus, given by students. Lorelai opts for the self-guided tour: you can navigate yourself around the university with the help of a brochure. Rory already knows the foundation date of Harvard (1636) by heart.

Lorelai reads about important scientific discoveries made at Harvard. The idea for the pacemaker was first originated by John Alexander McWilliam from Aberdeen University in 1889, while the first pacemaker was devised by Mark C. Lidwill from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and Edgar H. Booth from the University of Sydney in 1926. The brochure is probably talking about Paul Zoll (1911-1999) from Harvard Medical School, one of many who helped develop and refine the pacemaker during the 1940s and ’50s.

The other scientific advances mentioned seem to be referring to Sheldon Glashow (born 1932), a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who is a Professor of Physics at Harvard University. In 1964, in colloboration with James Bjorken, he was the first to propose the existence of the charm quark, which helped to solve a number of problems in quantum field theory. In 1973, in colloboration with Howard Georgi, he proposed the first grand unifed theory, a model in which the interactions of electromagnetism, radioactivity, and nuclear forces are merged into one single force.

Lorelai is disturbed to see that out of 18 000 applicants to Harvard in the previous year, only 2000 were accepted. It’s a piece of news she should already know by now, and comes as a stiff reality check. Possibly for the first time, Lorelai gets an inkling that Rory’s dream of going to Harvard may be out of reach. The odds are even worse now – although Harvard still accept around 2000 students per year, nearly 40 000 applied to graduate in the year of 2022.

The scenes of Harvard were filmed at the University of California, Los Angeles campus in Westwood, which doesn’t resemble Harvard University. The front gates that Rory and Lorelai enter were made for the show.

Stephen Hawking

DEAN: I’m not great in Math.
LORELAI: Yeah, except who is really? You know, except mathematicians, or the blackjack dealers, or I guess Stephen Hawking doesn’t suck, but you know…

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) was an English physicist, cosmologist, author, director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University. Apart from his ground-breaking work in cosmology and quantum physics, he was the author of several popular science books – his 1988 book A Brief History of Time was on the best-seller lists for almost a year.

Not only the possessor of a brilliant mind and a noted wit, Stephen Hawking became a globally recognised pop culture icon, and the world’s best known living scientist. It is an incredible understatement for Lorelai to say that he “didn’t suck” at mathematics.

“A study on rats”

MICHEL: I am weighing my turkey.
SOOKIE: Why?
MICHEL: A group of scientists did a study on rats where they cut their daily calories by thirty percent.
SOOKIE: And you felt left out?
MICHEL: No, the rats lived thirty percent longer. And the scientists were so impressed that they cut their own calories just like the rats.

Michel is referring to a famous and oft-cited 1934 study, which found that when scientists cut the calories of mice by 30-40% but still gave them all the nutrients they needed, they lived longer than expected – sometimes twice as long as the expected lifespan.

It has been difficult to prove conclusively that this works on humans also, and sometimes it doesn’t even work on mice – the mice have to be young and well-fed to begin with for the calorie reduction to be of any use. Older and leaner mice died earlier than expected when on a calorie-restricted diet (which doesn’t seem like good news for Michel, who isn’t all that young, and already slim). Furthermore, mice on a calorie-restricted diet can find it harder to fight infections.

Since 1997, The Calorie Restriction Society has been collecting data on its 900 human members who are on calorie-restricted diets, but it may be decades before a definitive answer is reached. However, a 2012 study on monkeys found no difference in lifespan between subjects who ate a normal healthy diet and those who ate a calorie-restricted healthy diet.

It’s notable that Michel is eating turkey, since in the Pilot episode he said he didn’t eat meat. Possibly that was a dietary fad, or perhaps he only considers red meat to be “meat”.

Cucamonga

TAYLOR: Lorelai, I hope that’s not food in those bags. Food is not allowed at town meetings.
LORELAI: No, Taylor its not. Its, um, diapers for the little ones.
TAYLOR: What?
LORELAI: Dorsal fins and Cucamonga.
TAYLOR: What did she say?
LORELAI (whispers to Max): I confuse him till he loses his train of thought and then he moves on.

The Cucamonga Valley is a region of southern California located between Los Angeles and San Bernardino. It is a major wine-producing area, and one of its cities is Rancho Cucamonga. The name Cucamonga comes from a Native American word meaning “sandy place”.

(A dorsal fin is the fin on the back of fish, whales, dolphins, and porpoises.)

Osmosis and Telescope

PARIS: You didn’t take one note. You resorting to the osmosis theory of learning?
RORY: Why do you care?
PARIS: I don’t, just making an observation.
RORY: Great, we’ll build a dome over you and jam a telescope in your head.

In science, osmosis is the movement of solvent molecules through semi-permeable membrane; it’s a vital process in biological systems, and is the primary means by which water is transported in and out of cells.

Social osmosis is the indirect infusion of social or cultural knowledge without direct knowledge – an example would be knowing all about the latest blockbuster movie, such as the plot, setting, all the characters and actors playing them, without ever actually watching the movie. Paris seems to be suggesting that this is how Rory is planning to learn about Henry James.

Rory’s retort is saying that if Paris is going to make observations, she can have a dome and a telescope – like an astronomical observatory.

Madame Curie and Jennifer Lopez

PARIS: Yeah well, I doubt highly that Madam Curie was voted most likely to dress like Jennifer Lopez.

Marie Curie, born Maria Skłodowska (1867-1934) [pictured] was a Polish-born French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel prize, the first person and only woman to win it twice, and the only person to win it in two different sciences. The Curie family, including Marie, her husband Pierre, daughter Irène Joliot-Curie, son-in-law Frédéric Joliot-Curie, and son-in-law Henri Labouisse, has won more Nobel Prizes than any other family. She was the first woman to become a Professor at the University of Paris, and the first woman to be entombed at The Panthéon in Paris on her own merits.

Jennifer Lopez (born 1969) is an American actress, singer, dancer, and fashion designer. She began her career in 1991 as a dancer on television before branching into acting in 1993 (although she’d made her film debut as a teenager in a low-budget film). Her first starring role was in Selena (1997); she went on to star in other films in the 1990s, becoming the highest-paid Latina actress in Hollywood. She ventured into the music industry in 1999, with her debut album On the 6, which had two Top Ten singles. In January 2001, a few weeks before the events of this episode, she brought out her second album, J.Lo, around the same time as the release of her romantic comedy, The Wedding Planner, becoming the first woman to have a #1 album and #1 film in the same week.

We learn here that Paris’ ambition is to work in medical research toward the better understanding and treatment of cancer. It apparently doesn’t work out that way. Oddly enough, Liza Weil, who plays Paris, would later play a character who dies from cancer on medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.

“Phase Two”

DEAN: So, uh, after we finish here we move onto Phase Two of the anniversary evening.
RORY: Phase Two. Sounds very official, are there space suits involved?

I think Rory is referring to space missions, where each part of a particular mission is divided into phases. Each phase must be completed successfully and on schedule before the next phase can begin. Because of this, “Phase Two” reminds her of space suits.