Entangled Up

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Entangled Up
 
            People think I’m a prodigy.  I’m eleven, and I can make things inexplicably disappear.  But it’s not a mentalist trick like folks think.  Somehow, I can manipulate the fabric of reality.
            So far, I’ve managed to make cards and coins disappear, a magician’s act that’s fun at family get-togethers.  And one time I eliminated my sister’s Ice Age DVD.  (She made me watch it over and over…Geez!).  But last week was my best act yet.  I made my neighbor’s dog, Killer, vanish.  Killer was a Chihuahua.   He looked like a big turd with feet, but had the temperament of a T-rex.  He bit everybody.  The day he bit me was his last day in this dimension.
            Bite.
            Ouch!
            Poof!
            Gone went the killer turd.
            That particular feat gave me more confidence.  Unfortunately, I soon learned that confidence can be fleeting.
 
                                                                        ***
 
            Roger was a bully.  Mean.  He’s HUGE, with tattoos and everything.  He did time for assault.  Now he’s out and picking on guys half his size.  My friend Pete wasn’t scared of him.  If you ask me, Pete’s too stupid to be scared.  Stupid or not, he’s my friend.  And friends look out for each other, right?
            “I’m not afraid of him,” Pete said as we walked to the ball park.  The setting sun made our shadows look like giants, an illusion I wish I knew how to use to our advantage.
            “You should be,” I said.  “Roger is dangerous.  If you fight him, he’ll kill you.  I know it.”
            “You don’t know it,” he argued.  “My dad says win or lose, I’ll get his respect.  He’ll leave me alone.”
            Seeing I couldn’t win, I attempted to make my legs quit shaking, focus on what I had to do.
            The baseball park was empty except for two guys in the bleachers smoking cigarettes.  They stood, dropping their smokes as we approached.
            “Come for your whoopin’, Pete?” Roger said.
            “This the guy?”  Roger’s friend was as big and scary looking as Roger.
            Roger gestured, I know, right?  “I’ll kill him, Tray.”
            Uh-oh.  My legs betrayed me, shaking visibly.
            Pete scowled, then held his fists up toward Roger.
            Roger towered over him.  He shoved Pete hard, following with a haymaker punch.
            Crack!
            The blow knocked my friend to the ground, groaning, eyes rolling wildly.  He had no chance to move before Roger pounced on top and started pounding away.
            Ohmygodohmygod…He’s killing him!
            Courage.  Focus, man
            I closed my eyes, breathed, trying to ignore the sounds of Pete’s face being pulverized.  I pictured the neurons in my head, billions of nerve cells firing electromagnetic forces at blinding speed.  My brain wasn’t like yours.  Shoot, it may not even be human.  It emitted an energy field that linked to and influenced other forces.  I’ve studied tons of science trying to figure out what’s, uh, wrong with me, determining I have control over strong nuclear forces, the cohesion of fundamental particles like electrons and quarks.  I’m proof that M-theory isn’t just a “theory.”  It’s REAL.  There are other dimensions.  And they curl up on a scale so small that they’re invisible.  My, um, ability, dismantles the electromagnetic bonds of molecules, breaking them up into smaller components – fermions – and dissipates them into the invisible dimensions.
            But, I now realized, I couldn’t do it when terrified.
            “Get him, Roger!” Tray cheered.
            Smack!  Smack!
            I peeked at the fight.  Pete’s face was a bloody mess.  And Roger just kept pounding away, grim, evil.  Intent.
            Come on.  Come on!  My face heated for a moment, then cooled.  I trembled.  I couldn’t do it.  “Crap,” I muttered shakily.
            Opening my eyes, I took a breath for resolve, crouched, gave a warbling yell and ran at Roger.  My terror-stricken legs refused to cooperate.  My skinny body rammed into Roger’s beefy shoulder and bounced off comically.  I crumpled, breath gone, black spots swirling sickeningly.
            “Ha!”  Tray pointed and laughed.
            Smack!  Smack!
            Pete hadn’t made a sound or move since the first punch.  He was being murdered.  If he lived, he would have brain damage.  I had to do something!
            “Get up,” Tray growled.  He grabbed my shirt, tearing it nearly in half.
            “Hey!  My Grandma gave me that!”
            He kicked me.  “Ha!”
            Grunting, I looked at my ruined tee.  Grandma gave it to me for Christmas, just before she died.  It was the only thing I had…
            Rage replaced the fear.  Suddenly, my trembling turned into vibrating, the sensation enveloping my limbs, empowering them, tinting my vision scarlet.  Face heated, head pulsing, I had a focus like never before.  I looked at Tray, his stupid grinning bully face, and made it disappear.  His entire head just vanished, neck pulled into a long tapered shape.  I concentrated harder.  Tray’s body bucked, spasming, radiating glittering photons, the particles of his being dissolving to pass through the quantum event, reality’s fabric rippling like a reflective lake.
            “Get him, Tray!  Get Pete!” Roger looked around.  “Tray?”
            “He’s gone.”  My voice was alien.
            Roger stood, expression stunned.  He looked beyond ignorant, glancing around wildly, fists wet with my friend’s blood.  He realized something weird just happened.  The unknown frightened him.  “Where’s Tray?” he demanded.
            “Entangled,” I growled.  “Where all bullies should go.”
            Baring his teeth, he ran at me.
            I bared mine in return, head emitting dizzying heat, focusing  on Roger’s legs.  His run abruptly faltered, Nikes vanishing – poof!  His face hit the ground hard, grunt expelling loudly.  He looked back at his missing feet and screamed.  I concentrated.  His legs elongated.  He slid along the grass, glowing eerily, molecules breaking apart, quantum vacuum sucking faster…
            I blinked.
            He was gone.
            Exhausted, I collapsed, breathing raggedly.
            Minutes later, I crawled over to Pete.  He moaned, opened a swollen eye.  “…happened?” he croaked.
            I sighed.  “You got your respect.”
            “Where…They?”
            I smiled, fingering my torn shirt.  “They got entangled up.”
 

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Quantum Theories

P is for ... Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

H is for ... Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

R is for ... Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

F is for ... Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

Q is for ... Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

I is for ... Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

M is for ... Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

S is for ... Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

W is for ... Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

V is for ... Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

D is for ... Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

D is for ... Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

H is for ... Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

S is for ... Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

R is for ... Radioactivity

The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.

M is for ... Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

K is for ... Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

E is for ... Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

G is for ... Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

A is for ... Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

U is for ... Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

R is for ... Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

L is for ... Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

B is for ... Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

P is for ... Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

G is for ... Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

C is for ... Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

C is for ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

N is for ... Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

X is for ... X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

A is for ... Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

L is for ... Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

T is for ... Tunnelling

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W is for ... Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

Y is for ... Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

Z is for ... Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

A is for ... Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

I is for ... Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

O is for ... Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

T is for ... Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

U is for ... Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

S is for ... Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

J is for ... Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics.

B is for ... Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!