Quantum Prologue to Romeo & Juliet

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It started in room 423 at the "Laboratory for Applied Physics" in Verona, Italy.  A large vacuum chamber entirely filled the room.  The vacuum chamber was cold, dark and empty inside.  More precisely, it was near absolute zero and truthfully speaking it wasn't "entirely" dark nor empty.  You see, if it wasn't for the occasional photon passing through and for the handful of atoms inside, no-one would have ever known, with an 88% probability, of this tale of romance and tragedy.

 

Most atoms of molybdenum had long settled into an oxidation state or joined with carbon to make a hard metal alloy.  But this atom was in its free metal form, silvery in color, but with a touch of gray. Many had mistaken it for lead, a distasteful mistake that it was only too eager to correct.  It was far more slender, weighing less than half of its poisonous doppelgänger.  But if one looked more closely, one could see that "it" was not really an "it" at all, but more of a "them".  "They" were a whole family of smaller particles.  In their center were ninety-two nucleons.  Forty-two of these were protons, so positively charged that their repellant nature would easily overcome the strong fraternal bonds that tried so hard to hold them together, were it not for the fifty neutrons that also tugged at them. A marriage of mutual benefit; neutrons never live long when left to themselves (usually about 14 minutes, give or take).  In and around this nucleus, electrons swarmed like bees protecting a hive.  There was one for every proton, moving in ever larger and more complex paths.  These paths, unlike the orbiting of planets around a sun, would trace out more than a ring around their nucleus, but rather a volume, a shell.  

 

An atom of molybdenum is usually very stable, but this atom was extremely old, and things can change with age. In a flash, two of its protons became neutrons. It's hard to say why exactly.  Whether it was the constant positivity of their brethren, or their quarks stirring inside them. We may never know, but in that very instant two things happened.  The first was the change itself, the protons emitted positrons and electron neutrinos, both becoming neutrons in the process.  The more fundamental change settled over the group more slowly, they were no longer molybdenum, but rather zirconium.  This was a monumental disgrace, the ramifications of which would play out for many nanoseconds to come.

 

Unaware of what had just occurred, a calcium atom vibrated nearby.  Although smaller than molybdenum, it too had a nucleus and electron shells.  The outmost of these shells never had quite enough electrons to guard the entire shell, and so the electrons themselves would get stolen by less scrupulous atoms.  Never one to sit idly by while being pillaged, calcium had a reputation for exothermic brawls.  This was especially true after it had been drinking (water). It, like all of its alkali cousins, was a hothead.  Cooler atoms might have reacted differently to the upcoming events.

 

You see, one of the positrons that emitted from molybdenum (now shamefully zirconium) hurtled toward our hothead calcium atom, and struck one of its electrons.  They annihilated each other in a brilliant flash of gamma ray photons.  Calcium swore in its wrath "we will have vengeance for it, fear thou not," and from that day forward the Molybdenums were the mortal enemies of the Calciums.

 

"Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene" ...

About the Author: 
Cortis Clark has a passion for creating software. Lucky for him, he gets to do that in his day job. By night, he practices as husband and father.

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Quantum Theories

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W is for ... Wave-particle duality

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C is for ... Cryptography

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D is for ... Dice

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O is for ... Objective reality

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R is for ... Reality

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P is for ... Probability

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X is for ... X-ray

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U is for ... Universe

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F is for ... Free Will

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T is for ... Teleportation

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M is for ... Multiverse

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