A Crack in Pandora's Box

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“Argh,” … the phone was ringing.  I looked, it was 3:29 am.  Better be good, I thought.  “Hello, VanDorn.”
“Hello Sir, sorry to wake you.  I’m Officer Jim Parrisi … we have an unusual and rather suspicious death, and well, we need you Sir.”
“Where are you?”
“I’m at CERN Sir, in one of the research labs.  You need to come see this.  The Security Guards have already contacted the Director General, Hans-Dieter Kuhlmann.  He’ll meet you at the entrance.”
“What’s the address there?”
“Route de Meyrin 385”
“I live on Avenue de Crozet, so it’s easy to get to, say 20 minutes.”  I got up and splashed some cold water on my face, then got dressed.  I kissed Marianne and she stirred a little.  Walking outside it was a crisp fall morning, but still dark.  It had rained earlier and smelled clean.
There was little traffic as I drove down the Route de Meyrin.  The colored lights played on the wet pavement as I thought about a homicide at CERN.  Just not something that ever happens.  Arriving, I parked, and walked up to someone who must be Kuhlmann.
“Inspector VanDorn?”
“Yes, you must be Director General, Dr. Kuhlmann.”  I offered him my hand and he shook it.
“Please call me Hans.”
“I’m Matt then.”  He smiled grimly.
“Let me take you to the lab, Dr. Meinard Heuer’s lab.  I’m … I’m not sure what the hell to make of this.”
“You’ve seen the crime scene?”
“No, but the Security Guard called it tragic and bizarre.  I don’t see any way we can keep something like this out of the press.  We’ve never had anything like this happen before.”
As I went through the entrance Security, I was given a special badge that I attached to my coat.
“I’m sorry Inspector but we’ll need to walk for a bit.  Dr. Heuer’s lab is some distance from here.”  We walked in silence and I felt tension building in my stomach.  Rounding a curve, I saw yellow police tape and a CERN Security Guard.  There was talking in the lab.
“Hans please wait here while I look at the scene.”  He nodded.  Parrisi came over, and shook my hand.
“The forensics team is on the way, I was certain you’d want them.”  I nodded then pulled out shoe covers from my coat pocket and put them on.  I was looking at the body while I put latex gloves on.
“Who discovered the body?”
“The Security Guard here, Mario Rossi.  He was responding to an alarm from the machinery.”
I looked around at the enormous lab and noticed a huge chunk of equipment missing.  I looked a little more carefully, and noticed a large sphere of it had simply vanished.  The ends of the remaining machinery were melted and pitted.  What the hell, I thought?
I went over and examined the body, which was slumped face down on a table with melted computers.  I pulled him back in his chair and he looked parboiled and blackened.  His front clothes were burned off.  A melted badge was on the floor and I picked it up.  You could just make out Heuer on it.
“Bag this,” I said to Parrisi.  I noticed Hans got a phone call. 
“Forensics team is here,” Hans said.
While waiting for them to show up, I looked at the pitted and melted metal closely.  It didn’t seem possible.  What the hell happened here?
When forensics arrived, Parrisi gave them the bagged identity tag and they took photographs of everything.  After they finished, I gave them the okay to put Heuer in a body bag.
“Get him to CURML immediately.  I want top priority on this autopsy.”  Turning to face Kuhlmann, “Whom did Heuer work with?”
“Dr. Katherine Downing.  She did all the theoretical work, and Dr. Heuer handled the experimental aspects.”
“When can I see her?”
“She’ll be here later today.  I’ll make sure she’s available whenever you need.”
“I’m going to go to the station and get the paperwork started, then I’ll talk with the Forensic Pathologist.  How about lunch?”
“Okay, I’ll make sure she’s available.”
“Thanks.  Okay, get the body out of here.  Parrisi put a 24-hour guard on this lab.  No one in without my approval.”
“Yes Sir.”
I drove back to the station and got some coffee.  I couldn’t stop thinking about the vanished sphere of equipment.  I reviewed forensic photographs and got all of Heuer’s paperwork started.  Time for breakfast, I thought. 
Afterward I drove over to CURML/UMF and was informed a Dr. Coraline Lardi was already performing the autopsy.  I gowned up and went in to see what was going on.
“Hello, I’m Inspector VanDorn, you must be Dr. Lardi.”
“Yes, pleased to meet you.”  She looked at Heuer on the slab.  “What the hell happened to this guy?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
“This guy got fried.  I’m guessing he was exposed to 10,000 maybe 20,000 rads.  Hell, maybe more.  I need to get a radiologist in here.”
“What does that mean?”
“Ionizing radiation, x-rays, gamma rays.  This guy was instantly fried.”
Later, back at CERN, I met Katherine Downing.  “Hello Dr. Downing, I’m Inspector VanDorn.”
“Please call me Katherine.  Don’t be offended if I don’t eat.  I’m sort of sick about Meinard.”
“No, I understand.  Tell me, what were you working on?”
“We were working on a trope ontology of QFT to be specific.  Meinard and I were experimenting on the fundamental nature of reality.  I discovered a mathematical relationship between the bundles of ontological properties, things like charge and mass.  Meinard reconfigured the machine to convert the charge property of its enormous magnetic field to mass.  Listen, I think I know what happened.”
“Please tell me.”
“He succeeded in exchanging the charge for mass, and suddenly ten tons of machinery were transformed into a black hole.  Being small, for a black hole anyway, it promptly evaporated in a blaze of gamma and x-rays.  It would have killed him instantly.”

About the Author: 
After a full career, I'm writing science fiction now full time. My first book is out, "Ascent of Humanity 1 Discovery" and you can get it on Amazon. The sequel will be out in 2014. I'm a lifelong reader of Scientific American.

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Quantum Theories

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 ... Information

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

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

T is for ... Tunnelling

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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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

K is for ... Kaon

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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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

Q is for ... Quantum biology

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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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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 ... 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.