The Old-Fashioned Magic

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"Mail, Dr. Thymes."

He set aside his favorite mug emblazoned 'IQ: Infinity' and accepted his electronically-tagged name badge for tonight's conference, and … the package.

"Looks like Havaloc finally returned my lucky coaster."  He tore the box open.  "What is this?!"  His coaster, signed by the late Dr. Poe, was marred with a sticky coffee ring.  “Look closely, Nina.  This is the kind of barbarism we can expect from the Engineering Department.”  He had learned this bitter lesson.  Collaborate?  Never again. “Any note?”


“Probably sulking.  I don’t know what he managed to cobble together for his conference entry, but he’s doomed.  My research paper is sure to win the Golden Prospects Award.”  He set his empty mug on the coaster.  “You picked up my suit from the dry cleaners?  Packed my notebook for my presentation?”  Nina nodded.  “Good girl!  Ring a cab while I get ready.”  He loved having an obedient intern to keep life running smoothly.  

                        . . .

A half hour later Thymes returned to his office – and froze in the doorway.

His favorite mug was in two places at once.

Half lay on the coaster, the other half on the floor.

Rage stole his strength – he dropped to his knees next to the ruins.  He picked up the fallen piece and it crumbled into burning-hot powder.  He gasped and brushed the dust from his reddening skin.  

“Nina!”  He levered himself up against his desk and stared at the remaining half of his mug resting on a ruined circle of paper.  One incredible explanation rose through his shock.  

He heard Nina’s heels click by the doorway.  “Turn the light off.”  The sudden twilight revealed a dull red glow sweeping over his mug.  “That’s enough.”  

She tapped the switch again.  “Doctor?”

“Look at this.”

She came in and stared at his mug and the ash plume along the floor.  

“It’s beautiful.”  His voice was hoarse.  “I am the greatest genius the world has ever seen.  Look!  It’s being teleported.”

“But … how?”  

These days, he reflected, any moron can get a Doctorate of Physics.  “It’s a Qax, a quantum transmission that copies an object over a great distance.  The process is almost finished.”  He reached out and felt the heat radiating from the mug. “Havaloc must have tampered with my coaster and turned it into the delivery vehicle.  It links receiver with sender and contains the Qaxing nanobugs.  They are crawling throughout my cup, scanning and transmitting as they go.  A destructive process … but my mug will be reassembled by nanobugs at the receiver station.  Poof!  Modern magic.”

“Poof to his lab?”

“I doubt he trusts his departmental rivals.  Hmm.  The receiver is likely portable, sealed against contaminants, and large enough to fit raw materials and a camera to document the miraculous process.”  He beamed.  The Award was his; anyone watching this magic unfold would give financial tribute to his genius.  

“Haveloc is brilliant.”        

“WHAT?!  Now listen here, this is my triumph.  I came up with the recipe to make this happen, from energy input to the necessary capabilities of the nanobugs.  Anyone could have followed my calculations and built this.  He’s just a tool for my intellect.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Never partner up.  People are driven by greed!  Partners start out as a useful sounding board and before you know it they want equal credit.  Then they storm off and somehow lift copies of your encrypted notes.”  He paled.  “Now he can wave my mug around the conference and snatch the award from under me.”

“Oh dear.”

“Where’s that cab?”

                        . . .
They got into the conference building and spotted Havaloc lounging by the doors into Auditorium D.

“You,” Thymes snarled.

The attendant scanning nametags as the audience filed into the auditorium glanced at the three of them and frowned.  

“I see your creativity is as dead as your moral code.”

Havaloc smirked.  “True genius pursues every opportunity.”

Thymes surged forward and Nina pulled him away, holding tightly to his lapels.  “Security is watching.”

They were indeed.  “Nina, go inside. I won’t be long.”

She bit her lip, squeezed between them, and hurried for the door.

“I’ll give you one chance to escape justice.  Give me my mug.”

“What mug?”  Havaloc held open his suit jacket and spun around.  The device wasn’t on him.

“You expect to get away with this?  You stole Institute resources and my formula to build my teleporter.”

“I built my teleporter at home, with parts I personally bought, using a theory I developed during our lovely partnership!  Can you prove otherwise?”

Thymes scowled.  Everything was written in his private notebook in secret code.  Nina wrote every word he … dictated …

“Nina told you.”  That worm had corrupted his intern!

“Oh yes.  She was tired of being your PA.  I promised her an exciting career as my lab assistant.  She’s been so helpful.”

“I see.  You had your experiment shipped here and set up in the auditorium?”

“Indeed.  Nina is so well organized.  She took care of everything.”

His head throbbed, outrage pounding in his veins.  As a gentleman scholar, he had but one recourse.

He shoved Havaloc aside and rushed at the door.

The attendant waved his scanning wand.  “Your nametag, sir?”

He brushed at the front of the jacket.  Nothing.  “That vagabond lifted my tag!” To think, he would sink to old fashioned parlor tricks!

Havaloc gaped at the tagless front of his own jacket.  

The bitter rivals made eye contact and then they both turned to stare at the now-closed auditorium doors.  Nina was inside with the receiver and their entry nametags.  

They threw themselves forward, a combined 300 pounds of desperation bowling the attendant over.  They barged into Hall D and security tackled them in the entrance.  Nina smirked at them.

Over the sound of handcuffs clicking shut, Thymes heard the announcer at the podium. “Introducing Doctor Nina Torrea, with a groundbreaking demonstration of quantum-based teleportation.”

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Quantum Theories

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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’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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

T is for ... Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.