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She looked up at the machine. It was old, nearly as old as she. It loomed over her, seemed to glare down at her, daring her to use it. All these years, the machine had waited patiently to fulfill its single purpose. And all those years, Sarah had done her best not to think about it, not to let the machine dictate how she lived her life. But, in those moments when the thought broke through, it could bring about both the greatest despair and the greatest hope she'd ever known. Her parents had sacrificed their entire careers, indeed, had sacrificed certain fame and centuries of adoration, settled into lives of mediocrity, for her.
If only their colleagues could have known what they had done. If only the world could have known. They would have sat dumbfounded at the simplicity of it, the utility, the incredible opportunities for human advancement. They could have spent their remaining years in triumphant praise, their names joining the ranks of the few great scientists that could find their way into the public's heart: Tesla. Feynman. Einstein. Even Newton.
But scientific study wasn't the only passion that Sarah's parents shared. They had caught each other's eye back in their university days, when they were specializing in the same fields, graduate students in physics with a focus on quantum mechanics, but minoring in political science. It was an unlikely pairing of disciplines, and they were hard pressed to name anyone in either of their fields that was much interested in the other.
And, while her parents held unending hope for humanity through the advancement of science, they also knew the limitless cruelty that humankind could inflict; it seemed impossible for governments to use new technology for the betterment of society when they could find applications for war. The machine could be used to install political puppets with ease, or for unimaginable torture. The possibilities were endless, and they knew the world was not ready for it.
And so, Sarah's parents had made their decision. They would make this one machine, for her. Once it was complete, they had destroyed all their research, the blueprints, everything. The technology would surely be reinvented one day, but they could not help that, and they could only hope that society would by then have matured enough to use it responsibly. They had bought a small patch of land near a rail yard, once the site of a microwave tower, sold to them for a song when the technology became obsolete. The land itself was far from prime real estate, but that was hardly the point. These towers had been built to withstand a nuclear blast, complete with a small bunker underneath. With eighteen inches of concrete and a small trap door for access, easily concealed, they had the ideal location to build and store their secret for decades.
They had raced to finish it in time. Sarah was only a teenager then, and had wondered what her parents toiled away at month after month, long into the night; she had felt as though she lived alone, she saw them so little. Then, one night not long after her nineteenth birthday, they took her to the train yard. In that small room fifteen feet underground, they showed her the fruits of their labor. They explained why they had been away so much for so long, that it had all been for her. She had her entire life to decide whether to use the machine again, but it would be useless if she didn't use it now.
Sarah thought about her chances, as she had so many times in the years before. Would it actually work? What might happen if it didn't? It had only been tested on mice, and though it had been a resounding success in those tests, they were far from a full dress rehearsal of this ultimate night. But, as the years had passed, and Sarah had come to know the pains of old age -- the social as much as the physical -- her fears had dampened somewhat. She told herself she had nothing to lose, though she couldn't be sure. If she was lucky, failure would merely mean death, only slightly ahead of its time. She dared not dwell on what might happen if she was not.
What her parents had done was simply to pursue and confirm a neglected theory in quantum physics known as trope ontology: that the building blocks of reality are not particles of matter, but properties. Simply put, an electron is not a particle, but a bundle of properties such as mass, spin, and charge. Matter emerges from these properties. This meant that information was all that was needed to describe and build anything in the universe. And information is trivial to copy.
Now, more than half a century later, she once again found herself in front of the machine. If it worked, it would make an exact reproduction of her 19-year-old body, but with an exact copy of her octogenarian brain. She would have her youth again, but retain the wisdom of her age. Who knew how many times she would be able to repeat this process? No one knew how long the brain would last, but for Sarah, her bright mind was not bound to her failing body. She stepped inside and closed her eyes as the machine stuttered to life, groaning after its long sleep. There was a hum, rising from a whisper into a loud growl, and suddenly, silence. Sarah stepped out of the machine. It was the easiest, strongest step she had taken in ages. She looked in a small mirror on the wall, and tears streamed down her face as she studied the smooth, soft skin, the bright eyes staring back at her, an entire life ahead.
Then, in the reflection, she saw something else stumble out of the machine. Sarah turned slowly to face the old woman behind her.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I is for ... Information

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

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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 ... Gluon

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

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.

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.