One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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One Step Forward Two Steps Back
            Dr. Kyle worth removed the photo from his pocket, studied it, and brought it to his lips.  I'm sorry, Maddy, he said to himself.  I can't do it without you.
            Kyle felt a certain amount of guilt for leaving the world behind; his twin daughters would miss him terribly, he knew.  But Karyn and Melissa were both grown women, and had families of their own.  Besides, he hadn't been much use to anyone-including himself-since Madeleine's accident.  It was better this way; if she was no longer in this world, he had no more business here.
            Kyle put the picture of his wife back into his pants pocket.  His tee shirt clung to his chest, heavy and soaked with perspiration.  His 60 year old heart pounded against his sternum; butterflies stirred about his stomach.  I'm really doing this, he thought.
            He took a deep breath, then a first step, then another, through the massive access control gate and into the endless tunnel of the particle accelerator.
            Immediately Kyle was overwhelmed by the heat from the beam; he knew the temperature before hand, but knowing and feeling were two different things.  He'd never been down here while the beam was operating-nor had anyone else.
            His eyes fell on the glowing, golden stream in the center of the tube.  Beautiful, he thought.
            Kyle walked alongside the tube, mesmerized by the miracle that flowed within at near light speed.  He caressed the outside with a tender affection that only a true physicist could understand.  He and Madeleine helped build this thing-it was their child, as much as Karyn or Melissa was.
            Hacking into the system and disabling the interlock sequences hadn't proved as difficult as he had anticipated.  So much for state of the art security.  The hardest part so far had been sneaking off without any of his colleagues following him.  They'd discover the security breach, eventually, and piece together what happened-but by then it wouldn't matter.
            Finally, Kyle stopped.  he stood in front of an opening in the tube - one of only 10 throughout the entire 20 miles off long tunnel, 18-inch gaps that allowed access for maintenance and repairs.  All that stood between Kyle worth and 280 trillion protons in rapid flux was air.
            The hum of 10,000 superconducting magnets rattled his bones.  Heat from the beam blurred the space around it so it shimmered, as if it were under water.  He sidled up the gap in the tube and looked down.
            " I love you, Maddy", he said aloud.
            Kyle stepped into the path of the beam.
            He'd expected a surge of pain, followed by numbed blackness.  What he felt instead was subatomic violence - trillions of somatic cells, struggling in vain to maintain their structures.  He literally felt himself been ripped apart into an infinity of component parts, until he no longer had any physical sensation whatsoever.  He did not lose his consciousness; on the contrary, never had he been more cognizant.
            A rapid phantasmagoria of colors and shapes dominated his visual field.  Ephemeral entities coalesced, then vanished.  Kyle found himself unable to verbalize his thoughts.  He felt supreme awareness and omnipresence, no longer bound by his body or his humanity.
            Suddenly, he felt wind underneath him and realized he was falling.  He moved his arms, then his legs; everything worked.  Clouds and sunlight sprawled above him.  He smelled salt for an instant before slamming into a body of water.
            He kicked and scrambled, but held his breath.  Instinct took over and he propelled himself toward the light.
            Kyle broke the surface and gasped, sucking air in greedily.  He looked around.  He was at the edge of an ocean, the shore no more than 50 yards away.  He swam.
            He emerged onto the beach, dazed but still clothed, drawing looks of awe and confusion from beachgoers.  The middle-aged woman with a flowing, chestnut hair and dark eyes asked him, "Are you are right?"
            She reminded him of Madeleine.  He studied her for a moment and said, "I'm not sure".  As he turned and walked away, he took the brine-soaked photo from his pocket and clutched it tightly.
            Slowly his mind returned as he plodded along, dripping and squishing.  He was, in fact, only 3 miles from home.  The memory of his journey, wherever it had been, was fading.
            His neighbors stared silently from their porches and windows as he ambled into the cul-de-sac and climbed the steps of his house.  He tapped his pocket.  Damn, he thought.  No key.  He tried the knob; it turned.  Kyle walked inside.
            The parlor looked as it did before, except -  fresher somehow.  The plants, once wilted from neglect, now flourished.  The thick blanket of dust on the coffee table had been replaced with a glossy shine.
            Singing resonated from the kitchen.  Kyle cocked his head.  He knew that voice; his mind wouldn't let him believe his ears.  He walked into the kitchen.
            There she was.
            She turned to him, her hands caked with flour as she kneaded a ball of dough on the counter.
            "Kyle, what happened? Why are you soaking wet?"
            Tears ran down his face.  He threw his arms around her waist they kissed her.
            "Oh, Maddy," he said softly.  "Oh God, Maddy."
            "What's wrong?"
            He clasped her hands and looked into her eyes.
            "Nothing," he replied.  He glanced about the kitchen.
            "Where's the phone?  I have to call Karyn and Melissa."
            She looked at him as if he were insane.  His smile faded.
            "What is it?"  He demanded.
            "Did you hit your head, Kyle?  What's wrong with you?  Your daughters are dead, Kyle.  Their limo crashed on their prom night, 20 years ago.  Remember?  Where were you all day, in another world?"

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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”.

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.

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.

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.