The Quantum Man

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John Geiger was having a miserable morning. While shaving, he remembered with horror that he had forgotten to lock up his office where he kept research reports on top-secret inventions in quantum transformations that would revolutionize Science and Industry. He was the head physicist of Quantum, Inc. and was well aware of industrial piracy. "Damn", he muttered, I’m getting old, every time I hurry, I lose my cool."

To make things worse, the storm raging outside just increased its fury. Suddenly a super bolt of lightning, billion volts strong, shattered the window and struck him in the head. As one, an electric surge through his razor burned his cheek. He fell, his body shaken by sizzling currents.

Stella, his wife, rushed in. "What’s happening, John? Where are you? I can’t see you!" But all she saw was a pile of phosphorescent stuff on the floor. She gasped. "What’s that on the floor? Why is it moving? Ah…" She ran screaming to her mother’s room in a fit of hysterics.

As for John, he realized that he had changed from a particulate body to a swarm of electric currents. But the awareness of self has not deserted him. His curious mind saved him from panic. He saw his body floating up – he has become weightless. Seeing himself in the mirror as a luminous transparency, he noticed the faucet was visible through his hand. Forgetting his sobbing wife, he continued to observe himself. As he reached for his tooth brush, he noticed when he put it in his mouth, it immediately became part of his aura, but when released, it regained its particulate nature. He touched the mirror with both hands and they went through – he realized that he could penetrate through solid matter. Shaking with excitement, he wrote on the mirror with a felt pen that turned invisible at his touch: "Stella dear, don’t worry, I went to work".

He dressed in his business suit, put on a latex Reagan mask he wore at a recent party, picked up dark glasses, a Stetson hat and kid gloves, and rushed out of the apartment. He decided to pretend that he had a malignant melanoma that made his body extremely light-sensitive. He floated, skimming the street, moving his legs to appear walking, and braced himself against jerky lateral movements towards oncoming cars. Arriving at Quantum, he waved to the doorman and junior employees as if extremely busy. And busy he had to be.

As he had previously suspected, George Rich, his senior lab assistant, was stealing and selling his formulas to their competitors. But John needed proof, as unfortunately, George was the son-in-law of the CEO, who always refused to hear any complaint against him.

Upon entering his office, John caught George rummaging in the filing cabinets. This was the proof he needed. In his anger, he removed the glove from his right hand, grabbed George by the neck and crushed him against the wall. George, immediately quantized, penetrated through the wall into the office occupied by none other than the CEO, known affectionately as "The Grouch".

The Grouch yelled at the top of his voice: "What the hell are you doing here? You, lowlife, where were you hiding that I didn’t see you come in? Where is John? The Grouch pressed the buttons summoning John and Security, while George clutching a bundle of files escaped back to his office and slammed the door behind him, but John darted after him, floating through the closed door. He caught George in the act of throwing the files through the window to an accomplice waiting below. Terrified by John’s appearance, George froze against the wall until picked up by the Security. John, afraid to be caught in his ghostly state, raced back home and locked himself in his den.

To check on the reality of his Quantum state, he scribbled on a note pad, 2+3 and 3+2 and the results were different. Assessing his situation, he decided to find a way to return to normal life. state. While re-checking on quantum state arithmetic, he rotated himself to the right and saw doodles on paper which he had not made, but was about to make. By reversing his motion, he saw that his note pad was blank again. So he was able to peep in the past and future! "I could make a killing at the cards or the roulette", he thought, "I could also conceal money and jewels in my hand! And I can go through walls! I have tremendous power like the Invisible Man and the Incredible Hulk in one body!... But why do objects seem to flutter from place to place? Why has my computer stopped working as soon as I approached it? Why my filing cabinet is pulling me to itself? Ah, my hands, if someone came in and saw me!"

At this point, the Grouch and a dozen Quantum employees invaded his study shouting "Hurray, John, you saved the company! The villain is uncovered, our seminal knowledge has been saved and billion dollar contracts with the Armed Forces will go through!"

Fearing that he’ll be unmasked and locked in a Science Museum as a freak, John decided to try an extreme measure: Electricity did it - electricity will undo it. In desperate situations the boldest action is the safest. He rushed to the kitchen, ripped out the high voltage connection and put it in his mouth. A burning pain and an epileptic fit followed. When he recovered, he was normal again, with just a badly burnt mouth which would explain why he could not talk.

The Grouch promoted John to vice-president. John received exclusive publication and movie rights worth a million dollars for his story. The International Research Institute at Skolkovo, near Moscow, invited him as a well-paid guest to be observed for side-effects. And, needless to say, Stella was thrilled to get him back. That happy ending was like a bolt of happiness and joy.

About the Author: 
Nicolas Starkovsky is a retired chemist who worked in biomedical research. Born in 1922 in Alexandria (Egypt). Fluent in Russian, English, French and Arabic and has published scientific articles and Arabic translations. Resides in Burke, Virginia, USA and is interested in the latest discoveries in physics and astronomy.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

K is for ... Kaon

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

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!

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.

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”.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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 ... Information

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

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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 ... Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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 ... 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.

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.