Quantum Volleyball

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Thursday September 26th was finally here. It was the day of the biggest crosstown rivalry. Tonight, Newton High School was playing Darwin High School in volleyball. These teams developed such a deep rivalry over academic competition especially in the sciences. Newton High was well known for their strong education in physics, and Darwin High was known for a superb biology program. Since last year’s loss in the state finals for volleyball, the Newton High Waves had been thinking of countless strategies to help them beat the Darwin High Islanders. The captain of the Waves, Jessica, discovered something quite fascinating while working late in the physics lab one night. No one knew about her discovery until the night of the game.

The game was refereed under Mr. Ty Buxman, one of the greatest physicists of all times. The Islanders took the court for a warm-up. They were fierce. The Waves were watching every serve, pass, set, and hit. Every play was run with precision and strength. The match would be a close one.

The timer on the scoreboard was counting down from minutes to seconds just as Jessica disappeared to the locker room. She ran back in the gym with a brand new volleyball. She handed the ball to the referee, and he checked to make sure that it was appropriately inflated. It was game time.

Jessica got the ball back from Mr. Buxman; the Waves gathered in a huddle before Jessica’s first serve for a quick pep talk. Jessica walked back to the service line where she bounced the ball a few times and stepped further back. She spun the ball up very high in the air; left, right, left and she was off of the ground. At the tallest point in her jump, she smacked the ball over the net and down on the other side of the court in between two players. The Islanders stood there in shock. It was as if the ball was not visible after her contact with the ball. Even the players on the Waves were skeptical, but too thrilled to question a first-point ace.

Her perfect serving continued. At 5 points, ref Buxman called a time out. He brought his down ref and 2 linesmen in for a chat. Perplexed, he asked the other refs if they noticed what he was seeing. This unexplainable disappearance of the ball had the refs’ heads spinning. Mr. Buxman stopped and thought about what was going on. He figured that with enough force, she could serve the ball over the net, and let the ball travel in a cloud on the other side of the court.

Slowly, Buxman concluded that there was something different about this ball. It was, in fact, behaving like a particle-wave. How? The ball left Jessica’s hand, then, it was gone. No one could identify exactly where it was, until it hit the ground. The ball was a wave; there was no sense of where the ball was until its path was disrupted. One could only hypothesize the line of travel of the volleyball when evaluating her approach and arm swing.

Jessica used this ball perfectly. She was using this technique because the Islanders wouldn’t be able to make sense of it due to their limited knowledge of anything that isn’t biology. This particle-wave concept made no sense to them and was the perfect execution of an intelligent plan. Even though Jessica’s fellow teammates were not involved in her plan, they went along rejoicing the points.

The Islanders realized that there was no way to precisely put a location on the ball. Their passing form took on a whole new style. The traditional two arms forward becomes flailing arms wide open just hoping the ball would make some sort of contact with their body. The crowd was confused. How could a well-known team play so poorly? They were diving all over the court just trying to get the ball up. Fortunately it worked once and the Islanders scored a point.

Absolutely mind blown by Jessica’s manipulation of the ball, Buxman sat down. He didn’t know what to do. Was this cheating? Innovation? Fair? Pure genius? He contemplated this for a while.

After deep thought, he has an idea. Mr. Buxman evaluated the ball and noticed that if he could collapse the waves of the ball, it would behave like a particle. However, his seemingly obvious thought didn’t work. He couldn’t collapse the waves of the ball because the waves coexisted. When he canceled out one wave, another appeared. Each point was a fierce battle. The game became more of a diving match than a skill competition. The close game ended with the Waves winning 3 games to 2 games with a final score in the third game of 18-16! It was one close rivalry game!

About the Author: 
I am a senior in high school. I love volleyball and physics.

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Quantum Theories

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

K is for ... Kaon

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

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!

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.

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.

U is for ... Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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 ... 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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

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.

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.

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.