The Shoes

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Five minutes until recess. I get up and hand my algebra quiz to the teacher. Four minutes until recess. I sit back down in my seat and look around the classroom to find four sinisterly smug faces staring back at me; I put my head down on the desk. Three minutes left. I raise my head and look over helplessly at the unsuspecting teacher who begins grading my quiz. Two minutes. I stare at the door and hope that they spare me for once. One minute. I give the teacher one last hopeful glance. The bell rings.

            The sun beats down on me, burning my arms and legs as I peer into the faces of the four people that I despise most. The sneers that they wear on their faces are mirrored upon my own. I turn and run, hoping to find anyone who will help me, but, just as always, I am only wasting my energy, for in no time at all, they catch up to me. The bullies crowd around me and I pray that the bell will ring, signalling that recess is over and it is time to go back to class. Then, I hear, “Hey, Toby. May I talk to you for a moment?” I flush with relief as I see Mr. Smith walking towards us. “Absolutely,” I reply with a grin.

            Mr. Smith and I walk into the school and up to the eighth-grade classrooms where we sit down. He gives me a sad look and asks me why those boys always seem to be bothering me. As I have told many of my past teachers, I explain to him that those boys are my friends, rather unconvincingly. “You can tell me the truth,” he says, but I know that that will only make it worse. Besides, I have a plan that is sure to get them off of my back. All I need is a little bit more time. Instead, I lie and say that there is nothing to tell. Then the bell rings. The rest of the students file into class and take their seats. English begins.

            As soon as I step through the door, I hear my mother’s voice. “How was school today, Toby? Are you hungry?” She is standing in the kitchen, in front of the stove, with her pink apron on, the wooden spoon in her hand covered in spaghetti sauce. “Great. My algebra quiz was easy. But, I’m not too hungry today,” I explain as I walk up the stairs to my room. “Ok, well dinner’s at 7,” she replies.

            I sit down in my desk and turn on my computer. For a few weeks, I have been reading up on quantum physics and Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Specifically, I am trying to understand relativity of time and, therefore, time dilation. My understanding of this concept is that time seems to slow down for an object approaching the speed of light, regardless of the fact that this object will be aware of no such thing; it will seem as though time is passing as it usually does. When I first read about this, an idea came to me about how to get back at the boys who have made the last few years of my life horrible. I have been designing a pair of shoes that, according to my calculations, will allow me to run at approximately 79.9% the speed of light. With these shoes, I will finally be free to enjoy recess again.


            Last night, I worked tirelessly to finish my shoes. I think that they are finally ready to be tested. Although I am running late this morning, I refuse the ride to school that my mother offers me and instead decide to use my new shoes. Hoping that they will work, I tie my laces and grab my backpack. As soon as I turn the corner of my street, I start to run. At first, I seem to be running with as much speed as I usually do when suddenly, my shoes kick into action and I am running faster than I ever imagined I could.

            I make it to school faster than I ever have and am the first student to take my seat. This morning, my favourite class, math, which usually seems to take only a few minutes, drags by. As I look at the clock and realize that there are only a few more minutes before class ends, my heart begins to pound. However, this time it is with excitement rather than fear. I look at the four faces of my bullies to see that they are looking back at me, but, for once, I do not look away; I keep staring.

As soon as the bell rings, I jog outside and wait for them to catch up to me. If I am correct, they won’t even see me coming. I stare at the doors and wait for the boys to spot me. Once they do, they begin to run towards me. I let them catch up a bit before I begin running. At first, I am only jogging, but when one of them tries to grab me, I speed up ever so slightly, slipping from his grasp. Suddenly, I burst forward with full speed and they stop running, unable to catch up. Next, I turn around and run at them. For once, I give them a taste of their own medicine. For the rest of that day, I show them exactly what it feels like to have mean pranks pulled on them. Just as I was unable to defend myself from them, they cannot catch or stop me. As recess continues, I pull every prank that they ever pulled on me. After that day, I was never bothered again.

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Quantum Theories

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ... Gluon

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 ... 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.

U is for ... Universe

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

K is for ... Kaon

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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”.

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!

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’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.

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.

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!

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.

A is for ... Act of observation

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

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.

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 ... 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.

I is for ... Information

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

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.

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.

R is for ... Randomness

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

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.

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.