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College life for a fifteen-year-old, no matter how smart, is too consuming. And honestly, no one ever expected Penelope to have children, least of all Penelope. But her stepfather was diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago and tonight is their first anniversary.

Penelope hides in her bedroom at her corner desk after feeding, bathing, and getting pajamas on the two monsters. None of that was hard as the two monsters are both six years old. Her biological sister, Theresa, is playing in her room and Derrick is reading on the couch. Penelope could not know that a six-year-old boy would never sit alone quietly for very long reading on a couch.

Studying in her own bedroom for her first test in her first physics class, Penelope stares into oblivion. Her bedroom is a tribute to strong female anime characters. Centered above her grey metal desk is a poster of a young anime woman with flowing light grey hair streaked with neon green highlights wearing a tight t-shirt over her exaggerated breasts that says ‘NASA’. Penelope had streaked her hair with mostly pink and purple highlights along with a few well-placed baby blue patches.

“I’ve been calling you.” A small voice insisted.

Penelope’s surprise left her choking. She was trying to memorize. “Things used to be so simple,” she says to herself.


“What?” Penelope turns quickly, making Theresa fall backwards. “Can you not give me five minutes?” She picks up her sister and continues in a way too shouty voice. “Five minutes.”

Fighting tears, Theresa says, “I need help.”

Penelope’s stern face breaks. “I’m so sorry, Tessy.” She opens her arms for a hug. “You are my favoritist strange quark.”

Theresa crosses her arms. “What’s a quark?” Their mother was always telling Penelope to stop calling Tess weird names.

“It was a compliment.”

“You said I was strange,” Tess says with a big, fake poofy bottom lip.

Penelope pulls her sister in for a hug. “What do you need help with?”

“He’s done a real bad thing.” She pauses for effect. “He killed everyone in Barbie’s Forest Townhouse.”


With absolute terror in her eyes, Tess slowly repeats, “Everyone.”

Penelope looks at her computer screens longingly, then says to herself, “I am never having children.” To Theresa she says, “I have a big test. Can’t you two work it out?”

Theresa flops to the floor, “all are dead.”

 “Can I tell you a story, Tessy? I promise, we will investigate the horrible murder scene after the story.”

Theresa smiles and leaps into the Hello Kitty bed tent and sweetly says, “begin.”

“Once upon a time, there was a special-strange-charm-quark. Do you know what a charm is?”


Penelope flicks the Lucky Charms bobblehead glued to her desk. “You know this guy, right?”

“Are charms marshmallows?”

“No,” Penelope smiles. “His marshmallows are shaped like charms. And people generally agree that charms are lucky and good.” She flicks Lucky’s head again. “So, the most massive of all the particles in the world are special-strange-quarks named Charm and her opposite special-strange-quark named Anti-Charm.”

“Am I Charm?”


“And is Derrick Anti-Charm?” Theresa asks darkly.


“I don’t like this story.”

“It has a magic spell.”

“Go on.”

“These special-strange-quarks feel gravity, electromagnetism, and all the weak and strong interactions just the same as all quarks. But the most magical thing of all is that no one even knew the two huge special-strange-quarks were real until the November Revolution.”

“Was that a party?”

“The November Revolution was when, in two different parts of the world, a magical spell was finally lifted, and Charm and Anti-Charm could be seen by all.”

“And then they fight, right?”

“No.” Penelope laughs. “Actually, it was the opposite, silly. When Charm and Anti-Charm come together, everybody becomes calm and happy. It was known throughout the world as a state of Charmonium.” Penelope turns her chair and smiles at her little sister.

“Is that it?” Theresa blinks hard. “Happily ever after in charmonium? You are not very good at this story telling thing.”

“Derrick is sad and angry about his father getting cancer. You need to be nice to him. The two of you are just the same wonderful crazy.”

“No. I’m sad and angry, but I did not kill anyone.”

“You guys are scary-times-ten the same. And we all could use some charmonium in this house.” Penelope takes Theresa’s hand.

“Murder.” Theresa says.

“Show me?”

Theresa drags Penelope to her own room. They open the door slowly. Headless Barbie carcasses are everywhere. Theresa starts this really weird chicken dance, waving her arms over all the headless dolls.

“This is disturbing.” Penelope admits.

The sisters gather up dolls respectfully. “Derrick!” Penelope finally shouts.

After no answer, they go downstairs searching for their step-brother. Neither Derrick nor the heads were in the living room. They enter the kitchen. On the breakfast bar is Mom’s monopoly board with Barbie heads glued to the properties like macabre hotels. Derrick is nowhere.

Theresa asks, “Why did he pull out all of Shakira’s hair?”

Their parents suddenly open the front door. Theresa stomps over to the bar, grabs the monopoly board, and swings it to face her parents. Neither would have been surprised if little Tess’ head slowly rotated 360 degrees right then and there.

“There will be no Charmonium in this house. Ever.” Theresa shakes the board hard and none of the heads fall off.

About the Author: 
Catherine Olson was an English teacher in grades 6 through first year of college in states like Arizona, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. All the while, her husband fought in war zones since before 9/11. She is now her 100% disabled husband's full time caregiver.
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

C is for ...

The most precise clocks we have are atomic clocks which are powered by quantum mechanics. Besides keeping time, they can also let your smartphone know where you are.

L is for ...

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 ...

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.

R is for ...

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 ...
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 ...
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.

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 ...
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.

R is for ...

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

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 and is a technology to build qubits for quantum computers.

G is for ...

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

C is for ...

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

D is for ...

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

Q is for ...

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.

S is for ...

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 ...

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

U is for ...

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

W is for ...

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 ...
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.

Q is for ...
Quantum biology

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S is for ...

Researchers are harnessing the intricacies of quantum mechanics to develop powerful quantum sensors. These sensors could open up a wide range of applications.

I is for ...

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer

K is for ...

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!

T is for ...

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.

X is for ...

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.

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 ...

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.

C is for ...

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

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”.

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.

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.

P is for ...
Planck's Constant

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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.

D is for ...

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.

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.

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.

E is for ...

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.

T is for ...

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 ...
Act of observation

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

I is for ...

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

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.

T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. This doesn’t seem to follow the laws of physics which work the same going forward or backward in time. Some physicists argue that there is a more fundamental quantum source for the arrow of time.

N is for ...

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.

M is for ...

Quantum physics is the study of nature at the very small. Mathematics is one language used to formalise or describe quantum phenomena.

K is for ...

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a way to create secure cryptographic keys, allowing for more secure communication.

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 ...

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.

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