Equestrian Physicist Needed ASAP

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“Equestrian Physicist needed ASAP:

Equantum, Inc. is seeking a skilled horse rider and trained physicist to assist in testing an exciting new breakthrough. Detailed responsibilities will be shared at an onsite interview. Contact Dr. Roan…”

Nearing the completion of my graduate degree in physics, I found myself browsing through job postings while waiting for my samples to process. I had already applied to a handful of positions, but I was still looking for my “dream job.”

I re-read the ad. Could this be it? The elusive dream job? Horses and physics! Two of my favorite things to geek out on. Although I won a couple of equestrian championships in years past, I left those dreams behind when I entered grad school. But reading this ad… maybe there’s a way for both dreams to come true.

I search “Equantum, Inc.”, but nothing comes up online. I take a deep breath and call the provided number. “Here goes something!” Nobody answers, so I stumble through an awkward voicemail, wondering if the job is even real.

~~~

It is. I’m invited to interview onsite at Equantum “as soon as possible,” which apparently means “tomorrow.”

~~~

I arrive early and am greeted by Dr. Roan. He takes me to a windowless room with a wall-to-wall photograph of lush meadows and a calm pond. Apparently, the lack of windows is due to security concerns, and Dr. Roan informs me the photographs were taken on the institute’s property at their partner location in France. “Maybe you’ll get to visit our French campus later,” he mentions. He starts the interview by focusing on my research background and emphasizing the importance of safety. He asks me seemingly random and unrelated questions. “What is the most efficient path between two cities?” “What is the viscosity of a photonic fluid? “Have you ever ridden a horse underwater?”

He ends with a brief presentation explaining the research and goals at Equantum. “We’re trying to be the Pony Express of the Modern Age. We developed a programmable neutrino that is compatible with swarm robotics. They can be brought together and will behave in a coordinated manner, potentially enabling ultrafast transportation.” When I try asking further questions, I receive only vague responses. At this point, I have generated more questions than answers, but Dr. Roan continues blithely. “Well today is going along splendidly! Everything seems to be in order, and we have been cleared to begin the fun part – the lab tour, er, stable tour, if you will! And the riding test. That part’s important.”

He takes me down a long, white hallway decorated with research posters from the lab. I want to stop and read them to hopefully get some answers, but we walk too quickly for me to catch more than a few words and the outline of some graphs. At the end of the hallway, we pass through a set of keycard-gated double doors which lead directly into the stable. Entering a stable without having to go outside surprises me, as does the fact that there are still no windows. I must have looked quizzical as Dr. Roan explains, “These horses have, ah, let’s just say the lack of light doesn’t bother them, and we have plenty of artificial light anyway.”

As I am questioning whether these horses even exist or if I have been brought in for an elaborate scam to murder female physicists in windowless buildings, I see the silhouette of an Arabian horse in one of the stalls. Dr. Roan stops outside of the stall and peers in, but he isn’t looking directly at the horse. Hesitantly, I ask Dr. Roan if this is my horse for the riding test.

“Oh, can you – you can see her, then? Excellent! Yes, you will be riding Chance in the test run, I mean, in the er – riding test for the interview.” I notice the horse flickers in the odd artificial lighting in the stable. I ask Dr. Roan about getting Chance tacked up, and he seems confused, “Can’t you just ride her like this?” I wasn’t expecting to ride bareback, but I lead Chance out of the stall and prepare to mount. Before I get on, Dr. Roan urgently reminds me that safety is a priority at Equantum, and adds, “Make sure you don’t fall off! I don’t know what would happen…”

I get on, and immediately the lights go out. Nobody said this was going to be easy, but this inky blackness is absurd! I feel Chance quivering under me, but I can’t read her. One thing I love about horses is developing a deep connection and learning to read my mount’s emotions and desires. Typically, riding bareback makes this connection even stronger. But Chance seems to be switching between different possibilities at an impossibly fast frequency. Before I can get a stable read on her, we’re moving. At least, I think we’re moving? It’s completely dark, except for the occasional flickering light from Chance. And then I feel her plunging violently. It’s alarming, but I recognize the feeling – this is what horses feel like when they’re swimming. Swimming? I tighten my grip.

After one particularly enormous lurch, I can feel Chance’s hooves on solid ground again. Relieved, I pat her neck, and sense that her signals are approaching a constant. Her emotional state collapses to a single output, and simultaneously it is light again. Blinking, I am amazed to discover that we are standing in a rolling meadow beside a calm pond.

“Hello?” I call out, not seeing anyone nearby, and unsure what happens next – “Is the test over?” As I look around, a scientist in a white coat comes running over the hill. Dr. Roan is brought in via video call: “You did it! The test was successful! Equine quantum teleportation….” He appears elated even as he trails off. “I mean… congratulations, you passed the interview! We’d love to offer you a position here at Equantum.”

About the Author: 
As a scientist and equestrian, Lily would have eagerly applied for this position. In real life, she has already found her dream job teaching materials science engineering at Georgia Tech. She is passionate about science education and strives to inspire her students to appreciate how materials impact our everyday lives.
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