Eyes of Infinity

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QUANTUM SHORTS 2015: SHORTLISTED, YOUTH CATEGORY
 
What is existence? She mused over the thought, grabbing her handbag off the desk. After all, we are all made up of particles. Every thought, every feeling being created by the interactions between atoms and molecules. Yet it did not stop her from moving a little more briskly, as she often did when she prepared to leave. Acutely aware of being alone in the dimly lit lab, she hurried towards the door as an inexplicable feeling of unease descended upon her. Fighting back a shiver, she flicked off the lights. In that instant, she could almost have sworn to seeing a pair of eyes, staring back at her in the darkness…
With that, she locked the door.
***
She did not sleep well that night. Whether it was due to the progress of the experiment, or the strange shadows that flickered at the edge of her vision the night before, she could not tell for certain. She stirred her coffee, while her hazy, sleep deprived mind drifted over to ponder the meaning of life.
The results they had so far was astounding. They had created a perfect void, kept flawless by a dozen machines, each painstakingly calibrated over months of effort. Then matter was introduced. Out of the void space was born, as a single, glowing hot point which threw the machines and the researchers into a frenzy. As it cooled, particles began to take shape. The first few protons, neutrons and electrons were suspended in a daze, existing out of nothingness and within nothingness. But from chaos order was born. These combined, decayed, merging and breaking apart, eventually settling to form a model universe. A replica of planets, solar systems and galaxies were created from a void. 
That itself, was enough to secure a decade worth of Nobel prizes. But for them, it was far from enough. They wanted to achieve the ultimate goal of understanding the laws of a void, the structure of structurelessness, thus comprehending the existence of a whole universe. She volunteered for the challenge, fully aware of the danger through whispered rumors and hushed legends. Yet, she agreed to have her consciousness beamed into the void.
The subject would be put to sleep, and various machines would read her brainwaves and convert these into quantum particles. The quantum particles will then be beamed into the void, thanks to their particle-wave duality. A transmitter would pick up information of these within the system, which will be then converted to align with the subject’s brainwaves at the end of her short experience. But in the quantum world, that time would be anything but short. 
She finished her breakfast.
***
Tearing her eyes away from the computer screen, she took notice of the clock on the wall. It was already a quarter to eleven, she being the only one left. The lab was silent, and the familiar clutch of fear settled in her heart once more. She glanced around the room, about to berate herself for such unfounded thoughts, when she saw it. The figure, hidden in the shadows. She stood, transfixed even as her blood turned to ice. She stared, into the depths of the dark eyes. The dark eyes which provided a glimpse of infinity, of a void so profound, that depression and euphoria at once stirred her heart. The glimpse of eternity.
“Are you… are you Professor Elias?” She asked, regaining control of her mind. In return, the figure nodded, and would respond no more to her further questions.
The consciousness, or soul, is but made up of particles. The residual energy and waves arranged into a visible yet intangible form, is what we know as a ghost. From then on, her late nights in the lab was filled often with the company of this entity. She gradually got used to this fact, and even felt honored to meet the spirit of the late Professor Elias. Those eyes, however, held the same allure for her as always, and gazed upon her with the same intensity as she analyzed equations and data late into the night.
***
It was the night before she was due as a subject for their final milestone, however, that the ghost communicated with her again. He appeared different that night. His eyes had the same depths as before, but no longer the same intensity, as if the knowledge had been digested, assimilated, and united with the being itself. The brainwaves of Professor Elias motioned for her to stand, and led her down the narrow and twisting corridors of the facility where she has never been before. Finally, he gestured towards a closed door. She opened it.
She repeated the same story to the police. That she had seen the ghost somewhat regularly for two weeks, and that day the ghost had led her to find his body. The body of Professor Elias lay, strangely decayed, yet fresh beyond it’s condition. Strangely peaceful, yet haunting. She took in the sight of the small room. It was covered with computers, state-of-the-art machines, with a small bed in the corner and a bathroom attached. The pathologist finally spoke: “ I’ve never seen a thing like this before…Yet I’m certain, this Professor Elias has only been dead for a few days.”
***
Suddenly, she understood. The rumors had been true; except for one small detail. The Professor had survived. He had looked into infinity, nothingness, and existence itself – and lived. Yet what the mind had perceived had affected the body as well. Despite breaking  the physical confines of his body, his consciousness lingered on to tell of his mistake. The mistake of knowledge. He had been trying to warn her. All at once, she saw the Professor, dead and alive at the same time, physical, and scattered into wavelengths. She saw all the different possibilities, existing, converging, and breaking apart. He tried to stop her. But she already understood; her soul trapped in that glimpse of infinity. Her mind shattered. 
 
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Quantum Theories: A to Z

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.

T is for ...
Tunnelling

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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.

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Reality

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R is for ...
Randomness

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

J is for ...
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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.

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Cryptography

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I is for ...
Information

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

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.

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.

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.

K is for ...
Kaon

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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.

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!

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.

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!

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Gravity

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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.

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.

U is for ...
Universe

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

K is for ...
Key

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

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.

M is for ...
Multiverse

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F is for ...
Free Will

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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.

Q is for ...
Qubit

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V is for ...
Virtual particles

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Q is for ...
Quantum biology

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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.

U is for ...
Uncertainty Principle

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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”.

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.

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.

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.

G is for ...
Gluon

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