Quantum cake à la Solvay

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>> Read an interview with the author



Dear judges, for Quantum Shorts’ ultimate run,

I thought a submission in verse might be fun.

My piece is a story in every key sense,

With a narrative arc and a bit of suspense,

A host of known characters, conflict galore,

Irreverent waggery, drama and more.

Though lacking in reason, it’s riddled with rhyme,

And short enough not to take much of your time.

In closing, I’d like to thank you and your staff;

I hope that my yarn gives you all a good laugh.



Quantum cake à la Solvay

The history of physics contains ’til this day

A little-known secret surrounding Solvay.

Aside from the talks among Einstein’s old pals,

Were parallel sessions arranged by the gals.

They beat God at dice and exchanged idle chat,

And nursed Erwin Schrödinger’s traumatized cat.

They made snide remarks about Marie Curie,

And bad-mouthed the men over pastries and tea:

Their gripes over prizes and coveted chairs,

Romantic entanglements, steamy affairs,

Herr Pauli’s exclusion from trivia night,

And Planck’s constant rants about quanta of light,

That Erwin was dishy but Niels was a bore,

And Werner would sleep through his lectures and snore.

The girls’ greatest secret undoubtedly, though,

Was Madame De Broglie’s new quantum gâteau.

It’s said those who tried it could not get enough;

It wasn’t like Thomson’s old plum-pudding stuff.

So here we explain the procedures to make

A version of Madame’s original cake.

(The optimal order is still in dispute,

But mixing and baking for sure don’t commute.)

First preheat the oven to one-eighty C

(Or four-fifty K, give or take a degree).

Beat butter and sugar with integer spin,

Then fold all the other ingredients in.

Don’t measure them, though, or you’ll alter their state;

Just guess the amounts and then leave it to fate.

(You might get a cake that’s too dry or too greasy,

But nobody said this was going to be easy!)

Now transfer the mix to a suitable pan,

And bake thirty minutes (or less with the fan).

The pan must be deep and have sides that are stout

To prevent the raw batter from tunneling out.

The cake should turn golden and rise as it cooks –

But don’t take a peek to assess how it looks!

Just wait for the specified time to elapse,

Or you’ll trigger the wave function’s fatal collapse.

By quantum mechanics and these simple rules

You can eat the cake hot and still wait ’til it cools.

This feat marks the theory’s preeminent coup:

The proof you can have your cake and eat it too.


Physics references:

L2: A reference to the Solvay Conferences, the most famous of which were the first and fifth Solvay Conferences on Physics in 1911 and 1927 respectively, where the world's leading physicists met to discuss the emerging theory of quantum mechanics.

L3: Albert Einstein attended both the first and fifth Solvay Conferences

L5: Reference to Einstein’s contention that God ‘does not play dice’ with the universe.

L6: Reference to Schrödinger’s famous Gedankenexperiment

L7: Marie Curie was the only woman invited to the Solvay Conferences of 1911 and 1927.

L10: Reference to quantum entanglement

L10: Reference to Schrödinger’s affairs. Erwin Schrödinger attended the Solvay Conference of 1927

L11: “Pauli’s exclusion from…”: reference to Pauli’s Exclusion Principle. Wolfgang Pauli attended the Solvay Conference of 1927

L12: “Planck’s constant rants…”: reference to Planck’s Constant. Max Planck attended the Solvay Conferences of 1911 and 1927

L13: “Niels was a bore”: reference to Niels Bohr, who attended the Solvay Conference of 1927

L14: “Werner” is Werner Heisenberg, who attended the Solvay Conference of 1927

L16: Reference to Louis de Broglie, who attended the Solvay Conferences of 1911 and 1927

L18: Reference to Thomson’s plum-pudding model of the atom, in which negatively-charged electrons were hypothesized to be embedded within a positively-charged ‘soup’.

L22: Reference to non-commuting operations, which represent the mathematical basis of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

L24: Temperature in kelvin (the number of degrees above absolute zero)

L25: Angular momentum is quantized in integer or half-integer multiples of Planck’s Constant.

L27: Reference to quantum measurement theory, according to which any measurement on a system potentially changes the state of the system

L30: The ‘constraint’ phrase required by the competition

L34: Reference to quantum tunneling, a phenomenon in which an object such as an electron or atom passes through a potential energy barrier that, according to classical mechanics, is too high for the object to surmount.

L36: Another reference to quantum measurement theory, according to which any observation on a system potentially changes the state of the system

L38: Wave function collapse is the term given to the change in the state of a system induced by a measurement or observation on the system

L40 & L42: Reference to quantum superposition (the possibility for a quantum system to exist in two opposing states simultaneously)

About the Author: 
Pippa Storey earned a master’s degree in physics from the University of Auckland in New Zealand and a doctorate in quantum physics from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in France. She is now a Research Associate Professor of Radiology at New York University, where she develops techniques for MRI.
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