I’m a bit of a physics geek. Not that I can do the math. But I’ve always wanted to know how the world works, and physics is the very coolest science for that. The foundation. So I decided to find three bits of news in physics to put forward as a little gift for my fellow science geeks – a bit of how the world might work for the holiday season.
In space, it’s good to talk to your friends – even when they’re far away.
So, let’s start with quantum entanglement. No, I don’t really get it either. But in short form, I understand it as something I do in one place also happens in another place. So I talk into one end of a quantum computing device and my voice can be heard on the other end, the whole thing moving faster than the speed of sound, or more accurately happening in two places at once. This is also an underlying technology that could contribute to teleportation. Glen Hiemstra, a professional futurist mentor of mine, sent me this cool article from Physorg titled “Physicists demonstrate teleportation-based optical quantum entangling gate” with a note in the email that I should use it in a story. Actually, this is one of the technologies we’ve been using in stories for a long time, since plots often seem to want communications with no lag (who wants to read about the long wait between two sides of an argument among interstellar starships with today’s technology? Not me!). At any rate, the key word in this article is the “demonstrate” as opposed to theorize. Meaning we’re a big step closer to understanding quantum entanglement than we were before.
We all know we can’t make matter – we can only change its state. Or can we?
An article in Science Daily called Theoretical Breakthrough: Generating Matter and Antimatter from Nothing suggests that a vacuum can be ripped apart into its constituent parts (matter and antimatter) and that this might cause new particles to be created. All you might need is a high energy electron beam and an intense laser pulse. Oh, and a two-mile long particle accelerator. Not that I have those in my back pocket. Still, this seems to me like one of those theories designed to turn some things we thought we knew inside out.
Oh – and a stray thought – this isn’t making something from nothing with no real effort. It’s making matter and antimatter through the application of light and force, and it even sounds a bit violent. But then, birth is like that.
Seeing Lightning like Superman
I have a story called “Cracking the Sky” coming out in an anthology called No Man’s Land in 2011. The story is about capturing the power of lightning (an idea I heard about at a military conference last year where I as an invited futurist). I love thunderstorms. Lightning looks like an X-ray to me. But recently, scientists have been seeing X-rays generated by lightening itself. This is not as “big” a discovery as the other two I mentioned, but it tickled my happiness bones. Lightening is sense-of-wonder level weather, and I like the idea of learning more about it. Unfortunately, there aren’t any pictures with the article, but simply references to it being low resolution. There is, however a picture of the experimental lightning, which is rocket-generated, over at Scientific Computing.
Yes, my head hurts after I read this kind of stuff, and I feel vaguely fuzzy and like I should understand it completely, but that might just take a few more years of math. Like ten. But no one ever promised me a comprehensible universe.
If you want to explore more:
A 2008 blog article from Discover on quantum entanglement, Entangled particles seem to communicate instantly, and befuddle scientists.
What Travels Faster than the Speed of Light? Dr. Michio Kaku (a favorite “layman’s” physicist of mine – I generally mistrust handsome TV personality types, but popularizing physics is sweet).
More on something from nothing: Team says it can make matter and antimatter out of nothing
Thanks, and happy holidays.
Brenda Cooper’s latest science fiction novel, Wings of Creation, is out now from Tor Books. For more information, see her website!