02CAT

For reasons totally without merit, today we shall mangle the curious world of quantum physics.  Quantum physics is the study of how atoms, molecules and even smaller itty-bitty atomic particles react with each other. It’s a weird place down there in subatomic land. Take a moment away from your iPhone and the pictures of cats playing pianos. Come enter a land where a cat can be both alive and dead at the same time. You are now traveling through another dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is the middle ground between light and shadow; between science and superstition. You have just crossed over into the Quantum Zone. 

Consider, if you will, the strange inhabitants of the Quantum Zone who have names that would fit comfortably in Middle Earth or among feuding families living in the deepest hollows of West Virginia. 

You will meet six different flavors of Quarks: up, down, bottom, top, strange and charmed. If you have spent your entire life without meeting a Charmed Quark, then today is your lucky day. The Quantum Zone has a tribe of Leptons — electrons, neutrinos, muons, muon neutrinos, and tau neutrinos. 

There is a passel of Bosons — Z Boson and Weak Boson — and eight tiny different types of Gluons. But who is the leader of the subatomic club that’s made for you and me? H-I-G-G-S  B-O-S-O-N. Forever let us hold Higgs Boson high, high, high. As Otis Redding once sang about James Brown in “Sweet Soul Music,”  “Spotlight on Higgs Boson now/ He’s the king of them all, yeah/ He’s the king of them all, y’all/ Oh yeah oh yeah.” 

The mighty Higgs Boson wasn’t actually discovered until 2012. In theory, Higgs is what gives the universe mass. Without the Higgs Boson our universe might not exist. As Forest Gump once said, “That’s all I have to say about that.” Like Donald Trump keeps telling us, just trust me, I’ll explain it all to you very soon. The Higgs Boson is the very beautiful President of the Universe. 

There are some other weird sisters making up the Quantum Zone who are so reclusive that they haven’t been discovered yet. Physicists think they are out there and have already named them. There is likely something called a Gravitron. The Gravitron is not the ride at the State Fair or the secret ingredient that makes gravy in Gravy Train dog food. The Graviton is a building block of our old friend gravity. As we all know, gravity is not just a good idea; it’s the law. 

There is an undiscovered something which has been named the Magnetic Monopole. You might think that is a type of one-legged tadpole that would stick to the iron. You would be wrong. A Magnetic Monopole has something to do with magnetism. 

Those of you of a certain age will remember Dick Tracy in the funny papers used to constantly remind us: “The nation that controls magnetism will control the universe.” I, for one, will never, ever dispute anything Dick Tracy says. If Dick Tracy says it, I believe it. And that settles it. 

The most confusing item in the subatomic box is Schrodinger’s cat. According to Professor Schrodinger, in the Quantum Zone, an atom can exist in a bunch of different states at the same time which can lead to totally different outcomes. This is called superposition, which is not, in fact, a yoga pose. 

The atom remains in superposition until it is observed by someone who is not a subatomic particle. After being observed, the superposition makes up its mind and takes a final form. Here is where Schrodinger’s cat comes in. Put a cat in a steel box with a Geiger counter with a tiny radioactive blob. There is an equal chance the blob will decay or not decay during an hour. If it decays, then a hammer will break a glass tube full of acid, and the cat will die. If the blob doesn’t decay, the cat lives. 

To a normal person pondering the welfare of the cat, the cat is either alive or dead. There is no Mr. In Between. But in the Quantum Zone, the cat can be either alive or dead because the radioactive blob may or may not have been released. We won’t know if the cat has used up all its lives until we open the box. If you can understand Schrodinger’s cat illustration as to the wonders of the Quantum Zone, you may award yourself several gold stars. As the King of Siam said, “To me, it is a puzzlement.” Before you call PETA to report possible harm to Schrodinger’s cat, please understand that no cats were harmed during the writing of this column.

Photo: Schrodinger’s cat

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