Tag Archives: quantum

The Biggest Day of This Photon’s Life


This story deals with a seeming paradox in the world of quantum physics. That is, that light can be proven to be both a particle and a wave, depending on how you look at it. It stems from theories and experiments from the mid-twentieth century; Einstein and all that.


It was the big day for this photon – there he sits, snugly, in the particle accelerator, waiting for the green light.

For months he has been preparing for this moment; hanging out with the larger electrons, learning ow they came to be as big as they are, while he was still barely a nucleus.

To the mesons and bosons he had spoken, whilst they raced along backwards and forwards, (and sometimes both!). From them he learned the order of things, the ‘elimentariness’ of the world.

And now he was ready, sitting there, waiting for the electromagnets to warm up. Soon he would be journeying, at the speed of light, towards the most important event of his life!

Soon it came – the hum in the background, the green light came on – he was off! Out through the barrel of the gun he went, out into the unknown, out into the world!

And there it was – the famous dark screen that his contemporaries had whispered about. ‘Be careful,’ they had said, ‘for a choice awaits you there. Beware of That Which Watches.’

Onwards he hurtled, and then he saw them – two there were, many many orders of magnitude larger than himself – looming, gaping holes in the screen. He knew his purpose then, he knew what he was here to do. He braced himself,preparing for that most sacred act that a photon can perform.

He concentrated and, slowly but surely, as he sped along, his whole being stretched, blurred, smoothed and spread. He was going for it! He was now truly a wave, spreading though the ether, a movement of energy, not of particles; propagating himself towards the voids in the screen.

But wait! What is this? As he approaches the screen he can see, concealed behind each hole – particle detectors!

‘Oh no!’ he thought – ‘if That Which Watches’ is expecting a particle, how will It notice me, if am but a wave?’ Losing his concentration completely, the photon collapses back into a single particle, and just scrapes through one of the holes in the screen…

And there he is picked up by one of the detectors, like an all-seeing orb, as passes on to the sensitive plate beyond.

the photon hits this new plate and comes to rest, the agony of the journey and the energy expended in collapsing from wave to particle finally spent, all remaining of him a single spot on a photographic plate.


In another world a human being looks up from a small photographic plate and turns to another human, saying ‘You see, Albert, I told you light was a particle…’

Thanks to Sarah de Nordwall and the Scanners crew for inspiration and support.

Disclaimer: I know the physics isn’t bang on; it’s just a story x


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A Universe Lies Therein…

The universe can be handily measured with sugar cubes...
Universe in a sugar cube

If I understand this correctly…

Planks constant indicates that objects on the level of the quantum world are something like 10-27 grams in mass.
To get a better idea of how mini that is, if you take something that is 1027 cm in lenght it will take a billion billion billion of them to measure 1cm. That’s a lot of quantum thingies, for very little distance.
A sugar cube is about a centimeter across.
Taking things the other way, if we line up 1027sugar cubes, how far will they reach?
Well, John Gribbin, in his 1995 book Schrodinger’s Kittens, explains it like this:
“The stanard unit of length measurement in astronomy, the distance light can travel in one year(one light year) is about 1018 cm; so 1027 sugar cubes side by side would stretch across a distance of a billion (109) light years. The most distant objects kown in the universe, some quasars, are about 10 billion light years away. so 1027 sugar cubes would stretch one tenth of the way to the most distant known quasar.”
 Reading this blew my mind. It seems that the humble sugar cube serves as not only analogy for the tinyness of the world of quantum physics, but also for the enormity of the world of classical physics.

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