The Motion of Matter Frozen in Time
The device was simple and small. Shiny wires–some connected to a micro-processor–protruded from one end of an aluminum cylinder. The other end was plugged into an RF cavity that broke the surface of the beam pipe.
One of the three physics grad students who made up half their research team–her body a flashing blob in the aluminized Level A hazmat suite–used the microscopy chips built into her window-lens to inspect the coupling several hundred feet into the bright concrete tunnel. She turned to one of the tunnel cameras and forced her glove into a thumbs-up signal.
Dr. Heller sighed loudly and turned away from the monitor, toward the computers controlling security and safety parameters. “We may have permission from the project director, but the Swiss government doesn’t know about this experiment,” she said to no one in particular. “And I don’t think many physicists would approve of our plans.”
Dr. John Lucas was perched at a table laden with digital equipment and wires; he studied his data. “We’ve already frozen photons. No one thought that possible,” he said without turning around. He depressed a key and said loudly, “Maria, return to the Control Centre.”
Dr. Anais paced a few steps in one direction, then the other, his short wiry frame tense, the flaps of his white lab coat inverted with fist in pocket stress. “They changed the energy levels of photons–the way particles interact with one another–so that photons moving at the speed of light froze in place rather than move.”
Dr. Lucas–his knees resolutely square, knuckles braced on one hip–spun in his chair and stared at Dr. Anais. “Particles are like water, they will react to the least resistance, like water is pulled by gravity to the lowest level.”
Anais halted and confronted the team leader. “We’re talking about the fundamental sub-atomic foundation of all matter. Reality itself! The universe! Using Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle….”
“Heisenberg again.” Heller grunted. “I think we’re ready to go,” she said to Lucas.
The five in the Command Centre glanced in her direction as Maria appeared and removed her mask, respirator, and head-gear. “All set,” Maria said.
“Are there any more objections and concerns?” Dr. Lucas asked in a way that did not invite either. “Excellent. Let’s take our stations.”
Dr. Heller clustered with Lucas and another grad student Hassan, leaning over the screen where the first images would be projected, if the experiment worked. Lucas raised a hand. “Ready, Howard?”
Anais shrugged, walked stiffly to his desk, and prepared to initiate the super collider. “I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? The end of the world as we know it?” he muttered. In moments the familiar hum and metallic stroking noise rose in volume. “Gas release. Electromagnetic fields functional, beam accelerating.”
The third of the grad students joined the group watching the screen where the results–if any–would appear. “What do you think we’ll see?” He felt anxious and his stomach fluttered and he felt like he wanted to pee.
They waited until protons collided with protons and atoms split apart, fracturing into such small pieces that many or most had not been observed, or named, yet.
“Ready….” Dr. Lucas typed a code to begin the absolute-freeze of the aluminum cylinder.
“We can’t ever know certainty for properties like position and momentum,” Dr. Anais said from his position several feet away. “It’s the fundamental rule of quantum mechanics, that the universe is fluid and shifting and reality on the subatomic level is slippery as an eel.”
“Got it!” Lucas shouted. The five leaned in and watched in silence as something appeared.
“What is that?” Maria whispered.
“It’s beautiful!” Heller cooed.
Swirls and curly-cues, insane loops with twirling tails, twists like ghostly cotton candy filled their eyes, their faces reflecting silver white.
“So this is it. This is what reality looks like. This is what quantum physics looks like,” Dr. Lucas breathed.
Anais joined them but stood a few feet behind. “But it’s not possible to freeze the first particles of matter because we … there has to be uncertainty … if you destroy the very core of reality….” He paused and gazed upward, around, listening. “Something doesn’t sound right.”
On the verge of human perception, the others could hear it too. The accelerator wasn’t singing the same old song. It sounded like an old ship creaking and grinding in a storm.
John Lucas glanced up, then stared at the monitor once more. “It’s stunning! So beautiful!” The whorls and spirals were intricate, pale, caught in an ecstatic dance that was now fixed forever.
“Something’s wrong!” Anais shouted. “The entropic expression of uncertainty….” The entire Command Centre shook and the concrete walls growled. Their lights flickered. “I think there’s going to be a big bang.”