The Quantum Shuttle

By Kevin Low, Yale-NUS College ’17

Disclaimer: Before anyone calls me out on scientific inaccuracy, I claim artistic licence.

———-

Ed: Good evening, sporting fans; here we are at the George Cayley Stadium. It’s a beautiful night for a game; there’s not a cloud in the ceiling. We’ve got quite a crowd out here, don’t we, Pete?

Pete: We sure do, Ed, it’s quite a crowd. There are some big names here tonight: there’s Michio Kaku sitting in the third row; he’s got his bets on Schrödinger, I’m sure. And there’s the Greek philosopher Democritus, who, uh, seems to be cutting his programme into half, again and again. Any idea what he’s doing there, Ed?

Ed: Not a clue, Pete, not a clue. Well, we’ve got a very important game tonight, and for all the fans out there who have just tuned in, tonight is the highly-anticipated badminton semi-final between Austria’s Erwin Schrödinger, and Werner Heisenberg from Germany, here at the annual All-Star Scientific Olympiad. These are two very competitive players, and the match could go either way. It might be particularly taxing for Schrödinger, since this isn’t the first German he’s played against at these games, is it, Pete?

Pete: That’s right, Ed, Schrödinger faced Albert Einstein in the quarter-finals, who is a strong contender in his own right, mind you. It’s almost miraculous, how he managed to counter all of Einstein’s shots, travelling at the speed of light, as they were, relatively speaking. Young Schrödinger is showing a lot of potential, and he is one of the hot favourites to bring home the Klein Cup this year.

Ed: Sure, Pete, but Heisenberg has been at his top game here at the Olympiad as well, having defeated uh, Julius Oppenheimer last week in his quarter-final. I’ve never seen anyone return one of Oppenheimer’s final, “atomic smashes” [chuckles], as his fans have been calling them, but Heisenberg is here today, and Oppenheimer isn’t, which really goes to show what this Austrian is made of.

Pete: Right you are, Ed. And here comes the umpire for the match today: Alfred Nobel, who hails from Sweden, walking out across the court. He’s actually known as one of the strictest officials here at the games, well-known for making very explosive judgement calls.

Ed: Well, Pete, the strictest officials are usually the fairest, and Nobel is highly prized in this line of work. Aaaaand here come the players now! Making his entrance from the left end of the stadium, Erwin Schrödinger, giving a friendly wave to the crowd there. He looks like he just got off a plane, doesn’t he, Pete? [chuckles]

Pete: [chuckles] That bow tie probably also isn’t standard issue, but I don’t think the officials are going to say anything. Schrödinger looks like he’s wielding a Catbox 900, one of the latest racquets in the market, although no-one is ever quite sure if it’s good or not until they buy one.

Ed: And here comes Werner Heisenberg, getting roaring support from his fans over at the east wing of the stadium. He looks a bit confused, though, doesn’t he, Pete?

Pete: Ah, yes, he does look a bit uncertain, but not to worry: there’s his coach, Max Planck, coming to him now. That’s a dedicated coach, that Planck, constantly pushing Heisenberg to his limits. A few words of encouragement there, from his coach… [pause] now both scientists are taking their sides of the court, and it looks like the match is about to begin. [pause] Brilliant serve there by Schrödinger, getting in the first point of the match. It looks like Heisenberg is still getting his rhythm, doesn’t it, Ed?

Ed: Yes it does, Pete, and there’s another point for Schrödinger, putting him ahead 2-0. It’s going to be a long, exciting match, Pete.

***

Ed: Welcome back, folks. For those of you who have just tuned in, we are now in the final rally of the heated semi-final between Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg, and what an amazing match it’s been, hasn’t it, Pete?

Pete: Sure has, Ed. After two hours of hard rallying, the score is now tied; Schrödinger won the first rally 21-19 but Heisenberg came back in the second rally with an impressive 24-22 blowout. Both scientists have been playing their best game, I think, and the score now is 29-28 in favour of Schrödinger. This is the closest game we’ve had since the 1958 final, isn’t that right, Ed?

Ed: It sure is, Pete, it sure is. But it looks like it’s development time down there, folks. Planck called a timeout a few moments ago, with both players receiving advice from their coaches. There’s a lot of commotion down there, and the crowd is literally buzzing with excitement. Now the players are returning to their sides of the court, and it all comes down to this final game point. [Pause] Heisenberg on service… [pause] Good backhand there by Schrödinger… [pause] Amazing save there by Heisenberg… [pause] Wow! Did you see that, Pete?

Pete: Not sure I did, Ed! I couldn’t see where the shuttle was, but I think I knew how fast it was going, and there was definitely no way that Schrödinger could have returned that shot.

Ed: Well Pete, I think I managed to catch a glimpse of the shuttle, but I had no idea how fast it was going. That was a very unpredictable play by Heisenberg, and one of his specialty moves, if I’m not mistaken. Quite right that he has been saving it for this crucial moment in the match; a move like that is usually a game-ender.

Pete: It’s now 28-29, Heisenberg’s service, and it looks like Schrödinger can kiss his trophy goodbye if Heisenberg continues to pull off more stunning shots like that last one. [pause] Nice serve there… [pause] That was a close one! … [pause] Heisenberg launches the shuttle up high… it looks like… Schrödinger is going to smash… Oh my gosh! Can you see the shuttle anywhere, Ed?

Ed: No I can’t, Pete, and neither can Heisenberg. Ladies and gentlemen, this is unprecedented! The shuttlecock has seemingly disappeared into thin air! Heisenberg’s looking around uncertainly, I don’t think he knows where he’s supposed to swing his racquet! I’ve never seen anything like this in all my days of science-casting, have you, Pete?

Pete: No I haven’t, Ed, but it can certainly compare to that spectacular serve in the doubles match yesterday, where John Crocroft and Ernest Walton somehow managed to split their shuttle into two, winning two points as both halves hit the court simultaneously.

Ed: Right you are, Pete. And it looks like Heisenberg is going to take a chance here, folks. I think he’s going to swing it and wing it, doesn’t it, Pete?

Pete: He’s swinging it alright… [pause] and it’s over! [Crowd cheers] The shuttle is on the floor! Heisenberg missed that last shot, and Schrödinger has done it! He’s won! I do believe, Ed, that that last one was a quantum forehand, and for a brief moment the shuttle existed in all positions of space until Heisenberg’s swing collapsed all the possible outcomes into a singularity.

Ed: Right you are, Pete. And so it looks like Erwin Schrödinger is moving on to the finals, where he’ll be up against England’s principal superstar Isaac Newton. Schrödinger will have to look out for Newton, well-known to be a serious, no-nonsense player who executes drop shots with immense gravity.

Pete: Well that’s all for tonight folks. From the George Cayley stadium, I’m Peter Jensen–

Ed: –and I’m Edwin Pridham. Goodnight.

———-

What happens when you cross The Legend of Koizumi and New Horizons to Music Appreciation by Peter Schickele. Because science can be hilarious.

The Dramatis Personae, in order of appearance:

  1. George Cayley is often hailed as the father of aviation and aerodynamics, important in a sport such as badminton.
  2. Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist who is one of the more awesome modern popularisers of science. He once assembled an atom smasher in his parents’ garage for a science fair project. An atom smasher.
  3. Democritus was an ancient Greek philosopher who was one of the first to describe the concept of atoms by cutting a piece of stone in half again and again until you got a piece that was indivisible.
  4. You’re both aware and unaware of whom Erwin Schrödinger is, and you’ll only find out which one when you click on the link.
  5. Werner Heisenberg is most famous for his uncertainty principle. Obviously, you’re not sure what it is.
  6. Albert Einstein is relatively famous for developing prism technology and the Chronosphere.
  7. The Klein bottle is something like a 3D Möbius strip. I just thought it would be appropriate.
  8. J. Robert Oppenheimer was the scientific director of the Manhattan Project, which created the first atomic bombs.
  9. Alfred Nobel’s name is up there with Oscar’s, Grammy’s and Tony’s.
  10. Max Planck was a German physicist who is regarded as the founder of quantum theory. He has a constant named after him.
  11. John Crocroft and Ernest Walton are the two scientists who first split an atom.
  12. Isaac Newton was responsible for developing most of the ideas of classical mechanics, inventing integral calculus and discovering that white light is made of rainbows.
  13. And, just in case you were wondering, Edwin Pridham and Peter L. Jensen are the first people to develop a magnetic coil loudspeaker.

One comment

  1. Mechelle Hawking

    Everyone has seen the tired old science fair project, such as the volcano or the styrofoam solar system, which have been favorites of many parents for what feels like generations. These projects are relatively simple and easy from the parent’s point of view, but they are incredibly bad choices for the children involved. Why?These are the kind of projects that are so well-known that even the students know what is going to happen. And when that happens, the students are not learning anything, and their performance suffers during the presentation portion of science fairs because of it. Science fair judges have gotten bored with these types of projects, and that’s a big problem for students who endeavor to win prizes in their science fair. In the end, this kind of project is only really good for the parents, and surprisingly, these kinds of projects are not even particularly cheap!-

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