by Daniel H. Arioli
It’s a common misconception that the “theoretical” in “theoretical physics” means that what scientists are learning by splitting atoms and measuring the red shift of distant celestial bodies can’t be directly applied to everyday situations—an uninformed belief that often goes along with the idea that Galileo didn’t really invent bowling, or that the Large Hadron Collider isn’t really an exceptionally well-funded experiment in male enhancement. But it’s not your fault: the elite class of scientists don’t want you to know that there is a practical infinitude of ways that the discoveries of theoretical physics can be put to work for you, right now or in the near future.
Here are the four that I myself am most excited about:
The Uncertainty Principle
We’ve all heard of it. At least, I think we have. Anyway, I’m pretty sure it says that reliable measurement is impossible because observation actually affects what is being observed! But the uncertainty principle also has all sorts of useful, concrete applications.
Take, for instance, trying to hang a picture on your wall. Have you ever noticed how, no matter how many times you measure and re-measure, the picture always looks just a little bit crooked when you stand back and look at it? Well, now you know why: it is precisely your naïve attempt to measure the thing that is giving you problems! Every time you try to measure where you should hang the picture, you are warping the space-time fabric of your wall. (Why your wall is made out of fabric at all is another question.)
I used to spend hours trying to get my pictures to hang straight—now I just close my eyes, stick a nail in the wall, hang the picture, and—BOOM! Problem solved. No measurement, no worries. And if your friends come over and point out, as sometimes happens to me, that all your wall-hangings look conspicuously crooked, just remember: they probably haven’t transposed themselves from a Newtonian to an Einsteinian frame of reference yet.
You may know of buckyballs as a hypnotically entertaining magnetic desk toy. But did you know that scientists also use them to push the boundaries of physics?! Neither did I, actually, until I skimmed the Wikipedia article just now. Evidently, scientists shoot buckyballs at two slits in some sort of screen—and the buckyballs don’t just go through one or the other, but both. Scientists think that the way they move indicates that they actually travel every possible trajectory simultaneously!.
But what use are buckyballs, you ask? Well, the buckyball experiments prove that everything is sometimes everywhere all the time at the same time. Which should cut down majorly on your commute.
There are three dimensions, right? Wrong! It’s four, right? Wrong! There are actually ten or eleven or maybe twelve dimensions! But half or more of them are curled up into a tiny little ball for who knows what reason. Just think about it—ten dimensions (or so)! That means that, in addition to the four dimensions of space and time or whatever, there are at least six other dimensions tucked away somewhere, just waiting to be put to good use. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t actually used these extra dimensions yet—but I’ve got some great ideas, and my friend Wally who took a correspondence course on “Extra-terrestrial Physical Science” thinks they might actually work.
Now, it’s not cheap to rent a storage unit, and if you’ve got anywhere near as much excess junk as I do, you need somewhere to put it. Well, think about this: I bet those curled up dimensions were just as gigantic as the other four dimensions, before they got all squashed. If we could find a way to just uncurl one or two of them, we’d have all the room we needed—and I doubt the laws of physics charge $25/month.
Here’s something else: lately, 3-D movies have been making a comeback. They used to be gimmicky and totally not worth the extra cash—but now they’re pretty all right! Imagine seeing a movie, not in 3-D, but in 5- or 6- or 7-D. Actually, you can’t—it’s beyond the imaginable. But I bet it would be a totally immersive experience.
Oh, and I forgot to patent any of this stuff, so can you all please just sit tight for a couple of days after reading this, until I can get that done? Thanks!
Miniature Black Holes
We all know that a black hole sucks in everything that’s nearby; anything that goes past the event horizon gets sucked in, no exceptions. Nothing can escape from the black hole—it’s like a galactic IRS. Well, some scientists speculate that there are miniature black holes at the bottom of the ocean, because there are some weird gravitational forces in the depths of the sea that we’re not quite sure how to explain. How these mini black holes don’t suck the whole ocean up is beyond me, but there was a special on the science channel on it, and after a day-long marathon on how the aliens really built the pyramids, you can imagine how refreshing some real, hard science was.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I find it nearly impossible to sleep in a room that isn’t dark enough; and where I live, there’s constant light pollution. But I was thrilled to hear that a patent was recently filed in Japan on a “Personal-Sized Black-Hole-Powered Light Reduction Apparatus.” It uses the science behind these miniature black holes at the bottom of the ocean to create a pitch-black sleeping environment. (Light-block curtains, your days are numbered!) Evidently, this contraption plugs into a standard electrical socket like a nightlight, but instead of making light, it sucks it all up, so your room is completely dark. It hasn’t been approved for use by the public yet—evidently there have been a few issues with the black holes sucking up pets and such. But you can bet this handy technology is right around the corner. And the black hole powered vacuum cleaner might just be the next step.
There was a time when advanced science was only for the few, the elite, the willing to sit down and read a book. But now, thanks to human ingenuity and my wi-fi connection, everyone can have a little fun with physics. So, just remember, when the universe stops expanding and gradually shrinks to a super-dense ball of ultra-compressed matter, the only thing that will really count is that you got a good night’s sleep for once before the universe annihilated itself.