Hi everyone. You may remember that I posted a short story here about a year ago. I've cobbled together another little tale and, as the first one seemed to be appriciated, I thought I'd give it an audience here in two parts. Hoping for your amusement, fellows.
The message (part 1)
The office where Kevin Salmon worked was painted a rather unusual and somewhat deep blue, which was not entirely to his liking. Although, he consoled himself with the thought that this was not where the most important work was done anyway. He was a professor of quantum information processing who defined his work as “mainly experimental”; the laboratory was where the real discoveries were made or, just as importantly, not made. I should explain the proceeding a little more. There are basically two kinds of physicists in the academic world; theorists and experimentalists. The theorists attempt to build models (or theories) of how an aspect of the world works and then work out how the models predict the real world should work. The experimentalists do experiments to see if the world does work as predicted and their results therefore either support or disprove the models. If a model is shown to make incorrect predictions it must either be thrown out or modified.
Note however that a model can never be proven as there is always the possibility that a future experiment will contradict its predictions. It was with these thoughts in mind that Kevin was considering the results of his own recent experiments. He was testing a theory which predicted it was possible to transmit information faster than the speed of light. In fact, it predicted not only that certain bits of information could pass instantaneously between two points but that this was going on all the time and was an essential process if the world was to work as it did. However, from his own results it didn't appear this was actually what was going on and, as he knew, showing that a theory is wrong is more of a “real” discovery than finding it might be right.
As Kevin walked into the campus canteen to get dinner he was so engrossed in his thoughts he didn't notice his friend Marcus queuing up to pay for his meal until he was standing next to him. “Busy day, I take it?” said Marc with a smile and Kevin turned in slight surprise. “Oh, didn't see you there. I wouldn't say busy exactly. I've been spending a lot of time in the lab recently and....well, you know how it is.” said Kevin. Marc indeed knew how it was. While it wouldn't be true to say these two men were workaholics, they both could at times become thoroughly absorbed in a project to an almost obsessive degree. This usually happened when they believed they were nearing some landmark discovery or, in Marc's case the completion of one of his “tools” as he called them. Marc was a software engineer who mostly wrote programs for physicists that helped to collect and analyse the data from their experiments.
“So, are you going to the gathering at Julia's house on Friday night?” asked Marc. “Yes, I think I will. I'll ask Kate if she wants to come as well.”. Kate was his wife and although she wasn't an academic herself she had become friends with a number of the people that Kevin and Marc knew through the university. “Have you ever wondered why we call them gatherings these days and not parties?” asked Kevin. “I mean, they seem pretty similar in format to the parties I used to go to when I was a student.”. “Yes, but you'd sound like a student if you went around talking about the next party you were going to. Can't have that, hey?” answered Marc. They laughed a little.
Kevin had already made a resolution in his mind to reach a conclusion in his experiment by Friday. It's not that he was going to talk to anyone about it at the party, except perhaps to Marc and that could wait anyway. The event just provided an arbitrary cut off point for him to aim for after his long deliberations. Why was he taking so long to run and rerun his experiment, analysing his results over and over again and getting the same difficult answer each time? The problem was that he knew others would find his answer difficult to accept, or more likely would refuse to accept it and perhaps call his credibility into question. This is because his answer involved time travel.
His experiment involves two iron and diamond containers (only a cubic centimetre in volume) with an equal mixture of argon and xenon gas in each at a very low pressure. However, at first there is one box which contains all the gas and then two thin partitions of flawless diamond are brought down to separate it into two. One of the newly formed boxes is then slowly slid along a low friction surface to a point six metres away. Next, an infra-red laser is fired into the box that has stayed still (let's call it box A) with an intermittent flashing pattern that in a similar way to Morse code carries information. The information is in the form of a sequence of 1s and 0s which could be used to send messages like SMSs or e-mails if one desired, although so far Kevin had only tried firing 32 bits or less into the box at a time.
The theory went that because the atoms of the gas had been together at first and were then carefully separated there remained a connection between them, or entanglement to use the Physics term. This meant that even when separated by six metres changes in the state of the atoms in box A (caused by the laser in this case) would instantaneously cause a change in the state of those in box B. By measuring tiny flashes of light from box B Kevin should have been able to read back the message he had fired into box A with no delay at all. If the theory was right of course. He was also measuring box A for the same kind of light flashes though and he found the messages he was going to send were flashed from this box before he fired them into it. They appeared 20 nanoseconds before he sent them, which interestingly is the same time it would take light to travel between the two boxes.
The first time he saw this happen was genuinely shocking for Kevin. He had spent six hours that day repeating the message sending process with a different message every time, checking all the physical components of the experiment. He also examined the code of the software, which Marc had written for him, in case this was misreporting the timings and leading to a false result. He considered asking Marc to look over his own program as he was the specialist in this area but was stopped by the fear of what even his good friend would think of his result. Surely almost anyone else would struggle to believe what he seemed to have found. After more than a month of debating the situation with himself Kevin had decided to think outside of the box, as it were. He would not take the standard physicist's path of reporting his results as they were and trying to get them published. He would develop his experiment further, to the point where his evidence would become difficult not to believe.