What I Learned in Quantum Land

The following poem is about a hypothetical trip into the submicroscopic world of quantum physics. Quantum physics is a relatively new field of physics in which the scale of the objects being studied is so small that the laws of physics we are used to in our everyday experience don't apply. Or at least, they don't apply so overwhelmingly. For objects a few angstroms across or less, other laws of physics come into effect, and those laws are quite different from the ones we are used to.

In this poem, the hero, after making a faux pas at a party, desires to just disappear and, much to his chagrin, he gets some advice from someone who sounds like he's talking from experience: something on the order of "You don't know what you're asking for." References to several quantum-mechanical concepts, including the strong nuclear force, matter-antimatter annihilation, Pauli's Exclusion Principle, and electrons changing shells, can be found.

This poem was first published in the January/February 1998 issue of Quantum Magazine.

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What I Learned in Quantum Land
Copyright 1996 David Arns
Have you ever, while standing around at a party,
     or maybe a business-like meeting,
Attempted to tell them a clever new joke,
     and ended up feeling a fool?
The people you told it to, looked at you blankly,
     their silence was almost a beating,
You think, "If I only could shrink clean away,
     as minute as a small molecule!"

But before you go thinking in terms of this sort,
     please think of just what you are saying;
The Land of the Quantum is dangerous, yes,
     and you shouldn't go into it careless,
Consider your actions before you go there,
     it's a perilous game you are playing;
The Land of the Tiny is quite unforgiving--
     Did you know that the whole place is airless?

But if you're determined to shrink clean away
     to avoid the cold glares at the party,
Prepare for adventures you've never conceived,
     in this Place of the Terribly Small:
Bone up on your Heisenberg, Einstein, and Bohr,
     and take your last meal; eat hearty!
And then, go ahead, shrink away! But please don't
     overshoot into Nothing At All.

And when you get down there, you'd better keep watch
     to avoid the high-energy photons:
They'll come up behind you and knock you down flat
     and be gone ere you come to your senses.
And then if you go on a nucleus tour,
     say "Hi!" to the neutrons and protons.
(But I doubt you'll be able to make it that far,
     what with all the strong force's defenses.)

And if you see opposite colors and spins and
     appearance and charge in a pair,
Well, you can be sure that they soon will be gone
     in an energy burst of some power.
For one is an everyday particle while
     the other's an "anti," and there
Is the crux of the problem, for when they combine,
     you could die in a gamma-ray shower.

And don't even try to make friends with the folks
     that you meet in the Land That Is Mini,
They'll snub you, reject you, and oust you,
     and there will be naught you can do that will change it.
There's a Principle all of the particles know,
     that will keep you in shamed ignominy,
Some fella named Pauli came up with the rule;
     I don't think you can rearrange it.

Then, if you are tired and want to sit down,
     and a nice, empty spot seems to beckon,
Think twice before going and filling that spot,
     that electronic orbital shell,
At least, be prepared at the drop of a hat
     (or a photon emission, I reckon),
To vacate the premises pronto! Posthaste!
     or things will not go at all well.

The reason for this is, the place you have parked
     is reserved--it's a 'lectron's position.
And while they're away on vacation, you've clearance
     to stay in their station, rent-free.
But as soon as they're done seeing sights, they will signal that,
     well, they are now in transition,
So you have an entire femtosecond or two
     to react, pack your suitcase, and flee.

And then, as if that weren't enough, you will find that
     you're getting quite lonely and tired;
This Land of the Quantum is not what you'd planned
     when you wanted to leave all your friends.
A better idea, perhaps, maybe, is to
     prevent yourself getting enmired
In hasty, ill-planned, or just silly remarks;
     it's much better for you in the end.

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