The Atom’s Atom – Final Chapter

The moment the Chan Particle Collider powered up, Dr. Thorne prepared to bring the ULHC up to a level of 550 YeV [1] per beam, the highest it had ever run. I was truly excited about this. If my calculations are correct, I would be the first person to have successfully created an artificial black hole permanently.

I would like to see the look on Dr. Thorne’s face when my initial observations hold. Up close, there can be no doubt that mass will determine how space curves; that will be evidenced through light bending before our very eyes!

By this time, the ULHC was humming with an almost malicious growl, but to me, it was simply the satisfied bellow of a machine knowing that its true moment of victory was approaching. Surrounded by the triumphant sounds, I could almost imagine stately horns and trumpets blasting the final satz [2] of Mahler’s 1st Symphony, against a backdrop of double basses furiously bowing a rhythmic pulse. As I lost myself in the beauty of the moment, my mind was a perfect balance calm and racing – serene like the breath before a plunge, and frantic like the flashes before one’s death.

Just then, something went terribly wrong… The ULHC began to crumple in on itself, and chaos ensued… I began hearing loud groans and crashes, as though the orchestra in my head had began to fall through the stage – the drums, gongs, harps and musicians imploding into one another, much like the scene happening right before me.

The melodies in my head continue distorting, like a broken track. Everyone was running in all directions, scrambling for the Light-Shuttle. But to my horror, and to Dr. Thorne’s, Ms Orv was too late. The last I saw was her beautiful face disappearing through the abyss where the ULHC used to be.

She did not look upset – and that broke my heart. Strangely, she looked distant, yet satisfied, as though my achievements impressed her. Yet, I knew that I had nearly destroyed everyone.

… It was my fault…

[1] YeV, Yotta Electron Volts, the largest unit prefix in the International System of Units (SI) denoting a factor of 1024 or 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000. (retrieved November 2010)

[2] Satz: A German term for ‘movement’ or ‘section’ in a piece of music.

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The Atom’s Atom – Chapter Four

A sense of uneasiness has been swelling within me recently. As I sat with Dr. Thorne at the university pub, he questioned if I was making a joke when I said objects blocked behind a black hole could be visible to us due to the curvature of time-space. The brevity of his tone only made his remark even more offensive. Who was the one joking here?

Such absurdity certainly warranted a shocked response, but I quickly regained my composure thinking that Thorne was too drunk with Russian vodka, or that somehow more than just his hippocampi had been damaged. Or, maybe he was intoxicated with her. He seemed to be particularly enchanted by our teaching assistant’s Russian descent. He calls her his “Sweet Berry”, a ridiculous distortion of her beautiful first name in my opinion. I would call her “Kalinka”[1], an apt term of endearment, befitting her name and snowy-pure face alike.

In any case, there was no urgent need for me to pursue our arguments further, since it would only be a couple of days to our field trip to the International Space Station XII[2], where the Chan Particle Collider can be found. Besides, why would an Associate Professor have to answer to a fresh faced researcher! I would once and for all prove that our predecessors were wrong, and set myself firmly in the Physics hall of fame.



The Light-Shuttle opened its dump-valves just as it hovered to a stop where we waited. As it idled, a pleasant whirring surrounded us.

“Allo’! Ve vill go up now… Move to middle of ze kah-rage please, vere zay is no people!” My berry crooned in a mixture of adorably broken English and thickset Russian accent. She gestured to the students, beckoning them up the entry ramp into one of Singapore’s few inter-planetary vehicles.

“Students, please be reminded that we will be breaking the light-barrier during the journey. I’d like all of you to put on your Quantum Entangled Lenses so that we can continue to see each other! [3]” Horten barked at the students as they settled into their seats, and he into his.

I was the last to board, and I saw Ms Orv settling in right beside Horten. It was unsettling to observe this; I could almost swear that she had been sending me signals of the romantic kind over the past weeks! Irritated, I then proceeded to settle my own posterior down opposite of them.

“Attention all passengers, breaking light speed in 5,4,3,2,1…”

I put on my lenses and the roaring engine of the ship gave the last audible sound before complete silence. To my abysmal horror, I could not see Horten or Berres. Did those two remove their quantum lenses on purpose? The empty two seats of Horten and Berres together were extremely vexing. Strange dirty thoughts began creeping into my mind on what they were doing outside the vision of everyone else. A swell of jealousy and anger was boiling within me. Before long, the shuttle decelerated below light speed and all was back to normal. Thankfully but painfully, those two were alive and well, and staring at each deeply.

“Horten! What happened? Where is your quantum lens? And what happened to Berres’s?”

“It…it malfunctioned. I couldn’t see…anything. I think the same happened to Berres’s as well”

An unexplainable strength surged through my arms and I swept their lenses from them violently.

“A.I. Alice, report status on lens”

“Fully functional sir”

“What on blue earth are you upset about Thorne!? This is no way to treat a girl like Berres”

“Oh! So it’s about Berres now, is it? Admit it Horten! You’ve lost your marbles ever since she entered our lives. I can see it in your eyes; you know what I’m talking about… You don’t have to defend your emotions by throwing snide remarks at me!”

“You IMBECILE!” He shot up, and I can almost feel death rays from his eyes trained at mine.

What then followed was a heavy silence in the entire shuttle – almost like the atmosphere during the conclusion of a particularly impossible final exam paper. I just wished that Horten would open up and tell me what was going on!

[1] Kalinka is the phonetic equivalent of ‘snow-berry’ in Russian.

[2] The International Space Station XII (ISS XII) is the 12th international collaborative space project, located on the outskirts of the known Universe. It was conceived by China, India and Singapore, and began operations in 2114.

[3] “Quantum teleportation and all that” The New Quantum Universe. Tony Hey, Patrick Walters. Cambridge University Press pg. 205

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The Atom’s Atom – Chapter Three

A fresh new day, 0530, and I am up with my usual routine once more. Going around the last corner of my jogging route, I feel a surge of excitement over some new and extremely weird observations I had been privately made in the past days. Ever since the esteemed predecessors in this field –Dr. Chandrasekhar and Dr. Hawkins, both my idols – presented their breakthroughs in astrophysics, I have felt that this was the true calling of my life.

I like routines, rules, structures and organisation. Even more so, I love Physics, and it has been my passion since time immemorial. I love the way it governs that which we observe. I like how it sets boundaries, structures and organisation to our physical universe.

Yet, as I feel the heat from my body dissipate while I slow my jog, I cannot help but question: what governs love? This new girl that my dear friend Dr. Thorne is so smitten with: what governs that? And why do I feel a tug in my chest cavity whenever I see her? After all, how does the mind, a construct that it is immaterial, intangible, and not physical affect my physical being?

As my heart races, and does a figurative back-flip, as I espy her familiar figure standing outside my office. It turns out that she would indeed be our teaching assistant for the astronomy module. Dr. Thorne will no doubt be doing literal back-flips when he hears of this.

I am truly beginning to believe that the astronomy module will not disappoint. With the good doctor and myself are co-lecturing, our two different styles cater to the differences in learning styles of the undergraduates. Much as I find his tardiness disdainful, he does have his way with the students, and that is enough to earn my respect and tolerance.

As the time approached for the first midnight tutorial, my initial fears were dispelled, as all of our undergraduates turned up enthusiastically. As our enigmatic teaching assistant set up our telescopes, I requested that she pointed first to Venus. She smiled back, and I realised to my horror that it had elicited the same warm sensation I experienced during my jogs. As I stood rooted, Dr. Thorne saved the day by breaking the silence and started explaining to our undergraduates that it is impossible to see Venus as it is, but only as it were, and that ‘now’ is irrelevant.

Just then, she smiled the same smile at Dr. Thorne, and he exchanged it with his own version of charm. My gut wrenched in agony.



“PROFESSOR ARNOLD!” I yanked his elbow.

“O. I apologise. Yes… As Dr. Thorne was saying, there is no substitute for learning except through experience. You need to be present during our midnight tutorial meetings to fully appreciate what you are learning.”

I had no idea what was going on in Horten’s permanently damaged head. He seems to drift off very easily lately, staring into the distance. I think he might be having hallucinations! I am genuinely worried for him.

“Horten, are you feeling under the weather?” I asked as we were walking back to our offices.

“No Dr. Thorne, I’ve never felt better. I’m sorry about the lecture, I was formulating lesson plans for the midnight tutorial later. Professor Cooper will be present, and I am sure he would not like to see us idling or fumbling without proper organisation.”

That was so like Horten – endlessly stressing over the infinitesimally smallest details about lesson structures and plans. It was great to have such an organised mind around, and Horten is a blessing when it comes to red tape, paperwork and finding my lost keys. Yet, he also exuded an eccentric demeanour, creating an image of a stereotypical mad scientist with OCD of sorts.[1]

The weirdness did not end there. During the midnight tutorial session with Professor Cooper sitting in, the most absurd thing occurred! Horten zeroed in onto a patch of sky, and explained to the students that they would be able to see the effects of light bending.

“As you will observe, this is characterised by light from a quasar source appearing as multiple points [2], with a black hole in the middle. Does that not surprise you?” Horten orated methodically to the students.

Nonsense! Light does not bend! I immediately took a peek, and all I saw was a blank spot at the point of interest! Not wanting to embarrass the poor professor in front of the faculty head, I let it slide. I stole a cursory glance at my favourite almond shaped face, and I saw amusement in her eyes as she looked upon my friend. What could she be so amused about?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: An anxiety disorder characterised by intrusive thoughts and impulsive actions.

Quasar:  A single source Quasar can appear more than 2 points to an observer due to gravitational lensing. (Astronomy – A Beginner’s Guide to the Universe (6th Ed.) Eric Chaisson, Steve McMillan. “Quasar Mirages”. Pearson Education Inc. Chapter 16, page 450.

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The Atom’s Atom – Chapter Two

I have never had such a tiring day in my two years in Singapore! I think spending an extended period of time in such a fickle climate has messed with my hippocampus[1], to the point where my own colleagues have labelled me as an “accident waiting to happen”! Hurtful (but funny) as that is, I admit that I am a scatter-brain, and nowhere near as systematic and clinical as Horten.

Yes, it is utterly tiring to lose things! It is even more so to lose your way, lose an important item, and lose track of time, all in the same day! I cannot begin to imagine how I managed to get lost walking from my residence to the lecture that Horten and I currently co-teach. Then, I proceeded to lose my keys somewhere between the start of the astronomy lecture and my walk back to the faculty office. In my flustered state, I then misjudged the amount of time I had, and ended up being late for a faculty meeting with new graduate students.

It must have been such a scene – a pale faced, panting man in his thirties bursting into the conference room muttering incoherently about something resembling a profuse apology. The mess that was me attracted some disapproving glares, with the exception of Horten (he simply flashed me a knowing smile) and a young lady who barely suppressed her giggle. Perhaps being messy has its own charms too!

Right after the meeting, I was reminded why I need characters like Horten in my life.

“Dr. Thorne. You will find that the keys to your humble abode are in my pocket. Of course, if you remembered that mobile communications are a necessity today, and not left said device at home, you would have known that before embarking upon your wild-goose chase!”, he grinned as he rapped a set of jingling metal objects in his right trouser pocket.

“O Horten! You are such a lifesaver!”

“Yes yes, what would you do without me…?”

I laughed a sigh of relief. “How are the new graduate students? We still need a teaching assistant for the astronomy module. Fancy we’d get the cute young thing sitting behind Professor Cooper?”

“Be careful there young doctor… Lest you lose your heart like you lost your keys!”

That night, as I slipped into bed, my last thoughts lingered upon her fair almond shaped face. If anyone thought the moon was beautiful, her face should be presented as a point of comparison, like a moon without craters. Her cheerful giggle and apparent approval of my tardiness amuses me, and attracts me in a way my Ph.D. mind could not comprehend. Ms Berres Orv… What an enchanting name…

The hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with long-term memory and spatial navigation.

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The Atom’s Atom – Chapter One

This was a term paper that we wrote for GEK1508: Einstein’s Universe & Quantum Weirdness. Thanks Marcus and Gail, my awesome groupmates!


She was intent on making this breakthrough, and proceeding with her plans to enter the unknown dimension. Not even her life was important to her anymore. It was simply a matter of entering a wormhole, and hoping that her calculations would bring her to the right place. If it worked, she would bring about a change to the scientific community greater than any of her predecessors. If it failed, she would simply be forgotten, and that did not matter – no one bothered anyway. The beauty of the unknown  drew her, and with similar intensity, she could not wait to leave this world.

Chapter One

As it has been for the past five years of my life, I rouse from slumber at precisely 0530, stumble in a half conscious stupor to the bathroom of my apartment – the “Blue Horizon”. Aptly named – the estate is set nearest to the western coast of Singapore – presumably being as close as possible to the ‘horizon’. Of course, my Doctor of Philosophy in Astronomy, Master of Science and Bachelor of Science magna cum laude diplomas sitting in my study would blatantly protest this absurd name. How can a horizon be blue?

Like clockwork, I freshen up and refuel, proceeding to my morning jog around the estate. With crisp cool air brushing pass my skin, and the lack of any intrusion into my train of thoughts, I feel that this is the best time of the day, a time where I can seek solace within myself, and ponder the workings of the universe. Well, that is before I report to my day job, and where I officially ponder about the workings of the universe, as Associate Professor Horten Arnold, faculty member of the National University of Singapore Physics Department. More importantly, I belong to an esteemed group of researchers heading black hole studies at the Chan Particle Collider. [1]

As I approach the 2 kilometre mark of my route, I am sweating profusely and enjoying the mixed sensation of heat emanating out of my body and sweat cooling it right back down. I reduce my pace to allow my body to focus more of its attention to my cognitive processes, and begin to rehearse my schedule for the day.

Together with my comrade in arms (actually pens in this case), Dr. Roland Thorne, an Assistant Professor in the department, we will be pioneering a new undergraduate module to kindle some interest in astronomy. Students will also be able to observe first hand our breakthroughs in black hole research! Dr. Thorne and I had to climb mountains and cross oceans to push for this astronomy module, as the Physics department found it hard to see the merits of grading undergraduates through the practical use of telescopes. Other issues such as tutorials in the night were highly unusual and logistically challenging, and the department was worried that the module would be undersubscribed. Eventually, they relented, right after Dr. Thorne, in a stroke of brilliance, cleverly showed them a picture of Einstein toying with his telescope in his own backyard. What would I do without this blessed soul!

The Chan Particle Collider was developed in 2116 by renowned Astrophysicist Dr. Phil Chan. It is the most powerful ULHC (Ultra Large Hadron Collider) to date, and is housed in deep space due to its immense size. Its sole purpose is research into alternative energy sources, primarily from the creation of black holes.

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