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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