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Tue, Oct. 15

Piacenza: Physics of the heart

Let me start by saying that I’m no scientist, not even a science hobbyist. Other than biology, I took no hard-core science classes in high school or college. I’m more of a science fan-girl. I loved Carl Sagan, who was one of the first to translate scientific theories and thought for the general public. These days, I’m always up for watching a TV show featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, who’s taken up Sagan’s mission.

Like many others, my imagination has been captured by the far out theories spun by Steven Hawking and other cosmologists and theoretical physicists. It’s pretty crazy stuff, and not the kinds of things we could possibly deduce from our day-to-day

experience. Prime among them is the Big Bang, the original division of one substance into many, resulting in the formation and continuous expansion of our universe. Though not yet incontrovertibly confirmed, many observations support the Big Bang theory. The lesser known String Theory proposes not one but many universes beside our own but consists strictly of elegant mathematical models and has yet to be proven.

Even some proven facts strike the mind like a science fiction fantasy. Due to the enormous expanse of the universe and the known speed of light, the light of distant stars perceived through telescopes at this moment is known to have been generated hundreds of thousands (or millions!) of years ago. Scientists once theorized about the most basic particle of matter, believed to bestow the quality of mass on an object, dubbing it the “God particle.” To find it, they built the Hadron Collider, an enormous circular “race track” capable of accelerating particles to spectacular speeds and crashing them into their component parts. Using a collider, observation of the “God particle” (Higgs Boson) has been confirmed.

One of the weirdest theories yet is now on the threshold of being proven and made practical. Known as “Entanglement,” it says that two photons (the basic particle that light is made from) can be separated by huge distances yet when one of them crashes into another particle or is transmitted via laser, the other photon reacts as if those things had happened to it too. China has just completed an experiment from space, transmitting entangled photons to separate targets almost 750 miles apart, the greatest separation so far confirmed. Proven out on a large scale, this phenomenon will allow building super-fast, un-hackable computers and communications systems.

Aside from challenging our minds and imaginations, what does Entanglement have to do with our normal, daily lives? What it gets me thinking about is the way in which, without being visible to the naked eye, our human community is strangely bonded. I may never travel to Africa, yet the picture of a starving Sudanese child produces an echoing pang in the heart. Likewise, the things I do in my daily life, for good or ill, are like stones thrown in a lake: I may only see the “kerplunk” on my side, yet in the network of human links the ripples are sure to lap against a farther shore.

To this fan-girl, believing that we are each our own isolated universe, following our own stars separate and apart from others, ignores the underpinnings of reality as revealed by science. While not yet demonstrated on a broad scale and turned into practical technology, Entanglement is an enormous hint about how things work.

What affects one affects the many. I can turn away from the photo of the starving child (and sadly, often do) to avoid the pain it makes me feel. But the reality of connection remains an undeniable truth.

Alexandra Piacenza is a past president of Prescott Area Leadership and member of the Boys to Men board. She and her husband have lived in Prescott for over 11 years. Comments are welcome at

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