Written by IainB
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Friday, 24 February 2012

image for Crossing the road for physicists Fig (b) - a Zebra Crossing to help in identification.

The major cause for the loss of life among young physicists is road traffic accidents. Who knows how far humanity would have advanced if there had been a lollipop lady outside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology? However, with the aid of a few simple rules, a young bold physicist can become a middle-aged physicist by taking heed.

All physicists are aware of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle that states that one cannot know the exact position of a particle and it's velocity at the same time. This subatomic principle extends into the classical world on roads. One cannot know the precise velocity of a road vehicle and its exact position. For this reason, it is wise to take precautions when going to the lab at the university.

Where the quantum uncertainty breaks down in the classical world is at a device known as a pedestrian crossing. A small button on either side of the road can collapse the quantum wave of traffic into its lowest energy state, at which point each individual car particle becomes a zero point function, in that its position and velocity can be known with absolute certainty.

After pressing the button at the side of the road on the pedestrian crossing the wave will not collapse immediately due to the laws of the conservation of momentum. Imagine the occupants of the vehicles if their transportation ceased moving instantaneously - the occupants would be pressed up on the inside of the glass like balloons squeezed into a bottle. Fortunately, the manufacturers of pedestrian crossings have catered for the physical and legal laws of the classical world by introducing a delay. This delay is translated for the pedestrian by use of colours and symbols, something all physicists can understand with great ease.

In summary: a red silhouette of a standing man indicates the wave function has yet to collapse, whilst a green silhouette of a walking man indicates it has now collapsed and it is safe to cross. Please note that these images do not correspond to the gender of the person waiting to cross the road.

Whilst crossing the road, even with a collapsed wave function, it is worth stopping jotting down notes on the evaporation of black holes on a Blackberry and watching out for the quantum uncertainty in the vehicles. As with particles at their lowest energy level, there is always a probability, however slight, that at least one particle will receive sufficient energy to leap out of its resting state nullifying the precise knowledge of location and velocity. In the classical world, this is known as 'jumping the lights' a curious phrase with its origins in the latter part of the twentieth century.

This can happen in cases where the physicist stops in the middle of enacting a crossing, possibly as an idea on just how photon energy can be derived from the initial state comes. There is warning of this impending phase change of the vehicles at zero point energy. They will at first make a distinctive sound that can be compared to a high school physics teacher providing a demonstration of gaseous eruption. This is called 'beeping'. If the 'beeping' continues, much like a warning on a computer model of galaxy formation spinning out of control, it will be shortly followed by the vehicles gaining momentum and energy. It is safer to have completed crossing the road before this happens.

As any physicist knows, reversing the direction of travel of a proton during an experiment can have disastrous consequences, reversing the direction of travel whilst midway across crossing a road can also have disastrous consequence. For this reason, it is wise to complete the cycle before beginning a new one.

On a final note, pedestrian crossings are not located at every point on every road. They can be identified by the silhouette of a red or green man. Where no such crossing exists, look out for black and white stripes painted on the road. These are places to cross that are safer than other areas, but they should be in a horizontal pattern when facing the opposite side of the road. Otherwise it is merely a paint spillage. When using a 'zebra' crossing (named after the animal it doesn't look like), stand off the main carriageway, and wait for the vehicles to reach their zero point energy. This can happen at any time. In this scenario no vehicles is the same as stationary vehicles, which is how it differs from subatomic particles.

Following these simple rules will allow the dedicated physicist to complete their thesis on the colour green.

The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious.

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